Tales from the Subway

The train is busy, almost full as it leaves Munsan, I still find a seat all to myself and start happily divulging Paul Theroux’s Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, rather apt perhaps. At the next stop I am swamped by school girls going to Seoul, to school. Immediately they all fall asleep, except one who only half asleep does her homework. She can’t get it done though as she can’t take her eyes off my big nose,
or something else on my odd face.

At the front of each carriage is a section of red seats for the elderly. They too often fall asleep, if not already at boarding. Or talk to themselves, talk to me, at me, wave their legs, mumble, getting off at the wrong stop, or sit their incapacitated drunk with “soju” (Korean liquor that cost 50p a bottle), harass pretty young women, that sort of thing. They’re not all bad of course some are very nice….one nice chap tried to sway me to be Jehovah’s Witness, but as I told him when I saw his sweaty leaflet, “Sorry, but you’ve got no chance.”

Then someone comes to sell something, often something to ward off the cold, garish bootie-socks, woolly hats, face masks, but today it’s toothpaste. Two tubes for £5. The guy, who actually looks pretty intelligent, actually looks like a dentist, looks nervous too, maybe a beginner at the Travelling Metro Mall. But his presentation, complete with some odd picture which looks like a thermal image, whilst not being a thermal image, that doesn’t make any sense to me, does the trick and the old paranoid schizophrenic drunks are hooked; buying toothpaste left and right!  The guy makes a killing! I start calculating how much money he will make in one hour if he can keep it up. In five minutes he made £25, or maybe £12.50, I can’t recall the right price now. It’s only the older folk who buy anything from him though, that and dribble on the red seats, the young ones aren’t fooled…or are asleep.

I’ve taken the train a lot in the past two weeks, on vacation(!) and can only commend Korea for it’s fine and cheap public transport! I’ve seen historic temples and villages, and modern day shopping malls, photo exhibitions both new and old, museums and mountains, but it is a bit of a shame that they are all surrounded by high-rise apartments and people and litter and flashing lights and billboards.

Today though, hoping the temperature was suitable for a teeny-weeny ride on Rudolf I drag him in to the elevator and out of the apartment to take a short trip to Mt.Bakdal. The hike is easily found as there are roughly fifty people, clearly trying to find K2 judging by their gear, acting as a sign for the beginning of the hike. “Bakdal”, means eagle (I think) and I sit at the top – on my own!!! – and watch the eagles turning on the cold air just above me, for once I can’t see any apartment blocks, no people, and only a few buildings! Though in reality they were all just obscured by the mountains on the other side of the valley, but I was most happy! Then a small bright yellow woodpecker darts across below and like a magnet is sucked towards a slim tree which he starts knock, knock knocking on. This is quite a nice story until just now I remembered that I didn’t go to Mt.Bakdal, as I couldn’t find it on the map and chose instead another mountain, whose name I don’t even know. Thus, my delusions suitably shattered I must contemplate returning to school tomorrow, a dreary prospect, it feels like the last two Mondays will be added to this one tomorrow to make it especially miserable….I shouldn’t be so negative….think about the greatness of the hike Nicholas.