MARCH 11, 2012
I was utterly depressed. Weekends are sacred to me, and I’d just squandered my Saturday on my worst hike in Korea — hell, my only bad hike in Korea so far.
I was coming down with something — all those coughing, spluttering students, none covering their mouth — and politeness had seen me reluctantly accept an invitation to hike with the old man, Mr Ha, I’d met in the mountains behind Gimhae.
Now, he’s a nice enough old fellow, this Mr Ha, and he’s also never going to read this, so I’ll tell it straight: he REEKS of garlic. I mean, he must eat kimchi six times a day; I’d done an urban outing with him the week before and had been astonished to realise, as he led me from rice harvesting tool to rice processing machine to rice cooking device in a local museum, that I could smell him from a metre behind me.
Now I had to get in a car with him. Worse, he brought along two friends, colleagues from his old company, I believe, and the younger one kept calling me Mr Ian, and hanging closer than a burr caught in your sock, one minute telling me how he was hungover and hated hiking, the next threatening to invite me to dinner so his children could meet a foreigner…
It was a really, really crappy hike — Mr Ha gave up halfway up the mountain and I had to summit with his annoying friend — but when I begged out of the raw-fish lunch they insisted on having to wind down, it was only partly because I never wanted to see any of them again. I felt sick, rundown and aching all over. I went home and lay down in my dirty hiking clothes and fell straight into sleep.
Next day I still felt rotten, but in the late afternoon I dragged myself out of bed, telling myself it would be five more awful workdays before the next shot at freedom. I left the house not long before dark and slumped up a lonesome road into the foothills of Bulmo-San. It was cool and quiet and I felt a little better. There’s a place up there in the Daecheongcheon Valley that translates as “Boiled Chicken Village”, a collection of restaurants crammed between road and river.
Before I got there, though, I came to these fellows in the picture. All over rural and semi-rural Korea, just as in Japan, you see these poor wretches condemned to a life on a short chain. I’ve seen this pair a few times now and they’re always restrained in this dirty, wretched scrap of redneck yard near the road. They’re nicer than they look — they only started barking when I aimed a camera at them. They actually seemed desperate for some kind of diversion and attention.
But I could barely carry my own sorry corpse along. I reached Boiled Chicken Village in deep darkness; groups of loud, inebriated locals were piling into cars to head back to the city. I made myself walk a full hour before I stopped, took a few deep breaths and turned for the walk down the mountain towards home. I’d pass the dogs and say ‘bye on the way back.
But meanwhile, was that…garlic I could smell wafting out of that roadside place?
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote