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Archive for September 8th, 2009

On my own

Gyeonju, South Korea

burial mounds

Shilla Dynasty, burial mounds

I noticed I was rather apprehensive as I got ready to leave the perceived safety of Sara’s apartment. But leave I did, and when I threw my backpack over my shoulder and headed down the street my self reliance kicked in as I invoked the mantra of my country’s new President’s campaign: “Yes we can” or in my case “Yes, I can”. The new Ultra Light Adventures Catalyst pack feels solid and comfortable on my back. I opted for a new pack as my 2006 thru-hike pack was a bit small for this trip; I needed something that could carry up to 40 pounds. This is more than I like carrying by a full 15 pounds, but I have my life on my shoulders for the coming months and the desire to bring a nice camera, an Ipod nano, and a mini laptop complete with all the accompanying power supplies put my base weight (no food or water at 38lbs). The pack can support it, now the question is can I carry it. I left a few pounds at Sara’s as I will be back there in a few days, but for now the pack is feeling good. The old twinge in my left foot was immediately apparent however; that PCT thru hike injury to my meta tarsal is something I just have to deal with as it is not going away – today, tomorrow, or ever.

Like so many things in life I had to cut the safety net free in order to see if I could walk this rope that my dear friend Ms. Michael W. calls my personal odyssey. For the last several days Sara and I have been palling around and I have deferred to her for all of our route finding. Today, I am on my own and somehow, it feels like my personally Odyssey is beginning. But unlike our Greek protagonist Odysseus I am not trying to get home to my wife, for I do not have one. I somehow feel like serpents are in my future however.

For now, I am heading rather, to the capital of the Shilla Dynasty that ruled the peninsula for a thousand years beginning sometime around 57 BC after the unification of the three great peoples. Presently, I am on a bus after having successfully navigated the subway and finding the bus station. For those of you follow along, via Google Maps, I am going to Gyeongju in the south east of the county. A place that has been described as a museum without walls, and where new treasures of the ancient world are being discovered at a rapid rate as the Korean government has stepped up historic preservation efforts. I have no idea where I will sleep tonight and that both scares the corporate in-control crap out of me, and yet feels liberating.

Before my trip I asked friends about music, podcast, and audio books they would recommend for the transit legs of my journey. My friend Chryss from my former employer took the song request one giant step further and handed my a flash drive with multiple gigs of music. She has also been emailing me tracks and I am really enjoying exploring all this new music; thank you Chryss. I was reading the artist to Sara last night and she was blown away that anyone person could have such an eclectic mix. I am loving it, well most of it anyway; some of it simply requires a 46 year, middle aged white guy to say “what is that”, or simply as the text generation likes to say “WTF”. Most is great however, and Just yesterday she sent me “Baby got going” by Liz Phair, Never heard of the song, never heard of the artist, yet…..”silky underwear – my soul conductor lets roll roll, lets rolllllllll” What is not to love?

On the book front John (AKA, Rolling Thunder) recommenced “The professor and the mad man” by Simon Winchester. I believe it is about the development of our first dictionaries and how a mental patient was instrumental, even critical, in its development. I think John was thinking that I would appreciate and take comfort in knowing that the mentally ill can actually contribute meaningfully to society.

My personal choice for an audiobook is “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. I had heard of this book and knew part of it was about a westerner spending time at an Ashram in India (something I am considering). That sounded on par to what I was looking for. I got a lot more then that as I have been listening to Elizabeth narrate her own work as she describes a failed marriage, a divorce, a lovely romance post marriage that was both wonderful and broken all in one, and a pilgrimage to try and put the former pieces of herself back together. Or maybe more importantly to find the core pieces that may have been missing all along. The similarities are frightening; or maybe not. Maybe they are simply human experiences and the way mine our manifesting are very similar to the author’s. I am enjoying the book and have to believe it has some relevance to my own journey; a journey that is so obscure to me that I do not even know what I seeking beyond the banner of my journal: “Something beyond quiet desperation”.

The Korean subways are the cleanest I have every seen and it looks like there is a full time crew on each train that cleans them constantly; now that is much better use of stimulus dollars then paying bonuses to AIG executives, or bailing out car manufactures that make sub-par products and managed their businesses poorly. The subways were a bit easier than the trains as the PA system has a fair amount of English incorporated, and the color coding, like subways worldwide, works…..even for someone who is color blind like me.

Rice, rice, rice and more rice passes along as I travel south. And occasionally I see a flag person alerting drivers of a hazard ahead. Wait, that is not a flag person, what is that? That is a flag mannequin, complete with a hard hat, red vest and waving arms. Not so good for keeping people working but a hell a lot safer as it looks like one of them got creamed. Just left our roadside stop where we used the facilities and I got some food; Blue Diamond Almonds from my home town of Sacramento. I also picked up a bottle of soda that looked like a sprite, 7-up, or something similar. I have learned, all ready, to take a GOOD smell of anything you put in your mouth here and following this rule it smelled slightly odd, but safe. What my nose could not tell me, and my eyes could not see because they are small and clear, was that in the liquid is some sort of suspended jello – like stuff . Every take a drink of something anticipating a solid free liquid and end up with some gooey substance in your mouth? I don’t recommend it. Crap, we are here, and a half hour early. The Koreans know how to run a public transit system. I just crossed half of the country and did it all on super clean and efficient public transportation. Cheap too.

sitting budha

Sitting Buddha, Korean heritage site

Guess you have to call that lost, but it was only temporary as I am now back in my un-lost room. Damn, I knew I was close but as I walked up alley after alley looking for my hotel I began to tell myself that I must have gotten turned around, must have misjudged the distance at night. So, I made my way back to a main street and flagged down a taxi and handed him the business card of my hotel that I fortunately had the foresight to take with me. Right around the flipping corner but that does not mean I would have found it, and thus, I was happy to have spent the two dollars it cost me to get “home”. Truth be told, I was starting to get a bit nervous as the night was getting on, and then remembered that while important things in life can not be solved this way, simple things can be solved with a Visa card. (note: the next morning I recognized that I was less than 50 meters from my hotel on several occasions that night – pre- taxi ride)

Once today I was in the most surreal open stall market I have ever seen. Red peppers being ground into the base ingredient for kimchi, raw (not certain about fresh given the overwhelming stench) and dried fish lined the side walks as proprietors waved fans to keep the flies subdued, little old ladies peeled garlic to sell by the clove and ginger to sell by the smallest piece of root. Others shelled and cleaned mussels, clams and urchins while cigarettes hung from their mouths and ashes fell to the gooey meat below. Vendors solid street food that made my early lunch post looks like extreme child’s play. Thus my willingness to experiment with new foods was tested today and good sense prevailed…..NO WAY am I eating anything from this market. The experience was such a sensory overload that when dinner came around, a 100% orange juice and some chips that boasted the Frito-lay logo (in Korean) were in order.

When I left the market I was literally gasping for a some clean air; air free from the market stench. Moments later I was amongst pines, ,magnolia, and Ginko trees that lined the paths between the pyramids of Korea. These burial mounds made up an enormous park in the middle of the central city. And like all good parks this one come scomplete with the darkest squirrels I have ever seen, and magpies similar to those back home-less the yellow beaks. As night fell the hooting owls reminded me that this is what a park should be like; no graffiti, no one smoking a crack pipe, and no concern for personal safety.

When I arrived at one of the tombs that had been excavated, I was greeted by the nicest women who was clearly passionate about her heritage and happy to share it with me. I simply asked if a guide in English may be available and what I got was a map, a guide book, and my very own personal guide who spoke remarkable English. The tombs are fascinating with an impervious clay layer first laid down to prevent water from below. A burial chamber was then built of wood, and that was covered by an intricately stacked 15 meter rock pile that was covered by a think layer of clay (again to keep water out). Finally a deep layer of top soil was placed over the clay and grass was planted. Only a few of these tombs have been excavated and because of the rocks no looting of these tombs has occurred. And yet, they hold riches and artifacts as evidenced by the gold and jade crowns that were unearthed in the tomb I visited. The Korean government has decided, in spite of University request to due otherwise, to let their ancestors rest in peace. Good.

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