On my third weekend in Gunsan, I decide it is finally time to explore
, which is directly behind my apartment building. I’ve seen people coming out of the park and my curiosity has been sufficiently piqued that an exploration is now becoming essential – plus I can’t bear the thought of staying in my apartment this weekend. Before I go any further, let me just clarify that the park is more like a nature reserve than a park with swing sets, screaming children and happy couples sitting on benches or picnic while watching swans or ducks on a lake. That part of it does exist although I don’t recall seeing any birds on the lake or swing sets. Wolmyeong Park
I have a mental picture of myself sitting under a shady tree looking interesting while I catch up my much neglected journal. In my mind, I’m sitting in a park in
England or the one opposite the University of Victoria, Vancouver Island. I’m well prepared with a bottle of water, my journal, camera, handbag and wearing comfortable ballet pumps which are about the only flat pair of shoes that I currently own apart from flip flops and practical for just such a day.
There are two entrances to the park. Most people seem to be taking the wide, flat path but I somehow understand the stairs to be some type of shortcut to the same destination. I bounce up the stairs of which there are just the right quantity to make it seem that the path up the mountain has stairs all the way. Once I get to the end of the stairs, I am faced with what appears to be a hiking trail. It’s not too steep but I’m not really dressed for hiking. I keep wondering if I should turn back but the view makes the trip worthwhile. 15 minutes later, I reach a small clearing with park benches and a pretty good view of my side of town. Thinking that I’ve made it to the top, I spend some time doing exactly what I’d pictured myself doing when I first set out. I may just have found my writing spot – until winter properly sets in. It’s quiet, it’s beautiful, it’s fairly secluded…and it’s only the first rest stop along the way.
Feeling adventurous, I set off once again feeling more athletic than I have in months. Several Korean hikers pass me – kitted out in proper walking shoes and backpacks – and probably think that all foreigners are crazy in their choice of walking shoes. I’m starting to wish I were wearing sneakers but the view is so beautiful that I keep climbing higher. That’s when I see the first one: a set of strange looking apparatus that I initially think are a children’s playground. There’re no garbage bins anywhere but the Koreans do have what appears to be a playground on top of this mountain. Since everyone else has already passed me, I try out something called the surfer. I nearly fall flat on my face getting on to it but it’s a lot of fun once you get the hang of it. Slightly further ahead, I encounter more such apparatus and that’s when it occurs to me that it’s all exercise equipment – there’s even a set of weights in this clearing.
Feeling rather inspired, I decide that sneakers are now essential and ‘gym’ seems more appealing than ever before. With great excitement, I head back down the mountain and am thinking a trip to Lotte mart is needed. I am soon back in the first clearing and I suddenly realise there are in fact two paths that look identical. I stand at the entrance to each path and look back on the clearing, trying to work out which ‘first view’ looks right but I can’t remember. My mantra, ‘when in doubt, stay left’ has yet to fail me in Gunsan so I choose the path on the left. About 300m in, I realise that this is not the correct path but a quick glance over my shoulder reveals a rather steep climb back to the clearing and I’m lazy.
About 800m down this path, I’m starting to realise that getting back down the mountain is, surprisingly, more difficult than getting up it. Also, this path seems to have a few steeper sections than I expected. It also consists of more rock face than the other one. Feeling less and less enthusiastic about turning around and heading back up the mountain to change paths, I convince myself that the difficulty of this path can’t be that different to the other path and I push ahead. Every step leads me to a steeper rock face that is starting to require serious mountaineering gear. With each step, I can’t help thinking, Oh God, I’m an idiot and I am going to die! and I can’t see anywhere soft to land except on my arse. It occurs to me that no one knows where I am and if I die up here it could be days before anyone else stupid enough to use this path stumbles upon me.
I’m so relieved that I’ve survived that I start laughing, somewhat manically, while parents pull frightened children to safety. As I stumble down the sensible path out of the park, I notice another foreigner watching me with a look that seems to say: You must the luckiest idiot alive. A glance at his clothes reveals that he’s in the
army and I quickly walk away laughing more and more hysterically as I think about the past 35 minutes. My apartment is looking more and more appealing with every step. US