Monday, September 7, 2009
Second week, here goes.
I've been in Taebaek over a week now and I still haven't caught my breath. This past Saturday Jaye (another EPIK teacher) and I went food shopping (still a taxing and treacherous experience) and then a couple hours later Dave and Lindsay came by to peruse the books left in my apartment by the previous tenant. D&L have been here in Taebaek for over a year and are a great resource for all sorts of advice as well as numerous anecdotes.
After choosing some volumes we walked over to the restaurant and met up with nearly every other foreigner in Taebaek. As it turns out the majority of non-Koreans here (I think the grand total is about 18) are EPIK teachers with two outlying private-school teachers. Due to the sheer volume of the party I wasn't able to make everyone's acquaintance but I did get to eat yet another lavish meal of bulgogi. Afterwards half the party went to the Nori-Bang and some others (including myself) went to Certo Cafe (pronounces cher-toh, as the Italians do) for some REAL coffee and cheesecake. It was expensive and deeply appreciated. Eventually it was just four ladies hanging out and we chatted and played Crazy 8's which was really enjoyable (re: I won a lot). Honestly, there's only so much drinking one can really stand in any given 3-week period and some cake and card games went over well with me.
The next morning I got up nice and early (woo) to meet Dave and Lindsay at the bus station for a hike in the Mureung Valley, outside of Donhae city. Unfortunately Lindsay fell ill during the long and unbearably windy bus-trip (she had been in the drinking/Nori-bang group the night before) and had to skip out on the hiking but I went with Dave and his friend Pat and we saw some amazing nature. If you wish to view pictures and such I will refer you to my Flickr page here.
A few comments about Korean hikers: They do not dress like anyone would sensibly be expected to dress for a hike. Either they're wearing full-on month-long backpacking ensembles (floppy-brimmed fisherman hats, sweat-wicking high-tech outdoor clothing, immense highly engineered backpacks bristly with caribeeners, telescoping titanium walking-sticks and imposingly sized cameras) or they're wearing mini-skirts with high-heels (for the ladies) or dress slacks with crisp, freshly ironed polo shirts (for the fellas).
Americans wear clothes. Koreans, I've discovered, wear outfits.
In any case I think we were at least as much of an attraction for the Korean hikers as the waterfalls. Dave clued me in the words Koreans will most often use to refer to foreigners: "way-gook", which means "foreigner" and "mee-gook", which means "American." Once you start listening it's pretty easy to hear how often they're talking about you, which is all the time.
After the hike, which involved a viciously long, irregular and rickety set of iron steps (apparently also a common attribute on Korean hiking trails) we met Lindsay and some more of Dave's friends in a restaurant and the trail head. For our party of seven we gave the proprietress 100,000 won (something less then $100) and the instructions to bring us the best of whatever that might buy. The result was about half the forest served hot and steaming on our table covered in a thick film of spicy pepper sauce. Quite literally the vegetable side dishes were leaves, roots, and less identifiable items gathered from the forest floor and spiced to within an inch of their photosynthesizing lives. Some of it was pretty delicious and there was at least one vegetable so disgusting I had to spit it out into a napkin.
The whole meal was served, of course, with the local beverage which in this case was a milky kind of fermented rice wine. It wasn't really to my taste but since it was all I had to cut down the slow fire in my mouth (remember readers: pepper sauce) I ended up drinking enough of it to get incredibly sleepy. The trip back was slow and winding but I managed to be in bed by midnight like the responsible role model that I am attempting to portray.
Hopefully more to follow as the week progresses, but now it's tea and book time.