Australia, Hiking, Korea, Mountains
Comments 12

End of the Cycle?

People often say that Brisbane, despite the 3 million people living in its greater conurbation, is still a small country town. You run into people who know people you know — Brisbane people — in the oddest places. You know?

Robert (guitar) and I scare the neighbours at my 21st birthday party

Odd places like Busan. I went there on Saturday to catch up with two friends of Robert, an old friend from university and a band we had back then, who had been cycling through Korea for over a month. I’d never met Tim and Steph before but we’d exchanged a few emails before they left Australia and as they worked their way south from Seoul. I wanted to help them out and offered some floor space if they came through Gimhae. Luckily they didn’t. There’s not enough floor here for two bodies and a tandem bike.

An email: they were in Busan, leaving on Sunday for Fukuoka, Japan. I’d been sick, as you know, and had just got, if possible, sicker: somehow I’d given myself a hernia. The emergency doctor reckoned I’d coughed once too often, or too hard. So add to my list of Korean experiences the quirky sensation of popping a lump of organ-lining back into position with a sharp finger jab to the abdomen. You learn to improvise when you travel a bit.

But I needed an outing, and it was a sunny Saturday. We located each other at the Nampo subway exit. “Do you drink coffee?” asked Tim, who with his lithe frame, fleece and ragged beard reminded me of a thru-hiker.

“Do I ever.”

They bought the lattes and the cheesecake and we compared notes about our impressions. They’d seen a lot more of the country than I have. Why Korea? I asked.

“We wanted countries we could link by boat. Korea to Japan, hopefully Japan to China.” These guys have travelled a lot — like me they’re excellent job-quitters — and we told tales and shared plans all day.

Turns out that, yes, they’d been through some hairy episodes on busy roads, but had also discovered relatively unknown stretches of pleasant bike path coming out of Seoul. They’d only camped a few times, as Korea is no tenter’s paradise and the comfort of the ubiquitous love hotels was hard to resist. They hadn’t seen much of Busan, so like a native I took them on an excursion for their final day in the country.

We strolled through the Jagalchi fish markets while they told me about Vietnam, China, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. I was after tips for a place to disappear for a few months on the cheap before my Big Walk next year. Steph bought one of those green-onion pancakes. I squeezed off a few wary shots when the fishwives dropped their guard.

Out on the wharves, most of the morning’s frenetic unloading had tapered off. How about a little hike? I said. Sure, they replied. So we left the other day-trippers behind…

..and I plotted a course for that mountain on the left — forgotten its name again — promising some of my favourite urban alley-hiking and a nice view from the summit.

We talked the whole way, as the alleys steepened; a woman called out “NO!” and gave us the Asian X-hands when we took a wrong turn. We passed this temple…

..and soon we were in vegetable gardens, and then shaded and quiet woods.

“This is the best path we’ve seen in Korea,” Tim said.

“Every hill in Busan has them,” I said. “You just choose one and aim at the top. Early Spring was best, with the cherries and camellias and azaleas.”

We explored another deserted little temple…

..and soon emerged on the top.

Down below, most of the azaleas had petered out, but up here they were fully ablaze:

We sat on the rocks and admired the views of one of the world’s great ports.

But this couple had been burning some calories. Not for the first time, lunch was mentioned. I suggested the enormous Lotte department store near the water (Lotte seems to own the few parts of Korea that Samsung and LG don’t). I’d never been there, but there was sure to be a food court. We went down through the forest, where lanterns for the upcoming Buddha’s Birthday celebrations were strung.

Hacking a path through the fish-market throng, Tim said, “Vietnam is good for people who like a lot of person-to-person contact all day, every day. It’s like this everywhere, except everyone in cars is hitting their horn as well.” I mentally crossed it off the list.

We ate in a Pizza Hut. It was magnificent — thru-hiker magnificent, ie, fabulously fatty. But we all needed a few calories. Tim does a lot of cycling in Brisbane, and while we devoured  those calories, I suddenly remembered a friend of mine, another Brisbane-ite who’s a fanatical cyclist.

“Hey, you don’t happen to know Cameron…?”

“Allen? Sure do. He’s a good racer.”

“Unbelievable. I worked with him for a couple of years in Japan, and he’s cycled out to Sandgate a few times to visit.”

“Brisbane, hey?”

That was a great day. I feel like I made a couple of friends for when I find myself back in old Brisbane Town. If they’re still in it when I get there, of course.

Cam and I last year. I was practising for Alice Cooper that night.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote



  1. rivron says

    A good slice of life that. Encounters with like-minded souls always leaves me with the feeling that such encounters make life worth living.

    Interesting to see a swastika used in a context totally alien to that in which it would appear in Europe.

    • Yes, you meet some good people on occasions leading this kind of life. Those backwards swastikas are common over here and in Japan on temples, and are used to represent such on maps etc.

  2. Love the pic of your 21st. I didn’t know they had colour photos back then…

    I can vouch for the green oniony goodnes of buchimgae (we call it chijimi over here – apparently from a regional dialect), and for the cheesy goodness of pizza following a hike (I used to order pizza after coming home from an army weekend)

    Looked like a great hike. If only the weather would settle down on this side of the sea…

    • They had just discovered electrickery as well, which was handy for the amps. Those green pancakes taste half-cooked to me — give me the artery-jamming splendour of the real (western) version any day.

  3. Good story. So nice to make new friends, especially when you are in a foreign place. Pizza is the perfect post-hike grub.

  4. Robert says

    Wow, that 21st photo is a blast from the past! That guitar is still around and getting played, including by my youngest, Oscar. Great to read the details of your time with Tim and Steph and to have further confirmation of the six (or less when you’re from Brisbane) degrees of separation!

    • Hey Robert, glad that axe is still being ground! Happy I could meet up with your friends at last — and that you’ll be doing some adventuring soon, yourself.

  5. Can you still fit in those jeans you’re wearing?! Nice post and pictures. I’m also pretty impressed with those bright pink aprons!

    • I have noticed a bit of extra space in the waist — some rare good news! Yes, those aprons — not subtle, are they? There’s a whole school of fashion on display down there. I pray it doesn’t spread any further than the docks.

  6. a strawberry patch says

    How nice! In Mississippi, it is hard to go anywhere without stumbling across someone you know, which is endearing and annoying at the same time 🙂 Love the shot of the port!

    • Thanks a lot. I’d rather take that kind of shot early or late in the day, but you can’t always plan these things!

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