A brief interruption to my New York Saga to share an episode of very-Korean weirdness I enjoyed this afternoon, Day 2 of my Four Hikes in Four Days Challenge.
It’s a four-day weekend, you see, for Seollal, the Korean New Year, a break I desperately needed as I had aged approximately 17 years in my first week back in the killing fields of the Korean middle school. I thought having a pleasant goal to motivate me would make another year of teaching more tolerable. Instead I’ve entered the school grounds each morning like a condemned man stepping onto the scaffold.
I needed a good walk or four to remember what living was all about…
I call it a hike, but I was wearing jeans and urban threads, and really it was just an amble up a big, steep hill inconveniently positioned between two coffee shops. I could have taken a road to the second cafe but that would make it a stroll, and strolls don’t count on my Walks List (115 last year). You see why I get sick of my own company?
Anyway, the whole of Jangyu was a ghost town thanks to the holiday, the streets blessedly traffic-free, the shops closed. Relieved to find Dunkin Donuts open, I stocked up on essential nutrients before my gruelling assault on Dead Man’s Peak, elevation 300-odd metres. It has a real Korean name, of course, but honestly, they’re all starting to sound the same to me and I’m trying to romance the place up a tad.
As soon as I was in the wintery woods I felt better. So quiet and calm and still.
Some precision woodpecking I hadn’t noticed last time:
Not a single hiker did I meet.
Not a single hiker’s blaring transistor radio did I endure.
It’s been a sunny weekend, a relief after a minus 11 C morning walk to work on Friday (nursing a busted rib after a recent fall). Almost too soon, the summit, with its bench and the grave that always annoys me for hogging the prime real estate.
And right away, the weirdness. An old guy appeared via another path, huffed and puffed for a bit, did the obligatory calisthenics, then approached as I played with my camera, said hi, sat down on the bench and invited me to join him. I steeled myself for the inevitable “Where are you from?” that begins every conversation with a local in this country.
“Where are you from?”
Suitably impressed (for some reason), he announced, “I am 68 years old.”
Then he got up, paced around a bit as though summoning the will, or the vocabulary, to take the dialogue into new territory.
“Excuse me. Question.”
Koreans struggle with this word — it always sounds like “kestion”. I steeled myself. I was on holiday!
“Your fly is open.”
He said this with the air of making a grand pronouncement from a mountaintop — which, in effect, he was.
I reached for my zipper. It was safely fastened. Perhaps I’d misheard my 68-year-old companion.
“Your fly is open,” he repeated, his face transformed into the internationally recognised expression of puzzlement. Then he grabbed a twig and began scratching his words in the dirt:
There followed several minutes of scratching in the dust, pointing at each other’s groins, quizzical looks, and a surreal bout of two-way Listen-and-Repeating. He wore out one twig and sought out another. I began to suspect he had suffered some traumatic incident of involuntary exposure in an English-speaking environment.
The conversation progressed. Perhaps the issue was possessive determiners? I decided to take control and put 12 years of English teaching experience to work.
I pointed at my groin. “MY fly is open.”
He pointed at his. “MY fly is open.” (Relax, dear reader, his own front door was safely bolted.)
I pointed at his. “YOUR fly is open.”
He pointed at mine. “YOUR fly is open.”
“That’s right!” (Positive reinforcement.)
This went on for some time.
Then our conversation took an unexpected turn. For the worse.
“My FLIES are open. MY FLIES ARE OPEN!”
“No, no, no!” Was it a single-plural issue, then? I pointed yet again at my crotch. By now I knew exactly where it was without even looking. I held up one finger on my left hand. “You see? ONE fly. My fly IS open.” Two fingers. “FLIES. One FLY, two FLIES!” I indicated our respective groins, safely contained within several (this being a cold day) layers of fabric. “OUR FLIES ARE OPEN!”
“OPEN!” (Miming furiously.) “UP…CLOSED! DOWN…OPEN! OPEN…CLOSED! OPEN…CLOSED!”
Just when I thought we’d exhausted the topic, he went out on another limb. Turning his attention to his jacket, he began furiously zipping and unzipping, all the while imploring me to provide clarification.
“Oh! I understand! No! That isn’t a fly! THAT IS A ZIPPER!”
“Yes! Pants — fly! Jacket — zipper!”
He relaxed, and smiled with great satisfaction, and did up his jacket, this time for good.
“Thank you very much!” And he went bounding down the mountain, presumably keen to share his discovery with the family. It was going to be an unforgettable Seollal for them all.
Rather worn out, I put my feet up for a spell…
..and trotted down the far side…
..back into the thick of it…
..past a flock of miniature goats…
..and some poultry scratching in the dust at the feet of the incipient city temporarily halted in its upward progress by the requirements of holiday custom.
Coffee, an “Italian sandwich” and cheesecake concluded my outing. I meandered home in the dusk, the chill descending, more determined than ever that this — mark my words — THIS WILL BE MY FINAL YEAR OF ENGLISH TEACHING.
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote