As you know if you have followed my blog and web-series, I went to North Korea in August of 2015. However, that was the second time I tried to go. I had originally been scheduled to visit eight months earlier, over New Years (because nothing says optimistic new beginnings like the DPRK amiright?!). Unfortunately, due to the Ebola outbreak, North Korea closed its borders to tourism, and my visit was cancelled. I had already purchased my flights to and from Beijing, and because who the fuck wants to stay in Beijing more than they have to, I decided to make lemonade and hop a flight to South Korea instead.
Thank fuck I did this. The coffee in China tastes like liquid lead (this is before I got hip to carrying my aeropress with me everywhere) and Seoul has a vibrant coffee culture. Don’t get too excited - it’s not Melbourne or Brooklyn, but there are some spots in the Hongdae neighborhood (the university part) that are popping.
I was only in Seoul for four days, one of which I was bed-ridden (will get to that in just a minute). For most of my time, I explored different neighborhoods:
- Hongdae is funky and full of young students
-Itaewan is swarming with expats, which isn’t much my style but if you are in desperate need of a burger you can get a decent one here *Warning* South Koreans fucking LOVE corn. They put that shit on goddamn everything, so if you get any western food here, just be prepared to shit out your Korean memories.
-Myeongdong is where all the beauty stores are, loaded with every kind of gold encrusted caviar mask and magical unicorn blood infused BB cream. Beauty bloggers must have wet dreams of this hood.
-Gangnam is where all the clubs are. I went to this district with my new hostel friends on New Years Eve, ended up getting separated from them, and was hit on by a 20 year old American soldier who had been married for six months and was drinking Budweiser. So my 2015 started off dope.
So then on New Years Day 2015, I decided I wanted to go for a hike as it is perhaps my favorite activity after drinking craft beer and watching Dance Moms. The only shoes I had packed with me were ballet flats and Converse, so Converse I wore. I decided to go to Bukhansan, as it is very popular with locals and tourists alike.
Now here’s the thing: And let me preface this by saying none of this is a diss, because I love people who go fucking HARD. Koreans fucking LOVE hiking. I’m not sure if they love the actual physical exertion itself, or if they love the culture of hiking. I get the shits when I go to barre class in Cobble Hill with every just-gave-birth-last-week skinny bitch decked out in Lululemon, but this is a different kind of fitness culture. Besides the fact that Koreans pack a loaded lunch complete will a goddamn portable table and real fucking silverware for a two hour hike, they are also dressed to the nines in matching fucking neon. I was lost as to why these people were wearing crampons (spikes you put on the bottom of your shoes, used to hike glaciers) and using goddamn trekking poles on a PAVED road. Like literally, the first two kilometers of this hike were the equivalent of walking down 5th avenue.
As I continued walking along the paved road, locals who were coming back down would point at my Converse and say, “uh oh” which I should have honestly taken as a fucking hint to turn the fuck around. But I’m an arrogant little bitch, and I thought I knew better.
Shortly after the paved section, I came to several sets of stairs and a bit more of a technical hike. As I walked up, the steps became a bit icy, then very icy. I will admit I had a moment of “Should I continue? It’s always easier going up ice than it is going down,” but I decided to go just a bit further. About half an hour of slip sliding my way up, and literally every Korean who passed me fucking gawking at me like the I had horns jutting out of my eyes, I decided that there was no way I was going to make it the last half kilometer to the top. I’m not a big fan of quitting but also I like my spine, so there’s that.
I began to descend, slowly. I slipped and fell on my bum. Mind you, there is a line of Korean’s trying to get down and my fat ass is slowing down the flow big time. So I get up, take another step down, slip and fall again. The gasps behind me get louder. I was anxious and wanted to get out of people’s way, so when I got up again, I took a step down rather hastily, twisted my ankle, and fell off the side.
It wasn’t that long of a way down, maybe 8-10 feet or so, but I landed almost straight on my coccyx, and rolled down a bit until a tree stopped me.
Very shortly, three different groups of Koreans came to my rescue: one man, who spoke a fair bit of English and was hiking alone, two older women hiking together, and a young couple. I was crying because I was scared, my ass hurt, and my ego was destroyed, and these kind people helped get my haggard ass into the car of the English-speaking man. We went to the hospital, where I assumed he would just drop me off and I’d figure out my way back to my hostel after, but he stayed with me. Not only that, BOTH the other couples came and met me at the hospital. One of the older women rubbed my back as we were sitting and said, “It’s okay. Friends are here now.”
I checked out being fine with the doctor (would have been a great story if I had literally broken my ass bone though), and I was cleared to go back to my hostel. Before the English-speaking man gave me a ride though, the other two couples reached into their bags and gave me the food they had planned for their picnic up on top of Bukhansan: rice, kimchi, noodles, and some fruit which I obviously didn’t eat, but the gesture meant a lot to me.
It hurt to walk for a few days, so I kept quiet in the hostel before heading back to China. And while there is so much to love about Seoul: excellent spicy food, really tidy queues, and an overall trustworthiness (a girl at my hostel forgot her purse at the nightclub we went to - two days later she went back and it was in the same place, literally on a table, money and phone all there) - I have to say the best part of this trip for me was being touched by incredible kindness. So maybe it wasn’t my plan to go to Seoul, but damn am I glad I did.
I don’t know why, but good shit always happens to me. And I’m so damn thankful for it.