Monday, March 10, 2014

Experiments in Korea

8 hours. That's the average hitchhiking time in Korea... to get a free plane or a ship.
4, that's a number of nights that I have spent in a tent, that's an average of 2 nights per months.
I can't count the number of times I have been ofered food by people or restaurants. Lost count of english speakers.

Korea is easy, Korea is so easy that it gets boring. People are so kind and law enforcement is so harmless that I end up breaking the law just for sport.
Such nationwide exagerated support of my little self raises the question: how far can Korean hospitality and kindness go? I'll try to put some institutions to the test.
But before that, let's rewind to where we last left. I just hitchhiked the ferry from Jeju-si to Mokpo and I am about to make my way to Seoul. My radio interview is waiting for me, scheduled for next week.

First, I get to Daegu where I try to find my ASUS charger. Nobody has heared of ASUS in Daegu despite me visiting the biggest electronic center there. Some guy takes me to his atelier where we try to repair my data cable but it still doesn't work. Some people are telling me that I can't find an ASUS charger in all of Korea. This sounds unbeliavable but I am ready to believe it.

From there I head to Seoul. It takes longer than usual, I am lost in a myriad of little streets about a hundered kilometers before the capital. I am not short on food which I could be because I am relying merely on invitations now. In fact recently, I have gotten way over-budget and if I am to respect my 2 euros/day average then I must stop spending money right now. From now on, I decide not to spend anything, zero-budget. It's not the first time I am doing that, I did it once in China where I put all my money into telephone to call Janela so I relied on people inviting me to restaurants. While in china it was pretty random (it still worked though), in Korea, there is a method for this. There are service areas everywhere on highways and each service area has pretty much every facility needed. There are fast food shops, gift shops, restaurants, toilets, coffee machines. If a car drives by a service area between noon and 2PM, it is a sure thing the driver will stop and buy himself and you lunch. Same goes for dinner and breakfast.
Today I got breakfast in Mokpo, lunch from Mr. Han's provisions and dinner from my late night driver. He didn't speak a word of english so the conversation was pretty much non-existant but he insisted on finding me a place to stay. He drove me to his office where I could check the internet a bit because there was a computer. Next day he got ma a bag full of donuts and put me on my way. I couldn't dream a better breakfast than a bag full of doughnuts.
The office where I sleep is full of wigs

Some bus driver gave me 3000 won (about 3 dollats) to take a bus out of this maze of roads because he didn't believe I would hitchhike out of it. I did nevertheless with a group of military. Then I got a ride to Seoul, to the electronics market where I am supposed to find the charger.
And I did find it! With the help of a complete stranger who took it upon himself to ride his bike throughout all the neighbourhood and bringing me a new data cable.
Now my tablet can charge itself and I don't have to twist the data cable in all directions before the charging light turns orange.
I stay at Yongjin's house again. I tried couchsurfing but no one replied. Couchsurfing is too organised anyway, it's not suited for independent travelling.
At yongjin's, I had all the rest and care that I could dream of. My own room, great food. I also went to my first wedding ever. I never thought that the first wedding I'll ever see would be a korean one. Everything was very neat and clean, there even was a lady who adjusted the bride's dress everytime it folded in an unwanted direction.
Janela got her visa refused the day before I was supposed to give an interview with TBS, a korean radio. I worked hard so as not to be affected by this but the fact that the french consulate considers my girlfriend to be a prostitute based on her ethnicity is quite a drag. It's discrimination plain and simple but consulates live way above the law for the simple reason that no law applies to them: they can officially do whatever they want.

Janela was a great support, she showed herself less shaken than myself and the interview went as well as it could.
I arrived in front of the building. I thought that it was a small radio station but this was a huge building with national television, radio stations, you name it.

TBS building where I will be giving my interview

The studio was divided in two parts. In the first part, I was welcomed by Jamie, the girl who has been communicating with me by email some time. She and her friends walked be trough the questions that Ahn will ask me. They asked me the questions in a casual conversation, I could barely tell they were having me rehearse. Very tactful professionalism.
A week before the interview, I had recieved an email from jamie with all the questions that will be asked. Not so much is left to chance, it's Korea, isn't it? However, when I read the questions I sensed real commitment. These people actually read my blog, they were informed about my trip, they asked almost all the interesting questions. If I were to interview myself, I would not have prepared a better interview.
Me and Jamie at the radio station

They asked about Nata, about the key countries, about the philosophy, the before, the after. The interviewer was carefully watching the time, guiding my answer through the clock (we had 20 minutes for 20 questions) but she managed this without being intrusive. I was stressed but it was a great experience.
Everything is going so well in Korea, really. I still have a week before I have to be in Busan but no stress, it's Korea, I'll get there in time. First, I want to visit Seorok mountain and the east coast. That's when I started to experiment. I arrived to the Kensington hotel, just below the mountain. A giant construction with a stunning view.
I'ts 3PM, too late to start the ascention and the weather sucks too. It might rain tonight. I don't have a tent anymore so that's a slightly bigger problem than before. However, there are lots of abandonned cabins or shelters in the area so my night is not really in danger. It's more about my curiosity.
In the interview I say that I don't ask for accomodation. That is only partially true. I sometimes do ask for it but always institutions that make a business of it, never individuals. I ask a hotel to give me a place to stay for free the same way I ask an airline for a free plane ticket.
I describe my situation to the reception lady. She has perfect english. She goes to find her boss and after a while, they find me a place to sleep in a double-decker bus in front of the hotel. It serves as an exposition item brought back from London. It's really confortable on one of the front seats and I spend my evening watching TV series while eating some food Yongjin has given me for the road.
My magic bus

When you start watching TV series on a hitchhiking trip, it means that the country you are in is too boring and you have to seek adventure elsewhere as many people do in the civilised world.
The next day, I sneak into the national park. There is an entrance fee so I have to go around over the hill. It's not an easy climb, especially in the dark at 6AM.
At 6AM there is nobody in front of this very touristic Buddha statue, just under Soroksan

The path to Sorok montain is closed but I ignore the warning and climb anyway. I soon fall in deep snow until the waist. My shoes are soaking wet and I have to climb through stones and stone walls until I get to the a ridge. There the trail continues but the snow is too deep, giving up the ascention is the wise thing to do. I spend a while looking for a way down, cursing myself for not having giving up earlier. It is a small mountain but it feels like a huge one. Size really doesn't matter, mountain-wise.
Here I got kind of stuck

View from a cave monastary in the mountains

Three times I try to go down and thee times I go back: the way is too hard. At last I find a path suitable for descent and I make it back to my magic bus. From there, I hitch to the east coast, to a place called Ganeug. It used to be an old olympic village which rhymes with abandonned places. I spend a good part of the days sneaking into various places in hotels, abandonned or not.
I am a bit hungry these few days. I don't hitchhike a lot which means nobody offers me food and since I am on zero-budget now, it just means I don't eat.
My last meal was the driver who drove me to the toll station and invited me to dinner there. He then bought me a big bow of chololate cookies which are my rations until someone gives me something else.
Finding places to sleep is a bit more difficult too since I don't have a tent anymore. I have noticed a cool watchtower right on the beach. It protects me from the heavy winds so I can spend the night there. I have checked it beforehand, it was empty and it even had a room with a door and electricity still running.
I download the Hobbit - desolation of smaug to watch before I go to sleep and I slowly make my way to the tower.
"Hey!" I hear from up there. A soldier is pointing his gun at me but in a very polite way, it is clear that he is very sorry to do this and soon, he is helping me find my way back apologizing that I can't sleep in his watchtower because it belongs to the Korean military.
Even Korean military are really kind.
The watchtower I tried to sleep in

During my whole stay in Korea I never got the chance to stay in Churches. When I was in China, I thought Korean churches would be my main means of accomodation but I never got to try them, everytime a better solution came up. Either people or double decker buses or offices, whatever else.
With my military watchtower out of the picture, I decided to test god's sheltear. If Koreans are so kind, so hospitable, if even hotels whose business is to take your money for housing let you stay for free, a church will probably cover you in love, food and blankets.
Actually, not really.
"I can't help you," says the lady in the Church, "my boss is not here, I can't make that decision."
I naivly thought that her boss is God and god approves hospitality or so the Bible says but appearently, in Korea churches are a business and God is just a guest in his own home. I did get a yoghourt though.
Just to be fair for comparison I went to a hotel a few meters from that church, asked for a free place to stay and got a free room with a double bed, kitchen and shower. I guess God had gone into exile since churches are not a safe haven for him any more, he is just everywhere else.

The next day I make it to Daegu and meet with Tumur again. He lives in an apparment with 3 people per room. Not much privacy and comfort but he's here for the work and money so I guess that will do. I stay with a friend of his who lives in his parents house. He is also from Alcoholics Anonymous and his story is similar to his Mongolian friends. I guess alcohol screws everyone in the same way, no matter which culture you are from.

Lee is very kind to me, he lends me his computer to make a promotional video for my trip. I wanted to make this video for a long time but I never had the chance to do it because it requires a real computer, my tablet is just not powerful enough, I barely could make Janela's video and it took ages.
I won't reveal why I made this video... yet but you should know that it serves a higher purpose, it's more than just a video about my journey, it has a goal. I don't know if this goal will succeed or fail, everything depends on my uninformed image of the upcoming japanese culture.

On March 25th, I leave Lee's house in the direction of the toll station. Today, if everything goes well, I will be flying to Japan.