Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A waygook on a mountain

Sobaeksan is the kind of mountain where you hear the wind before you see it; where the sun sets the forest on fire at sunset and where you can be completely alone with your thoughts. Allow me to get really metaphorical and philosophical with this post - it's what I had to focus on during the 6.5 hour hike.

The Mt Sobaeksan group :)

I'm not a hiker. The longest hike I've ever been on was probably at my Uncle's Holiday farm in the Freestate, which was a slow and easy 2/3 hours. And that was 3 years ago. It was only once I started the long walk up Mt Sobaeksan that it hit me - 'what the hell are you doing?' These people are serious and so is this mountain. There came a point about 45 minutes in when I nearly turned around, but got some encouragement from a friend and pushed through, all the way to the top. It might not sound like the biggest deal to a lot of people but to me, this is a huge accomplishment. I was SO proud of myself for overcoming the urge to give up and the view from the top was well worth the effort. I also bumped into the kindergarten teacher from Hwadang at the top with her daughter, Audrey, who is in my 6th grade class. She was so beyond excited to see me and after many 'so good to see you', 'oh Brownin wow' 'I love you's' and a naartjie, I felt like I was on top of the world. But I still needed to get down haha. Coming down was much easier and I moved a lot quicker, put my iPod in and actually enjoyed the scenery rather than being focused on how tired I was.

Me at the top :)

Both on the way up and back down I lost everyone as my pace is much slower than theirs, but I was never alone. A really nice Korean man caught up with me at one point and asked about me, where I'm from and what I do here. I could see he was trying to encourage me and it was a special encounter. I also had a couple kids stop and say 'fighting' or 'pighting' as they pronounce it, which is a strong form of encouragement. As I type this I can imagine you all must be thinking that I was probably crawling up the mountain to draw such attention but it was really just Koreans being their friendly selves...and probably slightly concerned about the waygook with the red face ;)

Once I got over the negative thoughts, the silence really gave me time to think. And this is where I get mushy ;) This hike was really symbolic, I feel, of my whole Korean experience. There have been times in the past 2.5 months where I wanted to give up, to throw it all in and come home - take the easy way out. And there are many more of those times ahead I have no doubt. There were times in the beginning that I felt completely isolated and alone all the way over here in a country so foreign, so intimidating. I feel out of breath and tired of trying. But then a bit of encouragement from a friend or a smile from a stranger reminds me that everything is going to be okay and I really should just enjoy the journey. I love Korea, I love the life I'm making for myself over here. But that doesn't mean there aren't any challenges. On the hike, I felt myself comparing my speed and fitness to the others which really got me down, and I do the same here. I look at other people adjusting so well and feel embarrassed that I still get homesick sometimes but it's like everyone said on the hike - your pace, your journey. At this point I feel like I'm at a rest stop - catching my breath, enjoying the view, soaking up some sun :) I know I still need to get to the peak and damn that road is rocky but I can do it. Coming down the mountain and just really stepping back from everything and enjoying nature in all it's beauty reminded me to do the same here. We all live for the weekends but I must not forget to enjoy the kids, the teaching and the little quirks that come with it. It's far too easy to wish our lives away, to wish we were on the bus home already instead of taking a deep breath of mountain-y goodness. And believe me, I know that before I can say 'kimchi' I'm going to be on a plane home, a bag full of memories and wondering where the hell the time went. I know this is really metaphorical and soppy but I did warn you ;) And really, with that much time on my hands I was bound to do some creative thinking. The feeling of accomplishment I enjoyed at the bottom of that mountain will be nothing compared to what I'll feel 30 years from now, telling my kids about my time in Korea. Man, it's exciting. And I wouldn't change a thing :)

Here are some more pics from the hike:

Nicola and I blowing bubbles in celebration :P

Nics and I won the 'flair' award for this hike. Nic and Norb - assah!

FIGHTING! At the peak, trying not to get blown away. 

View from the peak. Breathtaking. 

Danyang is a beautiful area and this is some of the beauty which surrounded us on the hike

So all in all, the hike was an incredibly rewarding experience and I'm so glad I did it. Don't expect too many more hiking posts though...you know, other things to do and all ;) Which might include paragliding this weekend so stay tuned :D

There is thunder in the air and man it makes me think of home!
Love and miss you all, always.


  1. Brilliant Bron. This post had me in stitches one moment, and quietly reflective the next. Very very nice.

  2. My bron you are making me so much more determined and set on the idea to come over!! I am so incredibly proud of you!! Xx