Monday, February 17, 2014

The craigslist ad

Once upon a time there was a craigslist ad. It didn't feel to be the usual craigslist ad, in fact it didn't fit any category. It wasn't a dating ad nor was it a job proposition or offer.
So it decided to live in the community section because it kind of liked things involving people. He felt colorful, with lots text of pictures.
But it was a bold and pretientious ad. It was only born today, in a korean appartment inhabited by a british-european couple and it already had dreams and expectations beyond the borders of it's home country.

The craigslist ad, hopeful and naive
Born into a family with a single dad, it had every chance to be a little weird, a little fucked up even, to be fair. The most likely mother would be a Czech girl from the moravian city of Brno. She ran away to europe with her british-armenian boyfriend before the poor ad even got to know her.
It's father wasn't of a much better breed.
As soon as it was born, the very next day to be precise, dad forgot about his only ad and left hiking along the coast of the island, following the olle trail. Effing irresponsible asshole.

Born into a dysfunctional family, abandonned since early childhood in an envirenment unfit to its kind with dreams beyond realisation, the ad was meant to die of solitude.
For days and days, nobody took interest in it no matter how much he tried to stand out. The ad felt sad and lonely.
Until one day, a message came:
The ad was so happy to matter to someone!
B., a university teacher took looked at it. He trusted it, he didn't think it was a scam or some kind of unfunny joke. A very kind person indeed, thought the ad.
The ad felt alive again against all odds, it felt like it had a purpose, a sense in this world. It was cool and useful and his father, travelling at the time looked at him again. He was sleeping in a tent which happened to have internet and looked at what his ad had brought him with astonishment.
"Damn, this ad wasn't as useless as I thought," he said to himself.

Unfortunately the ad quickly understood that his asshole dad doesn't care about it, as soon as the excitement passes, his attention shifts to this B. guy who is helping him to get a plane to Japan. He finds out his real email address, they exchange phone numbers.
On March 1, in the evening, Dad recieves his plane ticket from B.! He is happy living one of those unrealistic moments. But the ad is sad. His father was a careless git but at least he was nearby.
On March 25th, Dad will fly away to Japan forgetting about his Seoul-based ad who has served its purpose.
One day, when it is old enough, the ad will just be automatically erased by the craigslist deamon from hell.
But for a moment there, it had a bright life.

Moral of the story: life is wonderful but it sucks to be an ad.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Walking the coast and islands

There are many islands around the big island of Jeju. The coast is full of variations. There is nature, civilisation, oranges and desalination plants. That is what I want to explore after mount Halla. However, the mountain hike and camping has left me in a a rather pitiful state. My things are wet, I am tired, cold and hungry. I meet Jamie and Leah, my couchsurfing hosts. They are both cool people, outgoing with character and full of life. There used to be times, a lifetime ago, when I used to be overly impressed by such people but now I prefer their company to others.

Cool is the adjective most describing both Jamie and Leah but they've done their share of amazing stuff. They have built a raft and sailed for 300 kilometers from Slovakia to Budapest where they got arrested by some killjoy cop. That is one crazy thing that I haven't thought about. And great!
Leah is the personification of my vision of fantasised american student life. Play hard with style but not excessive princessy bullshit. I often criticise western societies for their fake openness and actual conservatism but I feel more and more than America is slightly more allright in that aspect.

I stay a few days with the couple, we  is meet a few people. Korea is the first country where I actually meet foreigners because it is the first country where I actually use couch-surfing. It doesn't do me that much good, now I have a distorted image of Korea. From my personal point of view I have a very positive image of the country. Koreans are kind and hospitable. They are curious and humble. They are a bit naive and easy to impress too. From the foreigners here I hear about the conservative society, the alcohol abuse, the reckless driving. If the opinion was left to myself I would think that Korean are drinking pussies that even I can keep up with and their driving is quite alright. It confuses me not to know what to think.
Jamie and Leah
We live in an apartment just inside the Seogwipo market. Everyone is selling oranges and fish. Next door lives Lindsey, a reserved bubbly blond girl with an awkward way to communicate. Everybody likes her and I like her too.
Waterfall in Seogwipo

Jamie tells me how people were making videos about them because he posted the rushes on craigslist. So I have an idea: before going on my walk following the island coast, I'll set up an ad saying: please buy me a plane ticket.

Walking along the island coast was rainy at first and then it got boring. My things got wet quite fast, my sleeping bag is borderline useless; thank god spring is coming.
Landscape on the south side
But how interesting can walking be? You just put a foot in front of the other, what should I expect? Nature has its load of repetitions. Trees, rocks, sea. It's nature, not an american film.
The Olle trail is marked very thoroughly with strips of red and blue fabric every 500 meters; yet I do manage to get lost. First night I sleep near the sea on some polystyrene patch for isolation merely 5 kilometers from Jamie and Leah. Not ugly, not beautiful either. My next night is right on the hiking trail. Too lazy to find a better place and it is flat there. I sleep until 11AM and am woken up by endless columns of tourists. This is the laziest hike ever. I go to sleep late after watching movies in the evening in my tent. When I wake up I eat m&ms and when I finally fold up my tent it's usually noon. After walking a little bit it's dark again and I put up my tent. Long gone are the dangerous days when I was walking 50 kilometers per day to escape the wolves in Kyrgyzstan.
Tourists going on a very short and organised kanoe ride

After a while I start needing a shower so I badly that I actually put my mind to finding a solution. Not far from my camp is a luxury resort. So big and luxurious that you can it even had a plastic surgery clinic on site.
I went inside and opened some doors until I found a sauna which was being heated for this evening. A Korean sauna is not just a sauna, it also has a hot water pool and showers. I kept the lights out and spent a whole two hours there without nobody disturbing me. When I wondered through the hallways, nobody even questioned my presence there, the deeper inside the resort I was the more I was assumed to be part of the unquestionable jet-set.
I have a Korean sauna all for myself!
Back on the road I continue east towards U-do, an island east of Jeju that looks like a cow. I meet some a family from the netherlands. There is the son, the mother and his korean girlfriend. They are really nice, we talk a lot.

We meet again and they invite me to a restaurant. I think the reason why I get invited everywhere so often is that I just randomly engage with everyone I meet. We go to the restaurant just next to my tent.
Nether-korean family

See you in spring or summer or fall or winter or NEVER
Fishermen in sunset
The next day I walk a more decent distance and finish my day in front of some kind of huge wooden house. My battery is dead so I ask to recharge.
Turns out it's a restaurant and one of the younger people there speaks english. They've just opened together with the whole family. Two older women, professional cooks for over 30 years decided to test their food on me so I get dinner and a place to sleep on the second floor. I haven't tasted such wonderful food for a long time and I do eat tasty food on this trip.
There are different kinds of fish, gimchi, omelets, soups and god knows what else. Professional cooks, that really makes a difference.
This is going to be a badass restaurant, if you're interested in the location, it's here:

I put my tent on the second floor and it looks like this:
My tent on the second floor
The family takes care of me like of their own, making sure I have enough food for the road to Udo and making me promise to be careful and return to them. They will later be the key of me getting out of Jeju.

My path continues slowly towards U-do until I meet this girl who is a server administrator. She is on a speed-walking trip which means she basically walks as fast as possible even if it means not caring about the landscape. With her I walk a longer distance than all my previous days combined. On the way we eat lots of oranges, grapes and mandarines.

She leaves me at Seongsan, the volcano coming in the sea with a chocolate bar after paying for my bus for the last few kilometers.
Seongsan in front, far away
Seongsan has a paid entrance which so I sneak in there at night. There are cameras and sensors everywhere which makes me a little paranoid. Arguing with the authorities on mount Halla is one thing but today I plan to pitch my tent in the middle of a Unesco protected site, that might be a hard pill to swallow even for Koreans. I wonder if I am not being a little over the limit here. It is forbidden to even go into the crater much less to camp there. However I don't have any better ideas of where to sleep, too much civilisation everywhere else.
The crater however is wide and wild. Regulations are respected and nobody has gone there for years.
My tent in early morning
My initial plan was to get up at six before the guards man their posts. However I underestimated the stubbornness and tirelessness of Koreans. Before I had time to get out of my tent, hords of Koreans were nicely aligned behind the tourist ramp waiting for the sunrise. I did see that the place had a good reputation for sunrises but I wasn't expecting such commitment. I should have learned from my experience of Hallasan's summit: if a place was labeled beautiful touristic place then there will be people. If the label is taken away nobody will go there.
So I fold up my tent under the careless eyes of early morning Koreans. No one has literally noticed me despite the fact that I am folding my tent in the middle of a Unesco site. But why would they? The sign says look at the sunset not look at Filip. Therefore nobody sees me. Had the sign said look at Filip the sun would be nothing more than a faded star.  

The next day I hitchhike the ferry to U-do, ticket paid by two film makers. People spend the way feeding seagulls.
People feeding seagulls on the ferry

U-do is a small island but I like it very much. I climb the highest hill, the U-do-ish Hallasan. From there, I have a nice view on Seongsan and the sunset.
Seongsan from U-do
Sunset on U-do
In the evening I plan to sleep in some cool caves on the beach but before I go to recharge my tablet again.
The guy in charge of the restaurant gives me dinner and his friend says that I am stupid, that I'll drown in the tide and invites me to his hotel.
There are four overexcited girls in one of the room, they are about 10 or 12 and he tells me: "play with them" and shuts the door behind me.

I start looking for possible exits, what the hell am I supposed to do with four korean girls becoming hysterical in front of the TV broadcasting a korean drama and K-pop.
But turns out they were pretty cool, they gave me chocolate cookies, showed me how to turn cartwheels and I gave them dancing lessons which they took part in with great enthusiasm.

The weirdest of the four girls was Sophie. She was the youngest one and something incredibly creative was wiggling in her mind. I was really touched by her, she seemed to be a truly free soul, a rare thing among Korean children. Let's see how long she lasts.
One of them was half-korean half from Chile. And as the stereotypes say, she could dance, she had it in her blood. For the first time in Korea I had a truly amazing dance... with a 12-year old child!
Breakfast with the girls, the one in red is Sophie

The next morning I went exploring the caves. Quite big and really nice.
Big cave going into the sea

Good-luck stones in the cave

Another cave entrance
I didn't have time to hitchhike the ferry back to Jeju so I just blackrode it. I told the security guy that I forgot my ticket and he let me in. How could I possibly lie, right?

On my way back, I stop by the restaurant. Everybody is really glad to see me, I get dinner again and a place to sleep.

Another high class dinner
It is that night, in that place that I receive a reply for my ad: someone wants to buy me a ticket. This is unexpected, I have a hard time believing it.

After that, I safely hitchhike back to Jamie and Leah.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Climbing the Halla mountain

I can camp on Jeju island! And it's not cold, that's some great discovery. I like it so much that I just pitch my tent in the first foresty place that I find. It should be noted that forests and real wild nature is not that easy to find in Korea. It is slightly easier on Jeju island but still, not as obvious as walking in a random direction for a long time.
I came to think that South Korea is quite similar to Turkmenistan in terms of describing the country's landscape.
"Come and take a look at our grand buildings!," the Turkmen people were saying with pride. But besides a few buildings the country is a great landscape of wild desert which natural beauty is undoubtable.
"Come and take a look at our nature!," say the Koreans locked in their landscape of urban constructions.
So Turkmenistan is the beacon of modern civilisation and Korea that of nature and wilderness and everybody is just living in their own fairy tale.

Anyhow, I end up finding a nice place on a small hill above the sea in the north of Jeju island and set camp. I also buy a lot of candies and I'm set for the night. I have no mission here, just rest.
The only annoying thing about Jeju island is the weather.
Jeju harbour

It is cloudy and raining from time to time. The beautiful colors are faded a little bit by the grayish mist.
Soon I realize that I can't live like that forever. Some of my clothes are wet, some are dirty, I'd better find some civilized place to get myself into shape. The best candidate is Jamie and Leah's place, these two people were amazing enough to reply to my panicked couchsurfing request just a few hours after I sent it when most people take three days to a week.

Since I've discovered camping is possible and Jamie and Leah are living on the other end of the city, I decide to climb the Halla mountain, highest peak of the island.

The Halla mountain or Hallasan is the highest peak of Jeju island and of Korea overall. It's not really that high, just under 2000 meters but since it's in the center of a small island, you climb it from zero and you have infinite visibility in all directions, you can see the sea.

My plan however is not just to climb Halla mountain but to see the sunrise from it. Therefore I have to camp there. I didn't read all the regulations but my general impression of Korea so far tells me that this is probably not allowed. If you believe the inscriptions and signs you will have the impression of being about to climb mount everest.
I start by ignoring them, interpreting them as casual Korean over-safety but after a while of Hallasan propaganda, I too, start wondering weather I should also take crampons or at least decent walking sticks.

As I make my way a bit higher, snow begins to appear and I am not even in the national park. I didn't expect so much snow so fast. And the snow quickly grows as I follow the road up.
The night falls and the moon shines.
The moon shines
 A car stops to see if I'm allright. That's a nice and caring thing to do. After a good deal of walking I arrive to the base camp. Yeah, there actually is a base camp for a 2000 meter mountain. But since you can start from zero that makes sense. A korean-style base camp has little to envy to a five start holiday resort. Not only is there sleeping accomodation, electricity and wifi but also a small shop, kitchen and drinking fountains. I also see a ticket office. Everything is closed now and I don't want anyone forcing me into that ticket office, whatever it is for.
I pass by the base camp and build my tent a bit further, in the middle of the trail.

The roughest of all trails, warns the sign.
The trail looks as if it were built for my grandmother. Well-maintained path with rope ramps in  case you lose the trail and instructional boards reminding you where you are every 500 meters as an encouragement that: you can do it!
It is a beautiful trail, no doubt about it but your individuality will be crushed by it. You, as every other person climbing that trail will see exactly the same thing, walk texactly the same path in the exact same timeframe (there is only a certain time when the mountain is accessible). Nothing is left to chance. Korean turists push the dehumanisation of hiking one step further by wearing exactly the same clothes. Pictures taken on Hallasan also loo all the same. There are special, carefuly selected spots from which the view is nice, there is a little wooden accomodation that allows you to take a picture.
So you might either hike mount Halla or ask any other person who has hiked it; you'll have the same result. Because your experience will be the same as his or hers with the precision of a milimeter.

The trail is well organised
I go to sleep in my tent in an attempt to test the temperature. I want to see the sunrise on mt. Halla so I have to sleep near the top. If I am to sleep at the top without freezing there then I should be able to withstand the cold at the bottom with half of my warm clothes on. I can expect a -10 temperature drop because of the altitude and another -10 temperature drop because of the nightfall, bringing the temperature to a total of -16 dregrees celsius. While this is a reasonable temperature to sleep in and I have done it in the past, I have to test the wind and humidity which also comes into play. So I am sleeping on this trail, let's see how it goes. The night isn't so bad, I get a little cold during the coldest phase but overall, it is allright. I get woken up by tourists at 6:30 AM. I thought nobody would climb that mountain winter; in fact, after reading all the warnings and seeing the too organised trail I started wondering weather Koreans were really pussies but turns out that they were braving the cold, wind and morning to climb fast and tirelessly, like a column of extremely well-fit, nuclear-powered grandmothers; I could hardly follow. Actually, with my heavy bag, I just couldn't follow and I got outran by everyone.

Walking the snowy trail
On the trail, I was quite a funny sight. Everybody was wearing crampons and carrying light walking sticks and small backpacks and I was there with my more than 20kg bag filled with random stuff (some stuff was even hanging from the sides), a wooden stick and my trekking cramponless shoes.
Needless to say that I recieved encouragements from everyone as well as an endless flow of deliscious candies. As I was approaching the top, a man going down gave me his walking sticks.

A man gave me his walking sticks
The views get really beautiful, shame the weather is so bad. Trees covered in snow dissapear into the clouds and behind them is the endless blue sea.

Almost at the top

Trees covered in snow
The weather is getting worse and worse and I am approaching the top. People are all going down now arguing that it's passed 13:30 and therefore the mountain closes.
You can close a door, a window but in Korea appearently, you can close a mountain. I wonder how would a closed mountain look like. Probably like in the lord of the rings, with a heavy stone door and a riddle written in runes which only the worthy can open.

The top of mount Halla

View of the sea.
So I'm going to get kicked out, no big deal. If the kyrgz didn't throw me into prison, if the chinese didn't force me to pay hotels, I won't get my plans disturbed by a bunch of law-abiding Koreans.
On the top of the mountain there is a shelter. It has electricity and free wifi. Damn you Korea, seriously? The most inaccessible place in Korea has high-speed internet.
A friendly guard comes to me and asks me, in a very polite way, to get down the mountain.
"No. I am going to camp here."
"I am going to camp here. I want to see the sunrise"
"Sorry sir but it is impossible."
"Why? Is the sun not rising tomorrow?"
Pitching a tent sounds like a very possible quest for me. In fact, I have done it a number of times and the snowy ground provides a soft mattress to sleep on. I wonder what could make putting up a tent impossible.
"It's against the law."
"I know it is against the law!" I reassure him, "But I am going to do it anyway."
"You can't do it!"
"It's against the law!"
Appearently the concept of being against the law is so strong here that it should put an end to any argument. While being unaware of the law may be a possible outcome, knowing and ignoring the law is something Koreans don't seem to understand.
Usually when dealing with the authorities, I try to play dumb, pretexting that I don't know the law but in this case, it would make an already unclear conversation even more foggy.
So I put in some good will and I try to clarify the cultural difference between us.
"I know that it is against the law. I understand that by pitching up a tent I am breaking the law. However, I stick with my decision of pitching up a tent."
Appearently, this kind of statement doesn't compute.
He calls his superiour with whom I have the exact same conversation. Except she gets a bit more inventive.

"If you do not get down, you will get a fine."
"But I don't have money."
The woman on the phone seems embarassed, I feel sorry to have put her in such position; she seems like a nice and polite lady but as many koreans, she lacks imagination. So I try to help her out.
"You can call the police on me, maybe you can arrest me, put me in prison for example"
That's the kind of threat the corrupt Kyrgyz cop would use. Unfortunately, the poor lady is thrown off balance even more.
"Do you want to get arrested?"
"No I don't but that's the point. It's a better threat than just saying it's the law. That just will get you nowhere."
"Ok, we will arrest you."
"Allright. Come and get me."
This whole conversation is both amusing and extremly ironic. I am just sorry for the guards of the national park who really feel bad and embarassed about the whole thing.
"The police will arrest you"
"Will they shoot me?"
"Of course nobody will shoot you! Don't worry about such things!"
"Ok, I'll build my tent then."
The lady pauses for a bit.
"If you don't go down, he'll lose his job."

Damn she got me. Here I was, thinking that I am so smart, that I can face any threats. In many countries including and especially the western world we have power-hungry security guards who like to place themselves above their victim, to show their strenght and legal and physical superiority. They'll point guns at you, beat you, scare you, it boosts up their ego. But here in Korea, security forces don't have this small penis complex. They are ready to communicate, they can get things done and today, they just got smarter than me.
Maybe it is true that this guy would lose his job, maybe not but I can't take that chance and she knows it.
She has read me, she understands that I like to play american hero and martyr facing forces stronger than me and the real way to win is to put the security forces in the victim position. Today, I am the bully and I hate it.
"Allright, I am considering going down but can we find a compromise?"
"You can go to the Jindellabat shelter and we will accomodate you for a night. This is already exceptionnal treatement."
I get accomodated in the radio communication cabin. It is heated by a small electric heater, I have electricity and a confortable bed. Last but not least, I get deliscious dinner with a room with wifi.

My room on Hallasan!
In the morning, my cabin is lost in deep snow. It's snowing, the tracks are covered in white and the visibility is really bad. I feel that I am not seeing any sunrise today. There is still hope that the peak will be above the clouds or that the weather changes but hopes are slim.

My cabin is covered in snow.
It is dark because it's 5:30 AM, my light is out of batteries but the markings on the paths are so obvious that I can still follow it. Up there, the wind is insane. I just build my tent next to the shelter which is now empty and locked and I hide inside. the wind completly dismantles the tent, the sticks that support the construction freeze, it's just a big mess. I wait in there a couple of hours until I decide that it's not going to get better: I am packing my stuff and going down. I am seriously frozen at that point. It's not too cold but the wind and wet air isn't doing me any good.
Just as I prepare to get down, the rangers from Jindelabat reach the peak and open the shelter. I get in and warm up a little.

Shelter at the top
After a while, I hear voices. I can't believe my ears. Endless columns of korean tourists with their crampons, bags, sticks and shiny ugly clothes are going through the hellstorm with nearly zero visibility, taking a useless picture on the top of the white peak (they could as well photograph a whiteboard)  and going down.
I thought I was the only one crazy enough to get up there in this weather. Not by a long shot. Korean people are capable of way crazier and more extreme things than me. The reason they don't do it is that sometimes it's against the law. And what's against the law, well, that's impossible.

Me and a snowy tree

Sunday, February 9, 2014

I didn't really believe I would make it to Jeju island

I am standing on the gas station at the highway exiting Seoul and night is starting to fall. Hitchhiking in Korea seems as weird as the first hitchhiking ever. Should I really do this? Should I stop this game at some point and just pay for a train like everyone else? Nobody's interested in my little game anyway.
"God bless you," says the gas station guy, admires my courage and gives me a chocolate. It doesn't take much in all-by-the-rules-korea to be a hero or at least an original person.

For a long time, nobody stops and I am feeling more ridiculous by the minute. I get a lift by a bus who is going to Daejon from a mountain hike.
I quickly explain to them that I don't have money but Koreans are not after gain, they just want to help and most of all, are curious.
Koreans are smart. Instead of bombarding me with questions and passing along the answers like anywhere else; here they give me the microphone.
I don't have to say much, I get a round of applause as soon as I say anyengnasayo (hello).
I also get presents, a bag of something that looks edible so I start to eat it before realizing that it is actually tea.

The trip coordinator's name is Guangsapyong, he is here with his son and he has taken a weird kind of interest in me. He serves me soju, some alcohol they drink just to get drunk and he gives me the bottle to serve everyone else in the bus. So I'm distributing soju and mandarines. He gives the mandarines to me and I give it to them. Appearently the gesture that I give mandarines to people is important.

He also tells me to serve soju to his son who is no more than 10 years old and obviously doesn't like the drink. I refuse repeatadly; this is somewhat wrong. He serves the alcohol to him anyway but at least I have no part in it.

Guangsapyong takes me home and that is very fine with me. It's not really warm outside and I am not in a mood to find a place to sleep even though it shouldn't be too difficult.
I get dinner at his mother's place and also a giant bottle of something which later turns out to be a very expensive ginseng soju with the root still inside the bottle.
I also get invited to the jinjabang, korean sauna. I'm not thrilled since I have to be naked in front of everyone but I accept, at least I get a bath and it is kind of relaxing. What is shoking though, there are children in there. This is fucked up, they censor porn in korea and they allow children in their saunas, this is just wrong.

In the morning after breakfast, Guangsapyong buys me... a plant in a flower shop. What should I do with a plant?
He drives me to a toll station outside of Daejon with a woman who is supposed to be one of his girlfriends but who obviously has the hots for me and keeps flirting with me. She is old enough to be my mother but hot enough to be my college classmate partly because of Korean world famous plastic surgery. Eventually, japanese sex robots will take over high-maintainance and physically faded western girls in the dating business but korean girls will definitly overpower japanese sex robots. With the help of plastic surgery, they can look as sexy as their fantasized android counterpart while staying almost 100% organic. Ok, maybe 95% but that's still very far from Darth Vader and quite allright by my standarts so may the force be with South Korea and its surgeons.
Sorry about that sexist remark, please take it with humour, it just came like this in my writing.

Hitchhiking to Daegu

I am picked up by Mister Han, a Daejon businessman and CEO of a company that makes god knows what for cars. He is going to Daegu which is my destination for today. He assures me that "I speak no english" but turns out that while his grammar is pretty bad, his vocabulary is good enough to have a conversation. From now on, I won't believe a word from Koreans when they tell me that they don't speak english. They do, they are just shy about it!
Mister Han was a professional soccer player and Taekwondo master (I can't imagine how a single person can manage to do both and he was now running a quite successful business. As advertized by hitchwiki, we quite often stop at service areas and he takes me to lunch.
"Tomorrow, I go Busan. Go together?"
I gladly accept. It saves me the time of walking out of daegu, writing a sign for Busan and a whole lot of uncertainty.

View of Daegu
Daegu is not as ugly as advertised. It has a lot of mountains and a really nice park which I walk through while waiting for Tammy, my couchsurfing host to get back from work. Tammy is wonderful, she is Korean-American and she can cook these wonderful peanut-butter-chocolate candies which are just one of the most tasty things I've eaten in the last months. She has a dog who is insane. It is written on her couchsurfing profile: "my dog is insane" but it's one of those things that people don't take literaly. They should. However he is a sweet playful little animal.
My mind is still troubled with thoughts of Jeju island. I have my hitchhiking sign from the art studio saying Jeju. Tammy makes me a complementary sign.
It basically says: "buy me an airplane ticket" in three different levels of Korean politeness.
The first one, hand in hand with hipocrisy would translate to something like this:
If you, by some coincindence don't already carry a spare airplane ticket, could you maybe buy me one?
Why would anyone carry an airplane ticket linked to my passport number I do not know but it is important to insert an excuse for the sake of indirectness.
The second one reads simply Please can you buy me a ticket? and the last one, probably rude for Korean standarts simply reads: buy me a ticket.
I am to use one of these three in addition to my main Jeju sign depending on my frustration mood and those of the people present.

In the morning, Tammy drives me off to the subway station with a box of peanut butter candies and I am just regretting to leave Daegu this early.
But I've promised Mister Han so I go. And as a general rule, I try to seize the oppurtunity when one presents itself in an overall philosophy of saying yes to life and it has worked well in the past.

And so I arrived to Busan where I'll be spending much of my time in the following days visiting and searching for a ways to reach Japan. I have still havent shaken this idea of visiting Jeju island. Hitching one boat is difficult enough, no need to trouble myself with reaching an island which is further than Japan not to mention that I'd have to return to the mainland after that.
But the best way to get rid of crazy ideas is to try them out and see them fail.
I start my errands by asking air companies for tickets. Jeju air does talk to me but I don't get the ticket. For air Busan I try a different approach. I go straight to the pilots quarters. The doors are locked but I jump at the opportunity when one pilots goes out using his magnetic card.
Pilots are very kind, offer me coffee and candies and congratulating me on getting passed the security.
I am becoming quite fluent at infiltrating all kinds of airline offices these days.
They get me the manager of the passenger department. As soon as I explain my story to him his jaw drops and he just says: "wait, I'll get my manager".
I get Kim, a youg bright man who seems to be the highest rank that I'll find in Busan airport. He cannot make a decision as well but he says that he'll help me, he'll bring my case to his boss who might not too far from the CEO of Air Busan actually.
This is going relativly well; however, I don't intend to return to this airport another time unless it it's to board a plane so I want to try all my options today.

So here I am holding my Jeju sign and Tammy's korean message in front of the ticket office of Jeju Air. I opted for the middle polite: please can you buy me a ticket? The one about people by coincidence carrying my airplane ticket is just too much bullshit for me regardless how polite it may sound. Very quickly, curious people start staring at me and more than ever, I wonder what the hell am I doing here. I am in Korea because of one miraculous ferry, why do I bother my head with hitchhiking planes, I should just get back to Busan and enjoy the city, it's supposed to be quite nice.

"I'll buy a ticket for you." says a man in a dark suit. He tells me this in a casual voice, almost bored out of his mind.
"Yeah! Passport please?"
The crowd accumulated around me and my hitchhiking equipment cheers and bursts into applause. I am going to Jeju island! Damn, that was unexpected. I really did want to visit Busan and now that is spoiled. Well, next time.
At that time, little does this man know that my travel didn't originate in Busan but somewhere 20,000 kilometers ago. And little do I know that this man isn't just any man. Or he is any man since we are all any men and women. But he is also a korean businessman and nation-wide celebrity as I was later told by many Koreans to whom I have shown this picture.
"I'll buy you that ticket," says the man
From there, it all goes very fast. I throw my stuff into my bag, things like pepper spray or knife that won't really get passed the security checks. I run to the gates where I am greeted by the fellow passengers and the Air Busan manager. I get some strange food, looks like dried little octopusses, looks like they eat strange stuff in Jeju.

The plane goes off and I have a strange feeling that it is really possible to get everywhere. The ferry from China was no coincidence, it is possible! People really are kind, theyr really do help. And I can get Japan, I will get to Japan! When I tell people that I am travelling to prove to the world that it's possible to travel for free I forget to tell that I am proving it first and foremost, to myself.
Flying over Jeju island

Landing this wonderfule hitch
 Jeju island looks nice and it is genuinly warm, I can actually camp there without so much trouble, in much better conditions than anywhere in China. Not long after I arrive at the airport I get a call from le mouv, that french radio which is following my trip from time to time. Had I not had this hitch I would be sleeping on some crowded airport depressed from the struggle with the airport administration.
But now I'm here, temperatures are easy and I can rest and wait for the summer.
Jeju island, panorama

Saturday, February 1, 2014

I am a Gimchi!

I am going to Korea! I am on the ferry, it's a 24-hour ride and I am in this giant steel boat, going accross the yellow sea. It's done now, I am going to a new country. It's a little sad that I haven't had the chance to spend chinese new year in China but this is huge. I have a bed there, there are decent toilets and there is a heated bath. So I can wash. Wonderful. My newfound friends and I chat a lot. Yongjin is 30, he spent quite some time travelling and contrary to what the rumours say about Korea, he doesn't like Samsung.
"I don't have a samsung phone because it is shit. Korean people have made possible the success of Korean companies. Now they are just taking advantage of Korean people."
His girlfriend Shan is chinese. And damn me if that's not an effing coincidence but she is a hitchhiker. A chinese hitchhiker in china, that's unexpected, to say the least.
She has hitchhiked in some very poor chinese province and the whole adventure has been on TV. She has done this with some famous chinese traveller who became famous in china after hitchhiking from Beijing to Berlin. Damn, I should have been famous for two months already!
"The weather's shit," says Jongjin, "I was expecting a sunset in the sea but not today."
I like them both very much and I like how Yongjin always says that everything is shit.
We arrived in Seoul the next day in the morning and the weather is still shit. Yongjing's bag is really heavy, there is stuff attached to it, it is hanging from all sides, there is absolutly no logical explanation how this bag holds together.
Yongjin has a big mutant bag

We take a taxi to the subway and then we take the subway to Yongjin's house. Turns out that in the middle of the subway ride he decided to host me. Usually I just object out of politeness but now my objection is true. He has a girlfriend, they need their privacy, I can't live with myself if I stand in their way.
Turns out I have to find some way to live with myself anyway because I'm going home.
Yongjin lives with his mother whose name is simply "Mother". Shan calls her mother, Yongjin calls me mother and she ends up being my mother too. I stay 1, 2, 3 and 4 nights in a row. I get my own room with a pink blanket. For some reason, here in Korea, there is a lot of pink blankets.
Mother and Shan

Mother is South Korean and I am mentioning this because the father is of North Korean origin. He doesen't seem to live here permanently but I see him one day when we go to his mother's grave. He is a very serious man with an aura that inspires respect.
Yongjin and his father at the family grave

We spend the days resting, eating deliscous food that mother has prepared and watching TV. There are also lots and lots of types of tea. Black tea, green tea, red tea...
There are three of us under another pink blanket bigger than the one I have in my room and we watch movie after movie. Mother makes sure that we have enough food and blankets and I am officially a vegetable.
I am a Gimchi!

Talking about vegetables, everything here in Korea is to be eaten with Gimchi as a side dish. Gimchi is spicy cabbage mixed with some stuff and red sauce but mostly just spicy cabbage, you can google it.
As a matter or fact, I actually feel like a Gimchi myself. And I enjoy my days as a vegetable with Mother taking care of me and not much to worry about.
I also learn that it's not a good idea to make jokes about North Korea, stuff like Pyongyang is the capital of Korea isn't really funny here and might get you locked up.
Incheon is a comfortable city, it's not polluted, it's not scary, it's not dirty.
We go shopping with mother and the bakery gives us free food. Yongjin's family seem to think this is an unusual phenomenon but this is almost normal for me now.
Free food!

During all that time, I'm trying to find myself a more or less permanent place to stay in Seoul. I try couchsurfing, and it actually works! Some people replied and I even got positive answers. Why does couchsurfing work in Seoul and didn't in other places, I don't know.
I don't seem to bother the couple too much. In fact, Korean society being still very traditional, it's a big deal to introduce a girlfriend or boyfriend to parents so Mother doesn't know they are together. People solve the sex problem by taking love hotels for an hour. They just go there as a couple, spend their time and go back. They eve are sex toy distributors inside.
The last day, Yongjin and Shan walk me to my meeting place with my first couchsurfing: some american girl called Andrea.
She turns up late so I can visit Seoul a bit.

I visit Seoul couchsurfing after couchsurfing knowing that if one night I don't find a place, I can always sleep outside. There are many hills in the city and while they have some constructions on tops, most of their surface is uninhabited.
You've understood it from these lines; my life in South Korea is quiet and peaceful. Nobody pointing guns at me, not freezing, not being hungry, not being chased by police. Korea is... confortable.
I even visit a bit, there is this cool museum near the war memorial. There are a bunch of tanks, guns and war vehicules from the Korean war. I'm not a museum type but I was always interested by this part of history so this is really captivating.
Seoul war memorial

My last couchsurfing is a very interesting place. I enter Anna's atelier. She is a german artist who speaks french. She really is an artist. She paints some abstract art, some cubes floating in the air. She paints that on these giant pieces of paper hanging on the wall. She is kind and smart but I get this feeling that she's constantly checking weather or not I am not taking advantage of her... somehow. I don't think I am but I know the feeling.
Anna-Lena in her atelier

Next door live a hungarian couple. Actually it's an artistic residence, only artists live here. The girl seems fairly normal when you talk to her, she is into videos & editing and she produces pretty weird stuff sometimes. Her boyriend paints some really dark paintings essentially in black and red with disturbing slogans on them. It makes me wonder, if seemingly normal artists produce that original content, what about the crazy ones?
In the Hungarian room

Next door lives also Greg and Su. They are not together but they have that in common that they are both Korean. Greg is Kroean-American and Su is Korean-Korean and they both speak english. Su is the first person that you can really tell that she is some kind of artist or at least that there is seomething weird about her. When I think about it Anna also strikes you as the artistic kind but it's not so obvious in her case.
Su does collages, hundereds of little drawings and photos somehow connected into a scenary that makes some kind of sense. She is 38 appearently but if I could choose between dating her and any european twentish gal, I'd go for Su. Basically, here in Korea, here are the rules:
If she looks fifteen, she is twenty five.
If she looks twenty-five, she's over thirty
If she looks over thirty she's probably as old as your mother but still sexier than your girlfriend.
I like living in the artistic residence, it is confortable. We cook with Anna, I mean Anna cooks and I stare at the mixtures in a very confused way.

I'll have to travel at some point, I'm not staying in Seoul forever. One day, I pack my things and as Anna is taking a Korean lesson from another girl who is also an artist there, I am on my way... almost.
I have some signs to preepare. My next destination - Daejon and then Daegu. After Daegu, Busan and I guess I'll stay there for a while, until it gets warmer and then catch a boat to Japan.
But what would be even better to wait for warmer days is go to that island south of Korea, it is just east of Shanghai.
So I ask Anna's friend:
"Can you paint me a sign to Jeju?"
Daejon, Daegu and Jeju