Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bukhansan and Gretel

I didn't see a lot of Korea's green side last time I was here, mainly because the green was covered in white and the routes carved through the wilderness for my convenience were frosted over and more treacherous than if I'd just crunched through the snow and branches.

I don't know what's happened in the months since I've been gone, but miraculously the country is now warm and its national parks are more accessible. Well, as accessible as Korea gets for people who don't speak Korean, anyway. At least this meant there were no other bloody foreigners. I've noticed that tourists don't really seem interested in visiting these pastoral places on the outskirts (I only saw Japanese people in Takaosan), maybe because a mountainous forest is admittedly much the same in any country with bumpy terrain and a temperate climate. The only distinctive features are the occasional temples, tombs and shrines, but international visitors can see those more conveniently by hanging around in the city centre or boarding the tour bus.

I didn't come here for the temples though, and while Korea's national parks don't have much else that can't be found in the English Lake District, the Scottish Highlands and other places back 'home,' I'm not there right now. So I enjoyed getting away from civilisation and spending the day wandering around Bukhansan National Park accompanied by the rustic folk tales of the Brothers Grimm narrated by amateurs.

As I've pointed out before, I'm like a combination of an old man and a child, with none of the stuff in-between.

Bukhansan National Park

I took some photos of the nice nature, but it's all pretty samey, and will only get more so if I succeed in ticking off all 20 national parks of South Korea, as is my flimsy goal (I've already been to four). So in the absence of interesting things to show you, I thought I'd focus on the fusion of sound and vision, now I'm putting more effort into making my audiobook soundtracks relevant to the places I visit.

I've often noticed when looking over photos in old posts that the mood of a place is sometimes linked to the audiobooks or radio dramas I was listening to at the time, which other people will be oblivious to and can't always be relevant (I like some science fiction, but I'm not planning on going to space right now, for example). But while looking back at Gyeongju photos reminds me of Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys and the Bali Botanic Garden is inextricably linked with Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot, just because I happened to be going through those at the time, the greatest successes have been things like crossing the desert (by minibus, admittedly) to Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, which really set the right tone.

So I thought the Super Grimm Bros would help to enhance the rural escapism of this forest walk, even if I'm several thousands miles, several hundred years and several planes of reality from the kingdom of talkative animals and calorific cottages where these stories take place. It worked pretty well, and will probably make these photos more enjoyable to look back over in the future. Even if they might seem irrelevant and confusing to you when dumped arbitrarily between these paragraphs, because I really don't have much to say about them.

Look, it's a temple

It seems a little pointless to review something in the public domain that's been out since 1812, but I do recommend you try out some of Grimm & Grimm (Deceased)'s catalogue, as there are some real treats scattered amidst the boring stuff. Much like this blog. (Tokyo was fun, wasn't it?)

I was familiar with some of these stories, but probably like you I wasn't too fussy about the authorship of fairy tales when I was a preschool kid, and didn't discriminate between the Grimms, Andersen or Perrault. I was delighted to hear 'The Four Musicians' again, which was always one of my favourites, but there were some I hadn't heard before that really made me laugh, especially when these involved ludicrously patient talking animals helping people out for no clear reason.

My favourite of these is the fox in 'The Golden Bird,' who offers his counsel indiscriminately to any arsehole who comes his way, and keeps bending his own rules to give the easily distracted protagonist another chance even after his advice is ignored again and again. That's sort of like me when it comes to lending money to people - I always want to trust them, because when they pay me back several years down the line it feels so good to have this trust justified, but it also carries the risk of losing tens of thousands of pounds to less reputable members of the human race. That's what I got out of it, anyway. Except this fox puts more on the line than just his savings, and at the end inexplicably requests that the prince cut off his head, which he obligingly does. Oh, you're obeying now, are you? Put him out of his misery.

Another I hadn't heard before is 'The Fisherman and His Wife,' which is so relentless and drawn-out in its repetition, I'm surprised Stewart Lee didn't write it. Like the previous story, it's got a bit of a confusing moral, as although you can see the end coming all the way through (unless you're an idiot or possibly the story's target age), no one really gets punished for their greed and vanity. The fisherman's insatiable wife (not like that) keeps demanding that her whipped husband ask for increasingly elaborate favours from the enchanted fish (another pointlessly obliging creature), before she eventually goes one step too far and they end up back in the pig sty where they started out. So she's not an emperor any more, but they haven't lost anything overall.

It's not like the greedy wife's requests started out humble and then got obscene - the fish had no problem elevating her from king to emperor to bloody pope before deciding enough was enough. So remember kids, always demand more than is reasonable and test someone's patience and charity to the limits, as the worst that can happen is you'll be no worse off than you started.

The women characters are mostly pretty funny too. I'm not going to go all feminist on your bouncy jugs, but apart from clever Gretel and a couple of other protagonists, the women are mostly evil witches, deceitful wives or commodities to be traded between men. The princess in The Golden Bird isn't even given any lines, we're just told that she wails a lot as she trades hands and gets stored in various places. She's basically a goat.

There are some that are intentionally funny too, like 'The Valiant Tailor,' in which the pint-sized lead survives various escapades thanks to misunderstanding and extreme luck. But I found some of the others a little patronising and childish, to be honest. Almost like they're not written for a 26-year-old in the 21st century. Maybe I'll try to source some Korean folk tales for next time to make things ultra relevant, if I can find a translation.

Don't worry, I won't keep this strange sightseeing/book review format going for the rest of my Korea trip (when have I ever stuck to anything?), but I do get through a lot of books and it's nice to sync the audio up with the visuals sometimes, so I might occasionally make notes of what I listened to.

Apparently, some people listen to music when they walk about? Weirdos.

Today's relevant soundtrack: The Brothers Grimm, Fairy Tales (Librivox)

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