In South Korea there is no Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, but there is a Children’s Day. At my school this holiday landed on the same week as Sports Day. Sports Day was on Wednesday, May 4th. Children’s Day was the following day. Even though Friday was not a national holiday, we still got a four day weekend.
The funny thing about Sports Day is that they don’t play any sports. There were relay races and tug-o-war. That was it.
The previous week I met Philip at the 7-11 across from my apartment. He’s from the UK, and own a private school here with his Korean wife. They have one daughter together, who I met. He and his wife came to check out our Sports Day for a little while before returning to work. He introduced me to a student’s father named Tommy Lee. He works in International Business Relations, has lived in the US, and speaks English quite well.
While we were getting acquainted out on the field behind my school, Tommy Lee asked me if I drink. I said sometimes. He then handed me a can of Hite (Korean beer).
“We can drink at school?” I asked in shocked disbelief.
He said all parents drink at Sports Day. So I drank.
After drink half a can of beer, Tommy Lee said I had to run in the adult race. So I did. I came in last place. Then I finished my beer.
At the end, I pulled out my phone, and as soon as some of my students saw, they ran behind me to be included in the picture. I think it turned out well.
Thursday was a day of rest. Friday I visited Apsan Mountain.
According to the directions I found online, you’re supposed to take Exit 3 from Anjirang Station. As soon as I stepped out onto the street, I saw Bus 410 driving off. I ran but still barely missed it, and I’m glad I did because that was the wrong bus. To get to Apsan Mountain, you need to take Bus 410 from the opposite side of the road, which means you actually come out of Exit 4. If it weren’t for two local men pointing me in the right direction, I would’ve been on the bus for hours.
Along my steep walk up to the mountain, I made a stop at Victory Memorial Hall. In front of the building were replicas of tanks and various aircraft. After getting a good look at all of them, I went inside. It was basically a tiny war museum. The imagery was horrific and disturbing. Since everything was written in Korean, I couldn’t read about what I was looking at; so I didn’t spend too much time in there.
A little farther up the road, I came across a temple. I walked up the stone steps and through the entrance. There were colorful lanterns hanging, a tall Buddha statue, and a stupa. I could smell the incense burning inside where you could go to pray. It was a beautiful temple, and I would have asked to have my picture taken in front of it, but I seemed to be the only person there at the time.
From there I walked up to the rest stop. There was a cafe next to an outdoor gym. There was a fork in the road, and all the signs were in Korean. A Korean guy around my age saw me contemplating which path to take, and asked if I needed help. I asked him what the best way was to reach the top of the mountain. He suggested the cable car, which cost 9,500 Won.
I attempted to walk to the top, which quickly proved to be too strenuous. So I walked back downhill and took his advice.
Before purchasing my ticket, I decided to fuel up, so I bought some chocolate from the cafe. To my surprise it was served to me as a frozen cube on a plate with a fork. The cable car clock the for next ascent was ticking, so I got my frozen chocolate cube in a to-go box.
The cable car was packed to maximum capacity. It was a very claustrophobic ride, and I was grateful to get out. But I did get some free entertainment in that dangling sardine can. A middle-aged me pointed out how much bigger my feet were than his, and laughed. Then he asked my age. I said twenty-eight. He pointed to himself: “Old.” He pointed to me: “Baby.” We both laughed. In his broken English he asked if I speak Korean. I shook my head no. He responded how you’re supposed to in that situation: nod and smile.
After exiting we still had to walk up a few winding flights of steps to reach the observation deck. But the view was worth the journey.
And because it’s Korea, they had to have guard rails lined with love-locks.
After getting a good long look out over the city, I followed a sign that read “Temple” down a few flights of wooden stairs, which turned into uneven stone steps. I walked until the steps ended. There was no temple. One sign pointed to an office. One sign, pointing the opposite direction, said “Cave.” I walked toward the cave. Again, there was no cave. Instead what I found was a giant pile of rocks. Beyond that was nothing but woods.
I rested my feet by sitting on a bench and eating my now unfrozen cube of chocolate, which was actually quite good.
Walking back up those steep steps was so exhausting, my legs were shaking. I was afraid I would pass out. When I made it back to the observation deck, I had to sit down on the ground while taking in the view one last time.