Hiking with Korean Friends
"I would love to take you hiking and I would love to buy you duck" the mother of a boy I teach said to me one day after class. From this point on, I knew I wanted become friends with her. Who could refuse such an offer?
So true to word, the next Saturday we met up in front of E-mart in Guseo- dong. It was a sweltering hot day. My friend met me dressed head to toe in practical hiking gears. Me, a victim of the fabulous fashions of Korea, was not so practically dressed. I had on my high top boots, big blingy ear rings and my new waistcoat. My Korean friends eight year old daughter and eleven year old son also accompanied us. Her daughter had on her mothers diamante encrusted visor and her son was ipoded up and singing “ g g g g baby, baby, baby”.
For hiking sustenance we stopped at an eatery where two octopi the size of human heads were dropped into a boiling broth containing, various types of mushrooms and spring onions. The octopi writhed around like limb flinging contemporary dancers until their only movement was created by the force of the boiling soup. This style of cooking I'm sure is very common in Korea but for a fish eating vegetarian from New Zealand, it was a challenge to witness my meals death. Once the octopi were cooked they were lifted out by tongs and with scissors cut into bite size portions. No part of the octopus was sparred, the head of the octopus was sliced open and the black brain scooped out then dropped back into the stew. This, I learned, is thought to be the best part and also very good for keeping skin youthful looking. Of course they were offered to me, Koreans are very polite. I did, however, have to graciously refuse. Not to worry though, they were then devoured with great joy by my friends eleven year old son. I'm sure he will grow up to have great skin.
After lunch my Korean friend's husband joined us, a lovely man who gifted me with a red hiking scarf and some 'no sleep gum'. I never worked out what the gum contained but it certainly worked a treat. All gummed up we set off up the hill.....
Our first stop was at one of the many brilliant fitness parks that are scattered amongst the bush like foreigners in a Busan crowd, every now and then they just pop up. We had a ten minute hula hooping session with large, inner ribbed, stomach massaging, hip bruising hula hoops. It was great fun!
We then continued upward. It was very hot and steep. A short while later we stopped to munch on strawberries and grapes. By this stage I was feeling totally comfortable with my company, I was beginning to feel like part of the family.
It was a decent hike, another two or so hours later we reached the top of the mountain. The air was soft and warm and by this stage the sun was setting and the colour pallet was beautiful! The sky was a water colour painting of blues, oranges, pinks and reds. White blossoms were plentiful and purple flowers popped from the long yellowish green grass.
After descending for a bit we stopped off at a makkolli house for a few drinks. In our hazy state we the attempted to play Korean style soccer. It was the first time I had played soccer where the ball is kicked over a hip height net. It required more skill than I possessed and thankfully the rules were bent for me, I was allowed to catch the ball with my hands then kick it. When the game ended it started getting cold and dark, so feeling euphoric from the days events, we set off homeward.
It was such a lovely experience for me to be involved in the everyday goings on of a typical Korean family and to be made to feel so welcome and at home with them.
Even though there is a good age gap between me and my Korean friend and we have such different backgrounds, we manage to find a lot of common ground and we are forming a wonderful friendship. I appreciate her willingness to include me in her and her family’s lives. The time I spend with her will definitely go down as some of my fondest memories of Korea.