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So, my last weekend in Korea. Spent the week lugging boxes to school — five so far — and slipping out to the post office when nobody was looking (nobody’s ever looking) to cocoon them in (free!) tape and throw more money at the very nice lady behind the desk. The only drama was on Thursday when I realised I’d boxed up my Swiss Army knife with my apartment keys attached, and had to run back down there. Just in time, the very nice lady handed me a box-cutter with a weary smile. This is a busy time of year at the post office in Korea. Anyway, another flashback to an Autumn walk. I had plenty of un-posted ones to choose from, but this one is a nice mix of things I loved and hated about walking in Korea…
Hey, all. Hope you had a good TTHOD-25 (Thing-That-Happens-on-December-25). Mine was abysmal, even worse than last year’s; the highlight was going back to bed in the early afternoon. But I was too caffeinated to sleep soundly, so even that pleasure was short-lived. There was no option but to drink (German) beer, but I did manage to pack a few boxes while the euphoria lasted — why wait till Boxing Day? Let’s move on to happier things. Christmas just brings everybody down.
Do I have to apologise for hitting you with another dragonfly post? Has it come to that? Well, I hope not, because — “sorry” — there’s one more coming after this, and I can guarantee there’ll be more post-Korea. I took many hundreds of D.F. shots here that I’ll probably work on some more, and without giving anything away, I’ve been assured by a certain someone that there are going to be a lot more of these enigmatic critters in my future…
It dawned on me last night that I only had one more Saturday and two Sundays left in Korea. Now there’s just one more weekend and 10 full days. And I intend to cram six more posts into that space, starting with this one. I think it’s now officially Winter. I’ve had the odd case of numb, near-paralysed fingers with the Raynaud’s Syndrome playing up a bit on early-morning hikes, particularly in my camera hand — but really, who’s complaining when over in New York, Kate’s needed her brother with a snow plough so she could move her car? It’s been amazing walking weather. Someone told me today that this area had a mere 30% of its normal rainfall this year — and Jeju Island only 20%. Autumn was far sunnier and more pleasant than last year’s, and I’ve scarcely had a weekend walk over the last couple of months that didn’t occur under clear blue skies.
Hope you’re handling the deluge of posts without too much trauma. Tell you what, I’ll try to lower the wordage even more as an act of Christmas charity. Two weeks from yesterday and I’m outta here. I’m now spending most of each school day bent over my laptop, working on these danged pitchers while my students sleep through a movie. It’s an arrangement that pleases us all. Evenings go slowly by in a hazy sprawl of rock’n’roll, German beer and a few more hours working on photos while sitting on an inadequately heated floor.
“What do you like?” This guy I was doing an English camp with, right before I left for America in August, hit me with a tough one. I wasn’t exactly Mr Positive at that point; I’ll spare you the details ’cause you’ve heard ’em all before. Fortunately he had plenty of positive to go around. “What do you mean — music?” “No, I mean about Korea. What do you like about Korea?” He had a Korean wife and was a little defensive, even though they were themselves on the verge of escaping to America and new lives far from any middle school English classroom. Without hesitation, I answered: “The insects. And the flowers.”
Hi, all. Well, as threatened promised, I’m adopting a take-no-prisoners approach with the blogging now, in a desperate and probably futile attempt at publishing most of the un-posted material from my two years in Korea before I jump on that plane. Starting…er, two posts ago, the goal is a post every two days till I’m outta here. I like a challenge. In case you don’t, I’ll try to keep the word count down. Then, once I’m safely on southern soil, we can all take a breather. For a while.
So I left my eyrie above the temple…
We have all we need of heaven here on earth ~ Edward Abbey I’m definitely an off-season beach-goer. Songjeong Beach in the last gasps of Autumn was the quietest I’d seen it — and heard it. Except for the half-hearted thumps from a late-night mattress rodeo in the room next door, the Kuhn Motel was pleasingly silent. I still woke at 3:30am — excitement, probably. And 3:30 was extreme even for me, at least in late Autumn. I rose again around 5:00 and hit the road, aiming at the crisply outlined fingernail moon hanging over the ocean, then northwards again up the coast road, Yonggung Temple bound.
Funny how I always seem to be walking north. Well, until I reach the end and turn around… Exams from Thursday till yesterday meant a nice, relaxing few days at work — for me. Exams over, student motivation plummets even lower than usual — and mine with it. My goal is to do nothing in class but play movies for the next month, and little between lessons but read, write, edit and post. Prepare for a Goat that Wrote tsunami! Meanwhile, in the real world, I am beginning to wind up my affairs here in the Orient. Part of that is saying goodbye to my favourite local landmarks and paths. On Sunday I did a nice farewell hike up Big Ass Mountain. The golden autumnal weather just goes on and on, unbeatable rambling conditions. Let’s hope it hangs in there. Another part is dusting out the archives of unpublished Korean material while there’s still time, starting with the weekend before last, one of the top three or four in Korea for me. Really delightful weather, walking …
PEAKS & PILGRIMAGE TOKYO, AUGUST 2013 It’s been a long haul but this post concludes my little Tokyo series. It’s time I embraced the here and now, or at least the here and not-too-many-months-ago. I can at last start on my daunting backlog of Korea posts, like all the lovely Autumn ones — now that Winter is moving in to shake the last of the colour from the maples and the town itself…
PEAKS & PILGRIMAGE TOUR JAPAN, AUGUST 2013 I remember when my friend Andrew and I climbed Mt Fuji just over a decade ago, she was mighty elusive considering she was easily the biggest lump of rock and cinder on the entire archipelago. We had camped near Lake Motosu, and started walking to the mountain base at midday. It took us five hours, down vague tracks and forestry roads, to get to the starting point. Much of the time we were treed in, but even when we found ourselves in the open, with 3,776m of mountain somewhere in front, we often couldn’t see her. Haze, cloud, dense misty air is drawn to her, clinging to her flank like a camouflaging cloak. Then the cloak would shift, you’d be granted a glimpse and — Jesus.
PEAKS & PILGRIMAGE TOKYO, AUGUST 2013 Somewhere back home I’ve got two paper journals, handsome volumes in which I used to write my Japanese hike reports. There are an even 50 — this was when my mountain mania was raging, with no cure in sight short of an unplanned plummet over a precipice. On the first page of one there’s a pencil rubbing (I believe that’s the word, unsavory as it sounds) of a kanji (Chinese character) from a well-weathered summit sign. The character is…
PEAKS & PILGRIMAGE TOUR TOKYO, AUGUST 2013 The oddly pleasant smell of burning mosquito coils wafted through the upstairs-room window as I slipped into chu-hi-enhanced sleep. Then sometime after midnight I was shaken awake by tremors rippling through the tatami — wondered in the morning if I’d dreamed them till Andrew told me they’d originated up north, somewhere near the site of the Fukushima disaster.
Spider, are you crying, or the Autumn wind? ~ Basho I’ve been in a mental Nowheresville lately. Lou Reed’s passing hit me harder than I can explain or even understand, and of late my day-to-day routine here in south-eastern Korea seems even less meaningful than before. Haven’t felt like blogging or doing anything much at all except listening to old songs, skyping my girlfriend and sighing a lot while I shuffle around.
Doctor is coming, the nurse thinks sweetly Turning on the machines that neatly pump air The body lies bare Shaved and hairless, what once was screaming Now lies silent and almost sleeping The brain must have gone away ~ Velvet Underground, ‘Lady Godiva’s Operation’ — covered by our first band in the mid-80s Here’s to Lou Reed!
PEAKS & PILGRIMAGE TOKYO, 2013 I seemed to spend half my waking life on the Chuo Line when I lived in Tokyo. Now I was once again jumping into one of the familiar orange carriages at Nishi Kokubunji, playing a little game of Guess the Next Station from Memory as our kaisoku (rapid) train sped inbound: Kokubunji, Musashi-Koganei, Higashi-Koganei, Musashi-Sakai, Mitaka — and then the next stop on my high-speed visit to places from my Tokyo past: Kichijoji.
PEAKS & PILGRIMAGE TOUR TOKYO, SEPTEMBER 2013 The flight to Japan was the easy part. A couple of hours from Busan we were swooping over a green and crumpled landscape. With a surge of long-dormant affection I gazed down on the farmland and mountains that, even from that height, seemed comfortingly familiar. And what a thrill to recognise an old pal (and on one occasion a formidable foe) in the last light of Wednesday:
Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast Oh, but what a shame if all we’ve shared can’t last ~ Bob Dylan, “You’re a Big Girl Now” Time passes slowly up here in the mountains We sit beside bridges and walk beside fountains ~ Bob Dylan, “Time Passes Slowly” Well, which is it, Bob? That first lyric came to me right away as I was starting this; the second followed soon after. There’s a line from Bob for most of the interesting stages, stops and detours on life’s ever-winding highway — more than a few for the inevitable breakdowns and collisions as well.