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Taking a hike

In a change to our usual routine (which involves me spending the night at Habiba’s on a couple of weekdays and on Saturday), I hosted Habiba at my place on Friday night. In preparation, I’d given my bedclothes their bi-annual wash (I’m not really joking about that), cleaned the bathroom, the kitchen area and swept up a pile of dust and hair.

On Saturday, we had a ‘brunch’ (still with inverted commas) of bagels and coffee at a bagel place nearby. Then we went to see the Woody Allen film Vicky Christina Barcelona. It was enjoyable, although I found the narration quite irritating, and ultimately I don’t think it amounted to much. After that we headed back to mine to collect some clothes so I could spend the night at Habiba’s. She showed me some Muppets and Flight of the Conchords songs on Youtube, both very good. I reciprocated with Shirley Bassey and Andre Previn’s appearances with Morcambe and Wise, and Bill Bailey’s classic ‘Insect Nation’.

Once we’d dropped my bags at her apartment (sans change of underwear, which I’d forgotten to pack), Habiba and I went to Itaewon. There, we were to meet my colleague Yu-jeong – Ally, flame-haired Valkyrie – for a birthday night out. Her birthday, in fact. Crossing the road above the subway station we were accosted by Jon – my erstwhile team-leader at work; he was with his annoying Korean wife, Sunny – my erstwhile boss. We chatted for a minute then I made our excuses. I didn’t say anything about meeting colleagues – I didn’t know if they’d been invited or not, or would be welcome or not.

We had dinner at the same Chinese restaurant that Travis had gone missing from on the occasion of the E-Castle Christmas meal. Also in attendance were Yun-hye and In-ju from work, Yun-hye’s friend Claire (didn’t get her Korean name) and my language exchange person, Ji-hyeon. During the meal someone had a call from Sunny – who of course told them we’d just met … and I hadn’t mentioned it.

Ji-hyeon tried to make me speak Korean, but I couldn’t think of anything to say. Coveniently, I started choking on some food – she left me alone after that. It was a strange experience, a mixing of two different worlds – work and friendship. Not that I dislike my colleagues, but I like to keep my friendships separate, and somehow special. And I don’t like sharing parts of my life with people I’m not that close to. It reminded me of the time (before the days of this blog) I had dinner with my parents and my friend Lawrence.

Unfortunately, Ji-hyeon had to leave after the meal – she was flying to London for the book fair the following day. (I don’t associate her with work and I’ve talked to her a lot more than to my colleagues, so I consider her part of the world of friendship.) We went to a place called 7 Bonji Bistro for cocktails. I was reluctant to have a cocktail – they are girls’ drinks, after all. I tried to compensate for this my having a manly drink entitled a James Bond Martini (which Habiba professed to find ‘cute’). It was very bitter. After that it was off to The Loft for more drinks and dancing. Women were entitled to free drinks; I was the only man in the party.

I dragged Habiba away before the rest were ready to leave – I had plans for the morrow. Habiba gave everyone a hug; I gave Ally a hug and wished her a happy birthday.

My plans for Sunday involved meeting Botond and some Koreans to go hiking on Ganghwado, a large island north-west of Seoul. And those plans were realised. I was fairly intoxicated and tired on Saturday night, but didn’t feel too bad the next morning. I (wearing yesterday’s underpants and socks) met the others at Hapjeong Station at 9:30, and from there we drove north in a many-seated people carrier. There were four middle-aged women and two men – one of the men slightly older, in fact. They didn’t speak much English, but we greeted each other and after that I mostly just talked to Bo.

The drive took an hour and a half or so and the following walk lasted over four hours. The area we ended up in was fairly rural area, a little more picturesque than, say, Odaemi village up near the Dee Em Zed. The land was more rolling, more complicated, even, than the usual perfect flatness punctuated by forested hills – although there was also exactly that kind of landscape around. As spring is now well under way, the trees and plants were all clothed with bright young leaves and/or flowers.

We hiked up a wooded hill and over a few hilltops. Shortly after one we stopped for lunch. My contribution was pretty paltry – some crisps and chocolate – and the Koreans didn’t seem very interested in Bo’s bananas and sandwiches. But they had plenty of food of their that they pressed on us. A little kimbap, some translucent noodles, kimchi, rice, tree shoots with red bean paste, bean curd, and some sweet grey-brown slop – amongst other things. Oh, and makkoli – a milky alcoholic drink which appears to be intrinsic to the Korean hiking experience.

Eventually we came to the main attraction: a hillside covered with pink, lilac, mauve and purple flowers. The flowers adorned bushes which had yet put out much in the way of foliage. This area was where most of the other hikers wanted to spend their time. Part of the hillside was roped off from the path; another part had a long wooden walkway built across it. Only one side of the hill had the flowering bushes – the other was wooded.

Pink Hillside

The Koreans stopped here for a few photos with their banner. I don’t know what their group is called, but they aim to climb 100 peaks in Korea. I don’t know how many they’ve done.

From here we walked down a road a little way and then through more woods on our way down. We stopped for a little while at a temple which was bedecked in lanterns for the upcoming Buddha’s birthday – 2nd of May this year.

Although we paused numerous times during the hike, apart from the lunchbreak they were only brief stops. The Koreans liked to keep moving; Bo and I, on the other hand, would have preferred to spend a bit more time taking photos and taking the view.

Towards the end of our hike we passed through a small village – or at least a number of houses in general proximity to one another. There was a dog farm there. I’m sure I heard a Korean hiker as he passed say with a laugh that dog meat was delicious.

Once we arrived at a main road, the guy who drove the car got a taxi back to where it was parked. The rest of us had to wait. As we looked at information board showing a large map of the hill, the other Koreans remarked that we’d walked 10.4km. I nodded off for a few minutes on the way back and came to when we made a stop to look at some vegetable stalls. I got out too and took a few shots of the nearby mudflats and islands. When I looked around everyone was getting into the car again. They picked me up as they were leaving the layby.

For much of the rest of the way I played a wordgame with Bo. It involves guessing the five-letter word that your opponent has in mind by saying other five-letter words and being told how many correct letters you have in the correct place. It’s the first time I’d played it in years. I won, but I had the unfair advantages that I’m a native English speaker and I know how to play the game. I want to get Habiba to play with me.

I stayed the night at Habiba’s; she washed my clothes (well, she put them in her fancy frontloader washing machine – she didn’t do them by hand) and told me about the two chaps she’d met during the day. That’s three nights in a row we spent together – although only one full day. Nice.

Categories: Life, Travel
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