Vagabonding Field Report: Finding space in Korea, population 49 million
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
On my short getaway to Namhae Island, my friends and I noticed globs of a bright orange, paintlike substance floating near the pier. Opting out of a swim, we came back later to find a beautiful, eerie phenomenon: the orange was now sparkling electric blue.
Apparently this rare bioluminescence happens during a red tide, when there’s a disturbance in the water’s oxygen levels. Whatever the cause, it was one of the most magical things I’ve ever seen.
Describe a typical day:
I spend a full eight hours working at a private English academy Monday through Friday, but on the weekend I’m free to travel around Korea. Two weeks ago, I discovered Jirisan National Park, about two hours east of Changwon/Busan.
Rather than follow the crowds and try to summit one of the many peaks, I opted for a less populated hike to a waterfall. Because Korean trails don’t have switchbacks, it was a steep climb for a good four hours.
Luckily, the trail had plenty of resting spots–even some clear pools shallow enough for wading.
And then there was the surprise field of wishing stones…
And finally, the waterfall.
Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:
I went to the Changwon traditional market and ended up drinking coffee with the old woman who sold me a pair of $15 rain boots. We sat on the couch in her tiny shop and watched Korean TV, and she talked at me for a good half an hour. I have no idea what she was saying–something about visiting America, I think?–but smiling and nodding can go a long way in situations like this.
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
One thing I like about Korea is its developed public transportation. Buses go right to the hiking trail heads and back all day long. Taxis aren’t too expensive, either. Hiking has become my saving grace from an otherwise overpopulated country, and fortunately, Korea is 70% mountainous. This leads me to my dislike…
Korea has a penchant for ugly buildings. Though there are some parks, the vast majority of places to live are marked by cement buildings, gaudy neon signs, and the most offensive smells I’ve ever encountered. Stars are all but invisible thanks to light pollution, and I’ve never seen a sunset brighter than pale pastel.
Describe a challenge you faced:
In Namhae, some friends and I ventured from our pension about five kilometers to a temple on the mountain. Though the final stretch of road left us sweaty and out of breath, we were rewarded with free bibimbap (a vegetable and rice dish) at the temple to celebrate Buddha’s birthday.
What new lesson did you learn?
I learned it is absolutely possible to sleep 15 people in a two-room pension with a single bed and single bathroom.
There was some miscommunication involved with the reservation. But it made the patio barbecue and fireworks all the more fun.
I’ll run my first-ever 10K this Saturday in Daegu. Though the hot, sticky monsoon season is fast approaching, I’m determined not to let the summer go to waste in air-conditioned buildings.