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On Inwangsan

Yesterday I went on a hike organised by the Korean Volunteer Foundation Network with Botond and his wife, So-young. After meeting at Changdong Station we took the subway to Gyeonbokbung where we met the Korean volunteers and the people taking part in the event. Those taking part seemed to mostly be Koreans, although there were at least two or three Chinese, a similar number of Japanese, ditto North Americans and Europeans, a New Zealander girl who appeared to speak pitch-perfect Korean, and Bo’s two Hungarian friends who came to his birthday meal.

We were led to Sajik Park near Inwang Mountain, which is a small mountain west of the Gyeongbok Palace and the Blue House (the President’s abode). Therein we were put into teams of five or six apiece, told what to expect from the day, and taken through some warm-up exercises (very familiar to me from taekwondo). Our agenda included memorising our teammates’ names and giving them nicknames (our team was Yesunim (Jesus) – me; Gulliver – Botond; Ice Cream – So-young; Chaekbeolle (Bookworm) – Aoying, a Chinese woman; and Baegopeun (Hungry) – Su-Gyung, our team-leader, distinguished by the green KVFN scarf tied around her wrist). Once at the summit we were to create a picture with bits of random natural detritus; afterwards we would have a meal.

The actual hiking part of the hike was fairly brief. I chatted a little with one or two people on the way up. Towards the summit our team became somewhat extenuated with So-young and myself walking ahead separately. I got to the summit ahead of the main body of the outing and spent some time taking photos. Then one of the volunteers came along and told me to return to a spot about fity yards away where everyone was busy making pictures.

KFVN trip to Inwangsan

I was told to draw a tiger. I’m no artist, so I felt unable to do anything except hesitate while people looked at me expectantly and told me to get started. Someone had already drawn a cartoon rabbit, and I eventually sketched a tiger that was supposed to be Rousseauian – I suppose it wasn’t too bad in the end, but certainly not what I would call good. Once I’d finished everyone else could get on with sticking twigs and leaves to the sketchpad. I contributed further by sticking some double-sided sellotape along the bottom and then smearing some dirt on to it. In the subsequent vote we got six or seven votes, while the winning artwork received nine – and a sixpack of beer.

We descended the hill the opposite way we’d come, passing a few guard posts – presidential security. After a while we reached a small park where young boys were being tutored in what I’m increasingly coming to think of as ‘soccer’, and we were given some very mediocre meals of bulgogi and rice in polystyrene trays. The water had been left in a fountain; you had to retrieve a bottle at your own risk.

And that was the end of the programmed event. We walked down to a nearby bus stop where everyone waited for a while, although various groups set off to walk in the direction of Gyeongbokgung – Botond, So-young, the Hungarian couple and I were one such group. A moment later our jojangnim (team-leader) caught up to us and joined us on our new expedition to the palace.

When we arrived at the northern entrance opposite the blue house we found that it was closed. Thereafter the two Hungarians and another Korean we’d picked up decided to go their own way. The remaining foursome – Bo and So-young, Su-Gyung, me – headed towards another entrance into the palace grounds with the ultimate intention of going to see the new Keira Knightley film, The Duchess. Su-Gyung was a typical example of Korean young-womanhood – a sylph-like beauty, in other words. It was a little surprising that she’d want to throw her lot in with us for the rest of the day – but a pleasant one.

I’d brought a spare top and bodyspray in my newly purchased backpack – the second in two weeks (this one is the smaller of the two – a day bag) – and was now even more conscious of such matters. I finally managed to change in the toilets at Lotte Cinema in Myeongdong.

We all enjoyed the movie. A Georgian period drama starring Keira Knightley could just be an exercise in eye-candy – and to a fairly large extent, that’s no bad thing. We were sitting in the front row, so we were really too close to appreciate that kind of thing – the imperfections in the picture were more apparent. Despite being a little turgid and sentimental at times it was a decent film, especially Ralph Fiennes as the Duke of Devonshire, a very dignified kind of monster.

After that we had dinner at a mandu (dumpling) restaurant, then went for a walk along the Cheonggyecheon. Su-Gyung and I talked for about an hour – mostly about teaching (she teaches Korean to Chinese students at a university) and language.

Eventually we all went home. In fact, I went to So-young and Botond’s home – to allow Bo access to my harddrive. I managed to press on him the first two series of The IT Crowd, which I’d just rewatched (except for the few episodes I’d never seen), the first series of QI, which I haven’t yet rewatched, and a few films, including the wonderful About Schmidt that I’d recently watched.

Then I went to my own home and slept for twelve hours.

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