Monday, February 20, 2012

You're snow fun anymore

Near the end of last year, I was being driven through the centre of Jeju Island, on the slopes of South Korea's tallest mountain, and I saw my first fallen snow in almost two years - having spent the previous winter in sub-tropical Taiwan where it doesn't quite get cold enough to make rain fun.

I saw more snow in Seoul when I forced myself out of the hostel to visit Seodaemun Prison, and en route to my next destination in Gangwon Province I was delighted to see snow-capped boulders trapped in frozen rivers. I was looking forward to visiting Seoraksan National Park while this winter weather lasted, so I could have the rare privilege of seeing the landscape covered in snow and ice.

What I didn't realise was that I'd have to walk on the stuff.

Seoraksan National Park

I was hoping Seoraksan would be like Taroko Gorge, which I visited the same time last year in Taiwan and is one of my all-time favourite places. But it became clear pretty soon that I was going have to come back in a more mainstream season if I wanted to see the caves, cliffs, amusingly shaped rocks and waterfalls without dying.

If it was nighttime, I could make a superb 'Bear on Night Mountain' pun.
It wasn't though

Big Bronze Buddha of Sinheungsa.
I know it's yet another Buddha. But look, he's in the snow

Same goes for yet another temple

Some scamp's pinched all the water

I don't know or care what that is. It's just an excuse to see more of those mountains.
I hope you're not bored of snow already, because there's plenty more where that came from


I'm not actually in that one. The one I've taken a photo of from the outside.
This is for illustration purposes. I am not magic

I enjoyed the views from the convenient observation platforms on Mount Gwongeumseong (670 metres), but nobody warned me about the perilous climb to the actual peak. Or maybe they did and I just couldn't understand.

Even if it wasn't covered in slippery ice, this required a scramble across sheer rock that actually looked refreshingly challenging, after being molly-coddled by the metal walkways of Singapore's 'hiking trails' and other non-adventurous outdoor activities. But through a combination of inexperience, worn-out footwear and the poor physical fitness that comes from sitting in a hotel room for a week bashing laptop keys and eating mostly Lotteria bulgogi burgers and cup noodles (the closest I've come to cooking in 15 months), I wasn't up to it.

I got as far as I could, took a resigned photo and headed back down. Mostly by buttock. Now I'd lost my confidence, I found it even more difficult to keep my traction and balance, and even when I was back on the less treacherous footpath to the cable car station I relied on handrails that I hadn't needed on the way up. I was like a prematurely old man, except I can't even use that unfair comparison as there were various people of impressively old and embarrassingly young ages who didn't seem to have trouble making the climb.

Sokcho: Where my laptop and pot noodles were waiting for me


Untainted snow

Down to earth again, I got a map and headed off on what was supposed to be the first of several routes within a few kilometres of the park headquarters. It ended up being the only route I bothered with - when I reached the branching point for Geumgangul Cave, the already-slippery footpath was replaced by shiny, ice-coated rocks, and I decided it really wasn't worth it.

I remembered the lesson I was supposed to have learned at Taejongdae Lighthouse and realised today would not be a good day to die. I couldn't let that rubbish Mr. David blog be my lasting legacy to the world, could I? My last words need to involve me tempting fate, and fate finally giving in. 'Don't be daft, why would there be live ammunition in a water pistol? Still, better check.' That sort of thing. 'Why would they install a button that self-destructs the photocopier? This must just be "scan."' So I sensibly/boringly gave up before I got fed up, headed back down the mostly clear footpaths and enjoyed the cool air and frozen rivers.

Seoraksan looks nice in the winter, but so do Korean girls, and you should never get interactive with either. If/when I come back to Korea during some other season, I will return here. Autumn's supposed to be ace. But what will be my excuse for falling behind people twice my age when the rocks aren't all covered in ice? With any luck I'll die before then, so I don't have anything to prove. But as if that's going to happen.

...I said AS IF THAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN. No? Fine. I guess more blogs next week then. It was nice to get out.

Biseondae Rock. Probably. It'll do

Dave hunts for yellow snow. Ever since my friends at school told me about the health benefits of yellow snow and encouraged me to eat it whene'er I could, I've been devoted to the cause.
It does taste a bit funny, to be honest

These rocks looked extremely tasty though, like Christmas cake

Bibimbap: South Korea's scattest dish is their one concession to vegetarians.
This one had weird pine mushrooms in it, but normally it's great


  1. There's a Korean restaurant here that sells bimbambip or however it's spelled (too lazy to scroll up). I haven't been yet because they also have spam on the menu and that unsettles me.

    1. The spam thing is ridiculous. I heard the Americans brought it over during the Korean war, and everyone got a taste for it - it's stocked high in every convenience store (sorry, 'corner shop').

      Yesterday I ate at a Korean restaurant where one of the courses was pig skin. It was not ace. When they get it right they really get it right, but some of the worst food I've eaten has been Korean too.

      I like bibimbap, but I think I like its name more. Or to use its full name, skeebady-bap-bap bibimbap babbady-boo.