Started from the Bottom…

Suggested Listening:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OQQsurQFQk
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsLykJ17Oxc

On Friday night, I left with Seoul Hiking Group for Naejangsan National Park. That night, we slept at a nearby jjimgilbang so that in the morning, we could head straight to the park.

Now, I joined this trip by myself. In life, I’d much rather do things with company, but if no one wants to tag along, depending on the situation, I’ll go it alone. In this instance, I figured I could meet people on the trip, and oh, did I…

A jjimjilbang is a Korean public bath house.  They’re really, really popular, and for only about eight US dollars, it’s easy to see why. Jjimjilbang have a bunch of different sauna rooms and soaking tubs you can use; some also have swimming pools, karaoke rooms, gyms, and massage areas. There are also areas where you can pay extra to have old women scrub a layer of your skin off. Most jjimjilbang are open 24 hours and have a rec room with mats and blankets for you to use to sleep on the floor — something like an upscale high school lock-in.

The thing is, outside the rec room, everyone’s naked. Like, even the old women who scrub your skin off. This was my first real culture shock moment since being here. There are separate floors for men and women, but still… Being a film studies major, I’ve seen a lot of naked bodies (the French New Wave, I’m telling you…), so I’m not offended or anything, it’s just kind of… strange to me? To be having conversations with naked people… in a room of a bunch of naked people? The idea of a “public bath” in general just doesn’t really appeal to me. I already feel like normal bathtub baths are kind of odd (soaking in the filth you’re trying to wash off?), so the whole public bath thing, I’m not really about that life, but tons of people enjoy it. So, you know. I didn’t do it, but, cool for them. Bathe on.

We left the jjimjilbang around 7:00am to head out for the park. The trip was advertised as an easy stroll type hike, but it was far from it. The first stretch was difficult, as it was nearly all stairs (my quads hurt just thinking about it), but when we got a peek of the view below, our stamina was revived. We focused on breathing and trekked on.

After a couple hours and hundreds more stairs, we made it to the trail that headed towards the mountain’s peak.

Hiking is mad popular in Korea. On the weekends, the subways are always packed with 40, 50, and 60-something year olds headed to the mountains with their hiking clubs.

My group reached the final stretch at the same time as a lot of the Korean groups, and I think the Koreans were pretty frustrated with our collective lack of climbing skills.

Eventually, after scaling a few short rock faces with ropes and walking across bridges made of thin metal slats (what about that says “leisurely stroll?”), we made it to the top. It was such an awesome feeling — and an even better view.

We took some pictures on the peak and then prepared to go back down.

Going down was a beast, maybe even more difficult than the ascent. My knees felt bruised from all the stairs and were shaking by the time I got to the bottom. Once, we finally did get to the bottom, there was a small temple where we stopped to eat our snacks.

After that temple, we walked to the bigger temple — our final destination — and got ready to head home.

I’m glad the hike was challenging; it made it more worthwhile, like we accomplished something. Seoul Hiking Group does trips every week, so I’d definitely consider joining them again.

Saw some stunning views, met some new people, and got a workout. Winning situation. Surely made up for last weekends’ roughosity.

***

Today, after church, I had lunch with a couple friends. Then, we went to a cafe and ordered the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had in my life, but more about cafes later… It was a good weekend. I’m thankful (and am working on being more thankful even when the weeks are roughosities).

But anyway, happy trails.

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