Seoul Man

Cloud Hike

I stop at Socheong peak. There’s another hiker not too far behind me who stopped to write something in his notebook. I didn’t see a single person for the first two hours of this hike, not counting the German youngster I met on the bus ride over, who opted for an easier hike to the waterfalls. I’ve only passed a dozen people since, and most of them at the Yangbok shelter. I contemplate with irony, the signs I had seen at the trailhead of hiking etiquette and rules for sharing the trail, decipherable to me as pictographs but not as language. I contemplate with concern, the neon sign at the upper trail entrance whose only English words in red are “No! No!”

It’s only another 1.2 kilometers to the Daecheongbong peak, the intended destination and turnaround point, but it’s already noon and I’ve been hiking non-stop for the last four hours. The last stretch of terrain, I’m not sure I can refer to it as a trail, was ridiculously steep requiring thoughtfully-provided knotted ropes at points. My calves are burning, my heart is pounding, and my cotton t-shirt is soaked with rain and sweat. I’m not sure when it gets dark here as the sun sets behind the mountains to the west. I’d like to make it back to the parking lot by 5:20 to catch the last bus back to Sokcho, and the only thing I can see, from my current vantage point, is the dull grey of the inside of a cold wet cloud. That last 1.2 kilometers could probably take over an hour in one direction.

I decide I’ve had enough, time to turn around. My decision has an element of concession to fear as much as to practicality. The thought of my pounding heart bursting or slipping on wet rocks or of having to spend the night in a shelter with hordes of ravenous chipmunks crawling over me looking for crumbs is not appealing.

Heading back down the mountain, the pressure is off. I have plenty of time to stop and appreciate the views and capture the scenery on camera. At the Huiunga shelter, I change into a dry t-shirt, hydrate, and share my power bar with an aggressive chipmunk who had the nerve to start crawling up my leg. The rain is picking up from a light mist to a heavy drizzle.

The trip back is much easier on the heart, of course, I don’t even break a sweat in the 15 C temperatures but I’m quickly soaked through by the drizzle and dripping, rain-soaked canopy. The scenery is amazing when spires peek out through the clouds serving as the backdrop to canyons and waterfalls and streams working their way through the boulders. Pines grow horizontally out of the sheer face of the rock turning upward to the sky. It seems like there is a picture around every corner. If I wasn’t worried about protecting the equipment from the rain, I probably would have taken a thousand pictures instead of a mere hundred.

Stats

I can only imagine how beautiful it must look in the fall with the brilliant reds and oranges or even how the rugged peaks look in the clear sky. I take consolation in the fact that I saw it as few others do, from the inside of a cloud, wet and shrouded and lush, an amazing, even mystical hike.

Locating the Intangible Center

I’m just about at the location indicated by the tag on Google Maps for the “Seoul Intangible Cultural Heritage Center”. But as soon as I get there, the blue dot of my position leaps forward or the tag leaps backward. I backtrack. The opposite happens. The blue dot leaps back or the Intangible tag leaps forward. I can’t tell for sure.

I walk slowly, carefully inspecting each building for a sign. Sometimes the entrances are hidden down little alley walkways or up on the second or third floor. I walk around checking all the corners and walkways. Nothing.

I think to myself, because I am the only person I can really think to even in this high tech city, that perhaps it is underground like the GoTo shopping mall. I enter the closest subway access. I find nothing but women’s clothing and shoe stores and underground restaurants. There is nothing intangible about that.

I climb the stairs back up to the street. I check the map again. The tag shows the Intangible Center a couple of blocks away. “How did that happen?” I walk down the two blocks. The Intangible tag is now off to the east by a block. I curse and walk.

As I walk, I check all the signs on the buildings. I stop a few passerby-ers to ask for help. They shrug as if the Intangible Center doesn’t exist. Nothing.

I admit defeat. I throw my hands up in surrender. On my map, I notice the blue dot hovers directly over the tag. Only then do I realize I have found the Intangible Center.

Time to move on to the next destinations: “The Abstract Museum of Art” and the “Ethereal Church of the Divine”

Random Acts of Kindness I

After a long day, I want to sit up on the roof with Max to have a Soju. Max and I walk into our hotel restaurant at the Grid Inn to buy one. The manager, not understanding much English but realizing that we aren’t going have dinner at the restaurant, sends us around the corner to a 7-11 for a much cheaper bottle.

Max tells me about a drink called Samaek, which is Soju mixed with beer, but he doesn’t quite know the recipe. So Max and I buy the necessary ingredients at the 7-11. Upon returning to the hotel and under mild protest from Max that bringing in our purchase to the restaurant is somehow inappropriate, I stop in the restaurant again to ask the manager how to make this drink. He doesn’t understand. He directs me to the front desk to get assistance from a very pretty receptionist named Jin.

She starts to draw on a piece of paper. She draws a shot glass, indicates the shot glass should be filled to a third with Soju. She then draws a beer glass, says to pour the Soju into the beer, and then make a fizz using the chopstick, all in perfectly understandable English. The manager catches on, he fetches two beer glasses, two shot glasses, a bottle opener for the beer and a set of chopsticks. While we wait, Jin informs me that she could handle two Sojus, which given their rather high alcohol content and her petite frame, would be quite an accomplishment. At the reception desk, I proceed to follow the recipe creating my first Samaek of Soju and beer. Jin slams the chopstick into the drink to transform temporarily the drink into a glass of fizz. I told the manager to fetch a couple of more glasses for himself and Jin, he laughs but declines and does not allow Jin to join since she still had to work for a while. There was no mistaking the disappointment in her voice when the manager told she couldn’t have an on the job Samaek .

When I returned to the hotel on my next stay, Jin was working again at the front desk. I fetched her two bottles of Soju from the 7-11 as a gift for her help. I was worried she might get in trouble. She was so happy when she opened the gift, I was surprised. She said she would share it with her mom tonight. I like the thought of her sitting around with her mom drinking Soju from the nice American man.

In the morning, as I checked out, the morning receptionist handed me a nice thank you note from Jin. I’m not thrilled about being referred to as Mr. Angel but the thank you note made it the best 3000 won (less than three dollars) I spent in Korea.

Cruel and Unusual

Severed

Take 1: If there is one thing I like about Korea, it is their righteous treatment of sex offenders. The punishment of dismemberment fits the horrendous crime, though I don’t care too much for the public display of the severed parts, congregating together, almost as if still alive, in an aquarium of formaldehyde solution. I know it sends a message, but it seems so primitive.

Take 2: Highly evolved predators with few natural enemies, sharks nonetheless face a threat today they’ve never seen before: man. The fishing industry kills up to 73 million sharks annually, primarily because their penises are necessary for a traditional Asian delicacy, shark penis soup. Shark fishing is a gruesome effort. Typically, fishermen slice off the penis before tossing the amputated fish overboard. The male shark, unable to mate, falls to the seabed dying slowly of humiliation.

Take 3: (This time I quote from Wikipedia, so maybe this version is actually true.) “Urechis unicinctus ( Korean: 개불) is a species of the marine spoon worm. It is widely referred to as the fat innkeeper worm or the penis fish.[2] The body is about 10–30 cm long, cylindrical in shape and yellowish-brown in color. “

Random Acts of Kindness II

I’m staring down at four brown speckled eggs about a quarter the size of a chicken egg, maybe from a quail? maybe candy? The outside is hard, definitely a shell. What am I supposed to do with it? My server doesn’t speak a lick of English, so I take out the phone, bring up the google translate page, and type “How do I eat?” translating it into Korean.

I almost didn’t stop at this particular restaurant because of Max’s rule to eat at a place where there are a lot of people, but then I walked down to a few other places and nothing is busy. I backtrack. I like this place because the seating has an outdoor patio facing the harbor. It’s not very busy. I’m the only one dining at what I think are her tables.

I hand her the phone. She reads the message. She sits down at my table and proceeds to give me a tutorial on how to eat the food, peeling the hard-boiled eggs for me, telling me what sauces go where, and delicately extracting the spine with all the rib bones intact from the fish, leaving all the edible meat bone-free. She brings out her phone and asks me where I am from, her phone translating Korean into English. She has three sons and seems to be concerned that my son is so far from where I live. We have a little Google conversation, in between her work to serve a family that has opted to sit at a floor table inside the restaurant.

Another group of four Korean men sits at a table next to me. So I go about the business of eating my dinner and drinking my beer as she attends to her customers. English is a rare commodity outside of Seoul, even in touristy areas. I enjoyed the conversation facilitated by technology. Instead of a person just doing her job, I found a person eager to help me appreciate the meal, with a little help from the translation software.

Mothra

It’s 90+ degrees in Seoul, not quite so bad under the Bukhansan canopy. I read that the hike has more people per square foot than any other hike in the world. But for some reason, oh yeah, the 90+ degree heat, we don’t seem to be running into much of a crowd. The few people we do pass on the trail are clad in full toe to head, high tech setups of poles, backpacks, jackets, visors, and pants. It might be state of the art fabric, but wearing all that gear still looks damn hot.

Hike Stats

What the national park lacks in people, it makes up for in moths. I assumed they were butterflies because butterflies are diurnal while moths are nocturnal. But later examination of my pictures shows the telltale feathered antenna and the open wings upon alighting. Alighting is a lot like astopping, only much more graceful.

The moths flit with endless energy, perhaps self-fanning to cool off from the heat. I don’t know the species. It’s not particularly colorful or beautiful. The moths hover over the ground, in the tops of bushes, and in the canopies of the trees. I think of mosquito swarms as a moth flies under my cap. Later, one flies into my mouth as I suck up some of the hot air on our 500-meter ascent. I wonder if the Koreans have the Mexican equivalent of “Moscas no entrada, un boca cerrado”. (Flies don’t enter a closed mouth). Moths don’t enter a closed mouth? I spit the little bugger out. I had to come all the to Korea to discover that I don’t much care for the dish of raw moth. Maybe I would like a cooked moth, I’m trying to keep an open mind.

Real butterflies dash by, Parisian models by comparison to their drab cousins. A hummingbird-sized moth hovers over a bush, before moving into the shadows.

Max and I trudge on. Yes, trudge is the right word for a 500-meter elevation-gain hike in ninety-degree heat. About 500 meters in altitude, we reach the gate, a squared-off doorway, that has some historical significance.

The plan is to head six-tenths of a kilometer west, then come back down another route. I would like to summit, but we are already dehydrated. I get the feeling that Max is only tolerating the hike for my benefit. He is definitely more about connecting with people than with nature.

It turns out that I am not even at the right peak. The higher peak is off in the distance. Going down is a relief. We find a dog guarding a temple, an odd-shaped caterpillar, and a lot more moths.

Once we make it back to the park entrance, we find lunch and a beer and a restaurant just outside the park entrance. For me, the best meal and drink is a reward after a good hike.

The Best of Korea

Sixth Tallest Building in the World
  • A phonetic language that actually makes sense and is learnable. Max is already reading and speaking. I didn’t think to give it much of a try but Max taught me the odd phrase or two. Annayuoenghaseyo.
  • When they hand you money, they do it with two hands.
  • DIT instead of DIY. Do it together instead of do it yourself.
  • Lotte Tower
  • The ticket collector bowing to each car on the train as she moved from one car to the next.
  • A middle-aged woman in her black polka dot middle-aged dress helping us get on the right bus taking the time to walk us to our bus giving directions to the driver.
  • The best public transportation system that I’ve ever ridden on in any city anywhere.
  • A bullet train that speeds along at nearly 300 km/hour.
  • A PC for Max to practice his craft and meet people on just about every corner.
  • Cell phone coverage everywhere I went.
  • Credit card acceptance in every store.
  • The intimacy of stores and shop fronts in the streets without the harassment of vendors in your face. Stores and sidewalks and side streets merged into one. Old women blending into the back of their stalls sitting on uncomfortable-looking benches out of the heat of the midday sun.
  • Traffic that obeys the rules and drivers that don’t drive with their horns.
  • A scarcity of homeless people.
  • Women walking by themselves or sometimes hand-in-hand at night in not-so-crowded walkways looking unconcerned for their safety.
  • Soju.
  • Kimchi.
  • Eating ten different dishes in one meal instead of my usual one meal spread out over ten.
  • Drinking etiquette. You should never pour your own drink. You should watch the other glasses should they need a refill.
  • Finding amazing places to eat in a market or some obscure walkway.

Bon Appetit!

One meal in Jeonju at Songjeong-Won, a Korean traditional full course meal restaurant.

  • seafood pancake,
  • brown squares
  • fish soup
  • pepper with red sauce
  • kimchi with tofu squares
  • sprout soup,
  • clams
  • apple’n’crab as potato salad
  • bibimbop
  • sea cucumber
  • beef meatloaf dish
  • raw pork fortified with brain amoebas
  • fried eggs
  • pickled radishes
  • paste burrito
  • kettle of rice wine
  • bottle of soju

Sorry, that’s the best I can do with the descriptions. I’m pretty sure the raw thing wasn’t pork, but as I started chewing on it, Max says, maybe we are supposed to cook those. I spit out the raw thing as fast as I stuffed it in. I tried ordering a rice wine before the meal, not realizing that it came as part of the meal. The server didn’t understand me and brought me a bottle of soju instead. When I realized we had a whole kettle of rice wine to drink, I recapped the soju bottle with most of it still intact, saving it for the train ride home the next day. I was accused of being an alcoholic.

Other tasty treats in Hanok village of Jeonju included:

  • spinach pot sticker
  • shrimp pot sticker
  • curry pot sticker
  • potato pot sticker
  • curry croquette
  • one squid kabob
  • one honey beer
  • one grapefruit beer
  • green tea ice cream

Guest House

I walk out of our guest house, while Max takes a shower, into the courtyard, at most a five meter by five meter gated enclosure with a lawn and flowers, at our back alley guest house in Jeonju to say hi to the four girls on the adjacent porch sitting at a floor table busily working their cell phones. I introduce myself anyway asking them where they are from.

They are all from Taipei, they are all history students in a Taipei University and classmates, visiting one of the girls who is doing a year of study in Seoul. Of course, as a parent, my first response to this information is, are your parents ok with that, studying history? They all giggle, they cover their mouths with a hand about two inches in front. It is so cute. Two have boyfriends, one of which is a baseball catcher in the Taiwanese league.

Max joins us. I quickly lose control of the conversation. Max and the girls dive into modern culture discussing music and things I am generally unfamiliar with, though I know of Harry Potter and I think KPop is a band (I am wrong). I like watching the dynamics of the conversation anyway. The girls all confer in Taiwanese, then come up with an answer delivered through the interpretation of the one who speaks the best English, accompanied by hand over mouth giggles from the other girls as she speaks. It’s a fun conversation that lasts quite a while.

Max, you ask me if there is any upside to getting old. At your age, I never would have approached the girls by myself, even for a casual conversation. I was way too shy. Still am, but I don’t let it stop me anymore. Now I have the means for unachievable ends. How I wish I were twenty and sixty all at the same time.

Competitive Professional Sports

eSports is alien to me. I grew up with baseball, throwing a ball off a wall or off the stairs, playing whiffle ball in the street, breaking only for the car driving through the playing field, pissing off the neighbors by hitting a home run off their house on the other side of the street, using the sewer covers for bases at an intersection.

Max is a Protoss player in Starcraft II. He shames me when I ask if he is a Protis, mispronouncing his Starcraft race. I was actually proud of myself that I remembered that much. Max has me watching a round in the tournament at the studio. My adopted favorites in support of Max are Scarlet and Stats. They’ve made it to the final 32 in a Seoul tournament and are battling it out on stage.

A major studio, a live audience, cameras, announcers, post-game interviews, and real money intensify the drama, even though I don’t understand the fundamentals, let alone the nuances of the game. I know enough to know which player is which. I follow the ups and downs of the game through the emotional responses of the announcers and crowd.

Scarlett has a bad day, and frankly, we give a damn. Max informs me, she’s made it to the final 8 before. Stats has a great day, battling back twice from first game defeats to advance into the next round.

Money and status and pride are on the line. With my front row seat in the studio, I don’t need to see the images projected by the huge platform-supported cameras sucking up every micro gesture to see the hurt in their faces when they lose. The emotions are real. What makes boxing any more real than this, other than the extreme likelihood of permanent physical injury?

The Dusan Bears baseball game is another experience entirely, one I completely understand, but not at all what I am used to in the way of baseball spectating. Having just spent $85 dollars for a Cubs-Dodgers game back in the states, and more irritatingly, fifteen dollars for a watered down beer, I find it refreshing to watch the game from even better seats for twenty dollars, and good, undiluted, twenty-four ounce beer for a mere three dollars. Not that I want to reduce the event to dollars and cents, but in a way, isn’t that what professional sports has already done?

Sure, the pitchers only throw at a mere 150 km/hr (90 mph), and not every run is a 400-foot homerun. So the competition is a step below the MLB. (NOTE: Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu is MLB all-star). But Korean baseball spectating is participatory. It is fun: part rock concert, part cheerleader, and part baseball. What fun watching the little kids (and the big kids) bang their air pads together and dance and cheer for nine straight innings. What fun banging air pads together. No bullshit about how dull baseball is when the audience participates in every pitch. Korean Baseball isn’t dull to watch, it is exhausting! God bless the seminude dancing maidens( aka cheerleaders, with a nod to E.O. Wilson ). And go Bears!

Trip Pictures at: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1TZs0L64FP86GiB13JAWLJQiCzElnCcuo

Contact: author.mike.angel@gmail.com

Rain Drop

a raindrop hits the surface of still water, sometimes a bell-shaped bubble forms like a popped corn standing proud on the water, sometimes it does not, a critical mass is needed.

regardless of whether a bubble is born, the circular ripples of the drop expand outward popping the other bubbles in its path as soon as it reaches them, before its ripples fade back, into the stillness of the water.

Six Blind Elephants and a Man

A group of six elephants stumbled upon a naked man in the dark of the night. It being a particularly dark night, they could not see the creature they surrounded. A voice called out nearby, “Honey, are you coming back to the tent? I am Lonely.” Out of curiosity more than fear, the six elephants wished to know what “Honey” was by touch.

The first elephant’s trunk landed upon its short nose and deduced, “It is a creature that most certainly cannot swim in deep water, not having much of a trunk for a snorkel.”

The second elephant’s trunk draped across its spindly legs and said, “It is like a silken blade of elephant grass.”

The third elephant touched upon its teeth and concluded, “It must be a child of the species as it has no tusks to fight off enemies or champion for the female.”

The fourth elephant touched upon its hairy head and countered, “I detect patches where the small brain has signs of rot. It must be old, having lost its tusks already.” The third elephant reassessed his interpretation, “A possibility.”

The fifth elephant poked at the rapidly beating heart and said, “It certainly must be an excitable creature.”

The sixth elephant grabbed “Honey” by the tail and observed, “It has a nice thick tail for swatting flies away.”

At the grabbing of his tail, Honey screeched, “Hey, Hey, Hey,” pulling away. Young elephants will hold the tail of an older elephant to follow them from one place to the next so the sixth elephant was slow to let go but Honey worked himself free and went crashing away through the underbrush.

The six elephants quickly reached a consensus, “A scrawny scared creature,” laughing at its defenselessness curious how such a creature could survive.

“Should we go find out what a Lonely is?”

Solastalgia

Like the aftermath of a beautiful sunset of deep oranges wrinkled in the sky, cyans and cerulean blues coloring the opens spaces between crimson stretches that reach into the darkness of blue-grey clouds to tint the bottoms of the opposing sky, pink, my little patch of nature is gone like the day leaving nothing but grey, indifferent clouds of the long night.

Trash litters the trail, shredded plastic bags torn by exposure to the sun and the wind rustle in the stench. The ersatz leaves of bags and wrappers catch in the branches of the bushes. A feral pig roots through the trash and mud at the water’s edge, eying me warily. A ripple in the surface might be a fish, I can’t imagine what could survive in this cesspool. Shorebirds wade in the cesspool, out of desperation for clean water? Yellow flowers of weeds heroically push their way through the trash and broken concrete. Power lines hum overhead.

In my mind, I see the fast-flowing stream of my youth. On a lucky day, I might spot the fin of a steelhead making its way upstream to its spawning grounds or an otter darting in and out of the reeds and cattails, or an osprey patrolling the waters for a meal. I might skip stones over the surface, paddle a kayak, take a few pictures of a fragile flower, have lunch on the banks, or throw a stick in the water for my dog to give chase.

What happened to my small patch of nature? Did it surrender to my absence? Why did nobody speak for it? Why do I only speak for it now, in its death?

Del Mar Triangle

I hiked the Del Mar triangle starting from Del Mar Heights School, down Crest Canyon Trail to San Dieguito Lagoon following the San Dieguito River to the Pacific Ocean. Once at the beach, I waded bare-foot south to Torrey Pines. I left Torrey Pines proper walking through the Torrey Pines extension back to my car at the Del Mar Heights School. It is one of the most diverse hikes you can do in the area, part coastal chaparral, part estuary, part urban, part public beach and part wild beach.

I have to confess, as I was walking, I realized that summer in San Diego had started without me. I was escorted through Del Mar Fair traffic across Jimmy Durante Boulevard by a traffic cop. People screamed from across the San Dieguito river as the rides bounced them up and down, dropped them, and otherwise propelled them in their harnessed seats about the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Ospreys, martins, snowy egrets, and giant blue herons hunted and crabs scuttled about indifferently in the surging tidal waters.

The beach, from the river mouth south passed Power House to about 15th street, was packed. This might have been the first real beach day of the summer. The throngs of thongs were out in force (yes, I think a collection of thong-clad people must certainly be a throng). Beachwear, for young ladies anyway, continues to shrink. That is an observation and not a complaint.

However clad, beachgoers played traditional games of catch with softballs and footballs and frisbees. Others played some new spike game bouncing a ball into a netted hoop a few inches off the ground. I saw one game of an aerial version of bowling. Sand Castle building seems to have been elevated to an art form. Burying someone in the sand up to their neck in the sand never gets old. I was careful to avoid little kids hurtling sand and sea with their little plastic shovels, I’ve already lost one camera this year.

People walking together took group selfies (an oxymoron?) with their cell phone cameras. People walking alone talked into their cell phones, many with white ear pod ear adornments. Doesn’t anyone just take a walk anymore? I heard lots of foreign accents.  

At high tide, the surfing conditions looked terrible, without a breaker to be had any farther out than about thirty feet from shore. A few paddleboarders and a few swimmers braved the water. I watched one poor kid try to glide along the surface of the water at the shoreline on a thin kite-shaped board. As soon as he jumped on his moving glider, it stopped immediately, propelling him face first into the water and sand at the front of the now stationary board. I’m not an expert, but I don’t think that was a successful run.

The long stretch from Del Mar to Torrey Pines was vacant by comparison except for a few ambitious joggers, the occasional surfer that hikes over the tracks and down the cliff face, and yellow-footed white herons working the surf line fishing for sand crabs. Pelicans dive-bombed for fish in the distance disappearing into the geyser of their splash.

From there, I finished the hike in the chaparral and Torrey Pines and red bluffs of the Torrey Pines Extension following the overgrown Margaret Flemming trail back to the parking lot at the school.

Rattler

The total distance of the hike is six miles but the end result, I think, was that I finally caught up to summer.

More pics at: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1RTx7uu6gNRxVQJ3bxXdr6bvH6tSMibfs