Saturday, 29 October 2005

First Trip to Korea - A Journal (Part 5)

After a gloomy day on Friday, it was such a bright cool day that I couldn't help giggling to myself seeing the blue sky outside the window. As scheduled, I took the subway to Suyu to meet Sun-mi before we set off for Bukhansan.

Sun-mi sent me a message saying that she would be late, but it just didn't matter. Suyu was in the northern part of the city where the buildings are apparently not as tall as those in the downtown. So the chilly winds of early winter were sweeping through. Fortunately I have put on an extra T-shirt inside my wind-breaker. I waited for Sun-mi in a Starbucks nearby with a nice hot mocha and a cheese cake, along with a copy of the International Herald Tribune. At about 10:30 am, Sun-mi arrived but she didn't have enough time for breakfast. She had a quick coffee when I told her about my futile efforts to find books about the history of Korea. Then we headed off to Bukhansan on a taxi. It was a pity that Hwa-joo was unable to join us as she had to work overtime on an important business pitch presentation that is due on Monday. Most probably she will have to work tomorrow too. Poor girl!

This track to the peak of Bukhansan, Baekundae, was much more difficult than I have thought. Although I have never been to Mountain Hua in Shaanxi province myself, it was the first thing I could think that was comparable. The marble rocks were so rugged that hikers really have to be careful and watch their steps. And Sun-mi was right, we were actually not hiking, we were climbing or even conquering the mountain with both hands and feet!

We took a few short breaks before we almost reached the peak, after all the strenuous climbing over the cliffs and rocks among the colourful foliage of maple trees. Honestly, I was so impressed and surprised to see that Korean people of all ages, mostly middle-aged and elderly as a matter of fact, climbed with incredible speed along the way to the peak. And - believe it or not - there was a long queue of at least 100 people lining up to the peak along the narrow strip of steps on the rocky cliffs to the top point!

It took us about two hours to get to the peak, which was 1.6 kilometres from the ticketing office, but we spent only half an hour to return along the same route. While I enjoyed the climbing and the beautiful scenery and landscape, I couldn't help thinking of poor Rina when she fell from a cliff of 30 to 40 metres in the summer eight years ago. Now that I was on the mountain, I could better understand how scared and helpless she felt at that time. I have no idea where exactly the terrible accident happened, but it could have claimed her life so easily, given the rough landscape and rugged rocks all over the place. A sharp end of the rocks could have torn her apart. Again, my best wishes always go with her and her fiance in the years to come.

After the challenging climb Sun-mi took me to Sinchon where Yonsei University, the alma matar of Hwa-joo, and Ewha Women's University, Sun-mi's alma matar, are located. We had a good break of beer and fried chicken during which we chatted about a couple of things, including my poems for Rina and Miri, before we strolled along the busy streets to Yonsei University. Then we had another beer at a quiet bar on the ninth floor, with a good view of the neighbourhood, before we went home by subway.

Again, I'm most grateful to Sun-mi for her hospitality. She made the hike to Bukhansan much more enjoyable than it would have been should I be hiking alone. I hope I could buy her and Hwa-joo something from Gyeongju.

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