Did you ever have one of those jobs where entering the office some mornings was like sailing a cursed clipper ship into a fog of doom?
Actually, just about every job I’ve ever had has been like that. At present I’m tolerating Monday to Wednesday pretty well — decent students and colleagues, a pleasant enough environment, a manageable number of suicidal or homicidal impulses — but then comes Thursday, when for 16 months now I’ve woken with an almost paralysing dread that actually intensifies with every step on my 3.3-mile slump to the Hell Skool gates.
Things got even uglier recently (you’ll recall I walked out during a recent lesson) and then still uglier: I came very, very close to breaking my contract and bailing for saner shores. Only the knowledge that I’d lose my return airfare and eight months of savings I will be grateful for next year kept me putting on the sad-clown makeup and trudging those 3.3 miles at the arse-end of the working week.
I am way too old for this kind of suffering. Workplace misery is for the young, surely? They don’t know any better. Meanwhile, on I trudge, consoling myself that in 224 days (today’s count) I will hang up my clown costume and cattle prod and Teach No More Forever.
And meanwhile, I live like crazy on those precious weekends and holidays.
Last Friday I was set free for the Buddha’s Birthday long weekend. I’d enjoyed the celebrations last year at Haedong Yonggung Temple, on the coast north-east of Busan, and took a bunch of nice pictures I never got around to posting on TGTW. I decided to head back for my third or fourth visit and spend the night at Songjeong Beach, a quieter, more laid-back cousin to hectic, overcrowded Haeundae…
..where well-oiled frolickers were working on their melanomas.
This is a nice little urban stroll. You spend a few kilometres on winding path in the pine forests of Dalmaji (with its ludicrously named Moontan Road — how do you perfect your moontan in a pine forest?) where tourist numbers plummet, birds sing and you can take in the spectacle of Korean walkers clad in multiple layers of eye-burningly bright, rainproof synthetics as they brave the midday summer (it’s here in all but name) sun.
Then you trot down a steep road to the ocean’s edge at the shabby-but-charming port village of Cheongsapo:
..with its incongruously positioned coffee-chain edifice, where I stopped, as I always stop, for a latte with a balcony view of the lighthouses and tetrapoidal seawalls:
The breeze was strong enough to deter most of the customers, who stayed in behind the glass where they could ignore their loved ones in comfort while gazing adoringly into the faces of their Samsung or LG smartphones.
Sufficiently re-caffeinated, I bailed, north past the gaily coloured but otherwise forbidding (that smell!) “tent restaurants” of Raw Fish Street (seriously):
Maybe if I was drunk, but I hadn’t had a drink in four months, and anyway I prefer any marine life on my plate to have enjoyed an appetising dalliance with a naked flame. Anyway the afternoon was getting on, and I was worried that the holiday crowds might mean a shortage of love hotels at Songjeong Beach. I’d left my sleeping bag at Kate’s in New York and was ill-equipped for a night of solitary love on the sand.
A brief detour over the rocks…
..and then the excitement of a stretch along the railway tracks..
..which you can follow all the way into Songjeong if the idea of death beneath screeching metal wheels doesn’t deter you.
Me, I always risk the badly rusted steps with the knotted-but-dubious rope to descend to the boulders and the mossy pebbles. This is the area where I saw the old ladies burning candles and offering fruit to the sea gods on my first visit. I always start to feel really, really good here, because even with the trash and fishing junk tangled up with the driftwood, I feel like I’m close to a type of nature I grew up with — for my first 19 years home was a bayside village near Brisbane.
As I approached these boys, one of them walked over and added some junk food detritus to the garbage pile. Probably thought he was “doing the right thing” (as the public service catchphrase in 1970s Australia used to put it):
But I’d had enough of rage and railing inwardly at my numerous foes. I was on holiday, and every step was taking me further from the horrors of work. Around this time on a Friday I’d usually be gazing out the window and counting the minutes till freedom.
And then I reached Songjeong, which on the first afternoon of my 12-day walk to Sokcho last year was strewn with garbage, an environmental travesty. On this breezy afternoon the kites were darting about, surfers were doing their best in a typically modest Korean swell, and despite the 30 or more Coleman-sized tents on the sand, the beach was reasonably clean:
But I knew the place would be buzzing that evening, and for once I had the sense to find a love hotel right away. Imagine my delight at scoring a room on my first try, and for only 60,000 won (about 50 bucks) — I’ve paid almost twice that on weekends or holidays in the past.
With sunset due in just 90 minutes or so, I stashed some gear and walked the couple of traffic-snarled miles north…
..joining the queue at last at the entrance to Yonggungsa — Dragon Palace Temple…
..the only temple in Korea perched on the wave-battered rocks right at the ocean’s edge…
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote