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Ain't No Mountain High Enough

SOUTH KOREA | Friday, 23 April 2010 | Views [640]

Last week was very nice.  It was midterms at my main school and so Thursday and Friday I didnt have to teach.  I had to come to school anyways, but they wouldnt have me helping administer the tests because I would be too much of a distraction. So I played office, cleaned out my desk, perfected a few faulty lesson plans, practiced my Korean, wrote some emails and the like.  

Thursday we got out at 1:30pm.  My co teacher Helen, who I will now refer to as her Korean name Jee Hae, and I went to lunch at a Japanese restaurant.  It was my first taste of the breaded chicken phenomena that is sweeping the nation of Korea, and from what I tasted it should be internationally known.  It is a different, kind of lighter breading; I almost want to use the work flakey.  Anyways in a land where there is less than American food, I am totally down with this breaded chicken thing.

We also got a cell phone for me!  Its a cute little thing and not too expensive. It was 40,000 for the phone, 30,000 for the first 3 months and then 11,000 for every month after that.  That is about 230 USD in total, for a year.  Then we went to the bank to make my account open for over seas transfers, which I will be able to at an ATM machine, when ever I want to.  We went for coffee and traded stories of love and hate and life lessons.  But there was something she forgot to tell me in all our time spent together on Thursday.

At noon on Friday, Jee Hay asked me, her words were “Some teachers will go to Mireuksan after school”.  Those of you who know the Korean accent, feel free to plug it here by reading that sentence again and dropping all the R’s.  “Will you come?”  I had no plans, hell yea I was going!!  Mireuk= middle or Buddha in Korean and San=mountain.  Mountain climbing is something I have learned to love in the past year, living in Yellowstone National park will do that to you.  I had told Jee Hae that I would want to climb Mireuksan while I was here.  In my Introduction class I had told the students that I like to climb mountains and so all of my co teachers knew it as well. 

I am thinking that me and a handful of the ladies were meeting up and going for a leisurely walk up the mountain a bit when we got out of school.  Jee Hae goes on to tell me that she wasn’t sure if she would make it all the way up.  I assured her that that was okay.  I am thinking alright, well I will just turn around and go down with Jee Hae when she is done.  That was fine with me because I had worn my Merrell boots to school anyways.  It would be better for me to save climbing to the top for a day when I was actually wearing my hiking boots. 

Then it started, here and there, “are you Mireuksan”?  I’m thinking to myself, oh how wonderful, all of my favorite teachers are going!  Then I am waiting for the person who was going to drive me in the teachers parking garage and the principal comes by and says, “Mireuksan?” He is head to toe in hiking gear.  We get there and all the teachers are there.  All of them, in their gear and sneakers and everyone is ready to go.  We take some group photos together and embark towards the path.  Jee Hae goes, “Ok bye!  See you lata!”  I go, “what?”  She repeats to me “don’t think make it all the way.  I take cable car.  You go with men.”  Not a single woman climbed the mountain.  I was in the only one, with all the men, in my heeled boots. 

Anyways it was hilariously interesting.  I hiked with two men in particular, the PE teacher who talks to me now and then.  His English is something he can brag to the Korean’s about but it wouldn’t exactly translate much further than that.  It is rude of me to say a single bad thing since; honestly, I am just flattered that he tries.  I just found out that there is a younger assistant teacher at my school who speaks English very well (better than some of my co-teachers).  I have been here for almost a month that is how long it took her to speak a word to me!

Anyways, the PE teacher and I, not talked, but exchanged words for awhile with help of his cell phone dictionary and my Korean phrase book (Thank you Laura!!!!!!!).  Soon enough we had a third person catch up to our party, a math teacher.  He insisted, and I mean insisted on carrying my purse for me.  Yea, this guy wearing my yellow bag was making my day.  He spoke no English but that was ok because I was allowed to be quiet then and take in the green forest. 

They thought I was crazy to want to stop to look at the few at like every turn.  They could never understand that I researched their city and already knew what it would look like from the top of Mireuksan, from other people’s pictures, videos; other people’s eyes and now I was seeing from my own. 

When I got to the top I was winded, my face was blushed from the workout.  Korean culture lesson: they worship pale skin.  White skin is ideal here and I mean, they don’t wear blush even.  They pack on the white powder and even buy skin brighteners to lighten their already white skin.  Our whole tanning bed practice would baffle them to Buffalo and back.  So my flushed face was somewhat of a form of entertainment for them.  They insisted on taking pictures like this one. 

I could have stayed at the top for an hour but they were there for their 100th time probably.  So we headed back down.  I took the cable car with So Young and we met all the other women at the bottom.  They were happily eating delicious Pa Jun and drinking Makkoli.  I love Pa Jun by the way.  It is really very basic and I would suggest to anyone looking up a recipe and making it.  Here I find it most often with scallions, red peppers and octopus, so delicious!!  I tried Makkoli for the first time!  It is a fermented rice wine.  It is an awkward milky color but it tastes pretty sweet.  I do not think I would drink it for pleasure but for a traditional Korean moment, sure.  I think it is treated how most people treat tequila, great on Cinco de Mayo and birthdays.

      When the men made it down we all went to the restaurant that is at the bottom of the mountain.  Everyone went, the restaurant was held for us actually and that is when it dawned on me, this was not an impromptu adventure, this whole day was planned!  No one told me!  That’s Korea though!  The restaurant served us bulgogi and banchan galore.  And the PE and math teacher kept making me “try” soju again and again.  Across the board I enjoyed myself immensely but a little notice wouldn’t have hurt.

Tags: esl in korea, korean mountain, mireuksan, south korea, tongyoung

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