I wrote this post in my head today between 11am and 4pm, as I was climbing a mountain just outside Daejeon.
I am not a hiker. In Korea, however, hiking is pretty much the national pastime. You can sort of understand why when you see the breathtaking sight of the beautiful – but mostly mountainous – countryside. At the weekend, thousands and thousands of people journey out of the cities and up the nearest mountain, seeking exercise, clean air, and wide open spaces. Not that the latter is even remotely possible, considering that if half a city empties itself out on to a mountain hiking trail, you end up with a much more ridiculously crowded situation than you’d have in your average city centre. But anyway. People here are mad about it. They get all kitted out in their special hiking clothes, complete with every gadget and accessory you can imagine. They pass you in droves, marching resolutely upwards with a steady clink-clink-clink of their hiking poles.
And of course, members of staff from Korean workplaces spend their team bonding days participating in this insane pastime together. Which is how I came to be writing this blog post in my head, up a mountain, on a bloody Saturday. Attendance is not optional.
No, I do not like hiking. I really, really cannot emphasise this strongly enough. It’s not that I don’t like exercise (although admittedly it’s not my hobby of choice). I mean, I like working out in the privacy of my own home with my Wii Fit, where no one can see my red, sweaty face. I enjoy playing competitive games like badminton and squash. I love dancing and swimming. I can walk for hours on end around a new city, looking at the sights and visiting museums. But I do not like hiking.
Hiking involves going up, and up is never a good thing. Up means breathlessness and sore calf muscles and tripping over tree roots and falling over loose rocks. Hiking also involves buying an annoying amount of gear, you need; Boots, warm clothes, shooting authority tactical backpacks and weapons to fend off the animals… Im joking, but you get the point. Anyone who tries to persuade me that it’s wonderful to be out in nature, enjoying the beautiful trees and waterfalls and so on, is talking rubbish, for how can a girl enjoy her surroundings when she daren’t look up from her feet? Enjoying my surroundings would mean sitting under a tree with a picnic. I spend a hike staring intently at the ground, watching my feet take one cautious step after another. If I were to look up in order to, say, observe a pretty butterfly, there is a 90% chance of my unsupervised foot wedging itself under a protruding tree root, sending me hurtling to my death over the side of the mountain. And then of course, there’s the cramp I get from looking down constantly – not to mention the sunburn on the back of my exposed neck.
And – just BTW – it’s really fecking hot up a mountain at noon. I don’t believe anyone could enjoy the feeling of sweat streaming down their back and down their shorts. And when you’re surrounded by chirpy colleagues who were probably born wearing little hiking boots, and they’re all going “Oh, are you warm?” (which is like asking someone wrapped in a blanket and shivering if they’re cold) and going over the most banal and mind-numbing chitchat while you’re trying to concentrate on breathing and staying upright, hurtling to your death over the side of the mountain begins to seem like less of a disastrous end to the day.
I stopped about three quarters of the way up and just sat down on a rock, unseen by most of the group ahead, my face burning painfully and my neck spasming in protest at all the downward gazing. I’m done, I announced flatly to those passing me. I sat in the shade of some trees by a little waterfall, dangling my feet in the cold water until my body temperature dropped a little, and then made my way back down the mountain. To my surprise, I met a couple of my non-English speaking colleagues, who apparently shared my views on hiking, and we walked down in amicable silence. And when the others finally got back, the director was clearly displeased – more with me than with them, for some reason. Why did you quit? she asked sharply. Because I DON’T LIKE HOT WEATHER and I DON’T LIKE HIKING!! I told her for approximately the squillionth time. It’s the first time I’ve come close to actually losing my temper and yelling at my boss, which is basically grounds for instant dismissal in Korea. Honestly, I think I’m one of the more adaptable, easy-going foreigners in this country. I don’t complain about trivial things, I love the country and the people, I do as I’m told, I respect the culture and traditions, however odd they may seem to me, and I’m totally non-confrontational (a major Korean trait). But there has to be a limit. And all I ask in return for my hard work and generally positive attitude is that you don’t force me to hike up a bloody mountain in the blazing heat, ON MY DAY OFF, when you know from much-repeated experience that I suffer in hot weather, and when – on multiple occasions!! – I’ve answered the question “Do you like hiking?” with an emphatic NO.
I DO NOT LIKE HIKING.