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The International Writers Magazine

Mountain Seoul
Nick Doenges

Up up up into the forests outside Seoul following Anna and the army of hikers march with purpose like ants up the hill with feverish intensity and they all dress in hats and shirts and boots and carry sticks as if mounting an expedition against a formidable peak.

I meet Anna at the subway station midmorning. Cup of java fuel and eager anticipation for the climb. We talk talk talk on the subway and I smile and she smiles. Meet my friend on the mountain she says and I say OK.

Su Hi meets us at the convenience store at the start of the path and we meet and greet and shop for something good to eat and buy bananas and apples and green tea in plastic bottles and later I astonish my two friends by picking up bottles left to lay on the mountain and they say why? and I say because I like the illusion of immaculate nature and I know garbage swirls in the Pacific and drifts to Hawaii and resort staff secrets to the beach to create the dream of paradise and sure recycling is imperfect and yes maybe this bottle will find its way to a worse fate than laying in the bushes of a mountain path but I take some pride in at least trying to reduce reuse recycle, it’s easy to do!

      I am odd man out as an American English-speaker in Korea and I am OK with that and I like not to know what is said and I like to read in restaurants and be at peace with my thoughts and not overhear boorish statements of displeasure or banal conversations between lovers speaking silly or parents dumbly plumbing the minds of their kids and so out of touch out at work out to lunch or friends saying stupid jokes or talking sports or any of the other idle banter I have heard spoken within earshot.

      Su Hi and Anna talk talk talk as we climb the mountain speaking Korean. It’s OK, I am enthralled with the act of left right! left right! up up! up up! and am watching with rapt attention at old weathered women working their way back down the mountain having probably achieved the summit after an early morning start to keep a date with the sun at the summit. And I am lost in thoughts of how Americans do not do things like this. I can hardly imagine being in an American city on an early AM subway car filled with men and women bearing backpacks as the train bears them to their hiking destination.

      Anna translates the occasional comment from Su Hi and I learn she is a dental hygienist and lost her job the day before and got drunk the night before and ah! OK! I understand why I was awake at eight to a phone call saying no wait, meet later? OK. I smile sympathy to her and she nods she understands. Body language really better I think. Why not? Words complicate and confuse essential sentiments. Connotations denotations annotations I do not care. A two-hand clasp and a half hug for men and full hugs for women at funerals says more I am sorry for your loss than my words no matter how heartfelt I mean.

      Stop. Here we are half way up the mountain and gathered a half step off the path is a cluster of sweaty hikers drinking from dippers and resting on rocks. A trickle of water is spilling from a crevice within a chunk of rock and a rack is holding a half dozen plastic dippers. How fantastic! I say and my eyes glow and I am absolutely rapturous about drinking from a fresh mountain spring. And I drink deep and the water is cold and crisp and tastes like rock and it quenches my thirst and gets in my blood and now I have drunk from the mountain and I splash Su Hi and Anna and I laugh and they laugh and we eat our apples and drink our green tea and I try hard to be animated and understood by Su Hi and I want to transcend words and I try and maybe she understood something universal in me leaping from rock to rock and rocking between trees hanging on branches and singing songs for my fine female friends.

      Up we continue and pass a blind Buddhist monk sitting and chanting lowly on the side of the path. A basket sits before him and I give him no money. Onward we go.

      We reach the summit! and sit on bald rock outcroppings and have three-hundred and sixty degree panorama and upper altitude breeze blowing steady as we sit and again eat snacks and share a moment of bliss beneath the sun and everything feels closer than on the ground and the city looks friendly and small sitting at the top of the world and I feel like an Olympian god.

      A Buddhist temple is below the summit only slightly and they serve lunch to the climbers. We file into the banquet hall of the new building complex, renovated due to the generous patronage of the climbers. The lunch is simple rice and vegetables and a spicy red sauce served in a simple metal bowl. I eat and am satisfied at being fed at the top of the earth.

© Nick Doenges July 2007
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