Every October 9th South Koreans observe Hangul Day, a national holiday, commemorating the creation of the Korean alphabet by King Sejong the Great. For most Koreans it means a day off and a chance to rest and relax. For my coworkers and me it meant a forced march up a mountain in the rain, but it wasn’t that bad
My hagwon, private after school academy, holds a Sports Day twice a year where all of the employees gather together to play sports or go on some sort of outing. It is often followed by a delicious meal together at the end of the day. It would be a great day if it wasn’t on a national holiday and if it wasn’t raining all day, but I’m getting ahead of myself…
Ski Village Coffee and Walk
Nicole and I got up and walked from her apartment in Hakdong to the base of Mudeungsan a large mountain at the edge of town. The walk is only about 20 minutes and the closer you get to the base of the mountain the less populated your surroundings become until you find yourself in a small ski village at the base of the mountain. None of the mountains have skiing, but the village looks like a carbon copy of a small ski village from Europe or the US. There are tons of shops selling hiking and winter apparel. The architecture is reminiscent of a ski village with its exposed beams and wooden framing.
Nicole and I got coffee at Angel-In-Us, a Korean coffee chain, in the middle of the little ski village. It’s everywhere and it’s similar to a cheaper version of Starbucks. While it is a coffee shop, coffee doesn’t appear much on the menu. It’s mostly frappes, milkshakes, lattes, and various iced beverages, many lacking any form of coffee. The one we stopped at was three stories and there was a fountain on the top, a bit over the top for a coffee shop.
As Nicole and I enjoyed our coffee we watched dozens of Koreans in all of their hiking gear gathering at the base of the mountain in preparation for their hikes on their day off. I finished the last of my Americano and said goodbye to Nicole before joining the other confused foreigners outside on the long rainy hike up the mountain.
Hiking to Rabbit Peak
Part of Sports Day is friendly competition so we were all broken up into groups for the day’s various competitions. Each team had 8 members, one foreign (me) and seven Korean. Over the course of the afternoon we hiked to a part of the mountain and performed activities along the way. Our first activity was getting a group photo with Jade, the Korean teacher who organized sports day. This involved everyone getting a text message with the challenge and then all of us running around to find Jade and be the first to snap a photo. The first team to successfully text their photo to Jade won.
When we reached the highest point we were to hike to we stopped for lunch. Each one of us was provided with a cookie, kimbap, juice, and a water. The kimbap was pretty good, mine was fried shrimp.
Korea is known for having exercise equipment installed everywhere: along sidewalks, randomly on mountainsides, in parks. Its fantastic. With the amount of gym equipment available for free in Korea, I couldn’t imagine purchasing a gym membership.
Where we stopped for lunch there was a bunch of this equipment and various old Korean men using it. It was pretty impressive because we just hiked 3 hours to get to the equipment and the Korean guys up there didn’t seem winded. I wondered if this was part of their routine, hike the mountain then work out and hike back down. Either way it was impressive.
After lunch we hiked to a small clearing and competed in some games with our teams. One game was Rock, Paper, Scissors using your whole body to act out the rock, paper, or scissors. Another game involved eating 10 Funion chips then whistling. I can’t whistle, but based on everyone who did try, its very hard to whistle after eating onion flavored chips. Ted won the tournament and earned the nickname “Paul Funion”.
At the end of the competition everyone who placed first through third, most of the people there, got a $5 gift certificate redeemable at several different cafes and coffee shops near work. I have yet to use mine, but I have big plans for my $5.
This pretty much concluded our day of adventures and all that was left was eating a delicious celebratory meal after a long walk to the restaurant.
We walked down a long and winding path to a little mountainside restaurant with a beautiful clearing and several picnic tables outside. The staff served us amazing spicy chicken and potatoes with all the Korean sides: kimchi, pickled radishes, acorn tofu, steamed egg, everything. Sorry I couldn’t get a picture with the food. I was starving and my attention was completely diverted once the food arrived.
It was a delicious end to a day that improved as the weather improved.