Not even a month after I've arrived in Korea, a major holiday has passed: Chuseok (pronounced chew-sock). Chuseok is a celebration of the Harvest Moon, the equivalent of our Thanksgiving. And boy, am I glad I made it in time for this one: four-day weekend, camping in Jirisan National Park, and a giant bag heavy with songpyeon--a traditional, half-moon-shaped Korean rice cake, filled with either a sesame or chestnut paste. They're cooked over pine needles for a subtle sylvan infusion, and I'm telling you, they are ridiculously delicious. I just found out that I can get them at E-Mart any time of year. Danger.
So yes, Chuseok. A celebration of the bounty of the Earth. During this time, the 15th day of the 8th lunar moon, Korean families travel (or they're supposed to, at least) from all over Korea to return to their ancestral homes. Ideally, this puts them present at the gravesites of their ancestors, where they might pay deference to the spirits of those long-dead spirits that--legend goes--still play a hand in the fleshy happenings in Earth.
What I found out, though--from talking to the undeniably reliable student resources at Reading Town--is that Chuseok is primarily about visiting the grandparents. Because on Chuseok, the grandparents become rather liberal with their won, and one can never accumulate too many won. But such is the nature of any currency.
The point being: due to a mass ancestral-home-returning scramble, what should have been less than a three-hour car ride to wonderful and fabulous Jirisan National Park turned into a five-hour study of variance within the conditions of bumpers of Korean-driven cars. And my prior hypothesis was unequivocally correct: Koreans are Krazy drivers. Yes. Krazy with a capital K.
But we made it. And it was definitely beautiful. Before we had all left work Friday, Mrs. Lee had told me that for years after the Korean war ended, scattered sprinklings of North Korean soldiers hid within the forests of Jirisan. According to my Korean guidebook, eventually the squatters were, well, flushed out--which Sarah and I didn't take to mean they were shooed back across the DMZ by broomstick-wielding Koreans. The rumor is that of the large wildlife that once roamed them thar hills, two bears remain. I suggested that unflushed North Koreans might prove a larger threat to our food stashes.
From camp, I could see the mountain I was destined to climb, and curbed the first-night boozing, specifically, so that I could cover serious ground the next day. The others expressed a desire to lay lazily in the adjacent river all day, but what I wanted was to walk. Forever and ever.
The next day, the ever-helpful Anna walked to the campsite director man's office to inquire about the trailhead leading to the top of my mountain. They exchanged quite a few words as I stood there gazing across the road, across the river, up the forested slopes and to the pinnacle where--I was sure--the very best supplemental blog pictures await taking (always thinking about the blog, always, always). The man and Anna fell silent, and as soon as she turned her face to me, I knew.
"He says there are no trails."
"No trails?" I repeated.
"Mmm, yes. There are no trails."
I hadn't expected this. I hadn't expected this at all. All day laying in the river? By the river?Might as well be under the river. My father understands.
Not proud, but I pouted a little. A lot. I pouted a lot. And then I waded into the river, onto a rock, where I cursed my decision to leave my book at home (No time! There were mountains to climb!). The others were having fun in the water, and so me and myself walked the pity party upstream a ways, sat on a rock, and polished off about twenty serving's worth of pity-party trail mix.
Then I decided to be a big girl, and rejoined civilization. The trip was actually quite fun, a good opportunity to get to know everyone a little better, sit around the camp fire and take turns showcasing guitar skills, a little beer, a little more trail mix. Good people. Good mountains. Good times.