Sunday, August 31, 2008

Images from Soraksan Vacation

The Gypsy Scholar Relaxed

In my blog entries of the 18th and 21st, I reported briefly about a trip with my family to Soraksan Nature Reserve. Readers will recall that my wife's great predictive powers proved once again correct when I did not blog from our hotel in Sokcho. I recall the precise words of her uncanny prediction: "You will not blog on our vacation!" Her emphatic manner of expression even invites speculation that she was not so much predicting as determining, a point that I've already noted. Either way, I did not blog.

But I wasn't entirely satisfied with my blogless days, as the photo above makes apparent.

Nevertheless, I stoically endured, despite the heavy pack that I'd had slung over my left shoulder for several kilometers trudging uprise, uphill, up-mountain. By the time of the photo, I felt as though I'd been accompanying the Big Hominid on his epic walk across America. Suffering may be good for the soul, but it's hell for the sole, as the Big Ho is currently discovering.

Hiking, though, does have its advantages. Here's a vantage point below:

Mountain Valley, Soraksan Nature Reserve

I don't recall if this scenic view came before or after the sign in the first photo, but as you can see, we were quite far up on our hike to Geumgang Cave, where the famous Buddhist monk Wonhyo (617-686) stayed alone meditating upon the Four Noble Truths of suffering. Undoubtedly, his mind was concentrated upon the fact of suffering by the blisters acquired in hiking up-mountain to the cave.

How Wonhyo managed to reach the cave, I don't know, for it seemed to be on the face of a sheer rock cliff that we could only reach by climbing some long, steep stairs bolted onto the wall of rock, which you might be able to imagine from the following image:

En-Uk and Sa-Rah High Up on Steep Stairs

The effect is far more impressive when one is literally staring down what looks like a nearly vertical drop . . . though the steps are not quite a ladder. They just give that impression when one is clinging onto them to steady one's buckling knees.

Despite the scary climb up those long steps -- even more anxiety-provoking when one's kids are along for the ascent -- we all reached the cave safely:

En-Uk, Sun-Ae, and Sa-Rah in Wonhyo's Cave

I was taking this photo, so you can infer my steady nerves despite the nerve-wracking climb with kids and wife.

We stayed in Wonhyo's cave about half an hour, looking at the Buddha statues in the back area of the grotto, gazing out upon the valley and surrounding peaks, and even quaffing a refreshing earth-smelling drink made using a particular root gathered from Korean mountain slopes. I doubt that it was found on that rock wall near the cave.

We also encountered a Spaniard. Even though he was blond-haired, I knew at a glance that he was not a North American English teacher, but a European tourist and also from the continent rather than the British Isles. Seven years living in Europe has given me an eye for subtle differences, I guess, but I was still a bit surprised to discover that he hailed from Spain.

He was named Alex, he was a Basque, he was an amateur filmmaker, and he was traveling alone in Korea, getting by despite limited English skills not only on the part of the Koreans whom he encountered but on his part as well. Koreans were treating him very well, he reported. Later, after he'd left before we did, I regretted that I hadn't taken his photo.

Soon after his exit came the time for us to leave Wonhyo's cave, make like Prufrock, "turn back and descend the stair," and head "toward some overwhelming question":

En-Uk, Sa-Rah, and Gypsy Scholar Descending the Stair

Oh, do not ask, "What is it?" We are finished with our visit.

Until tomorrow, which -- as Prufrock could have learned from Scarlett O'Hara -- is another day.

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4 Comments:

At 11:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great pics, Jeffery.
The scenery is fantastic there in the mountains. Brothers Cleo and Jarrel spent some time in Korea during the conflict, and Jarrel told me that they saw some rough times in the mountains, with severe cold, plus having to fight their way back from the northern parts when Chinese soldiers came in.
Looks like everyone is doing well.
I am always struck by how much you remind me of Bradley.
Give my regards to your family.
Cran

 
At 5:21 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Uncle Cran. The scenery was great . . . but I certainly missed my blogging.

I suppose that you're right about my looking like the old man, but I sure wish that I had inherited his hair.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:14 PM, Anonymous Jeff said...

What a lovely holiday. Your photos make me nostalgic for my too-brief jaunt in Korea a few years back.

I'm curious: how were you able to spot the Spaniard and distinguish him from an American? I can sometimes spot European visitors to D.C., although not always.

 
At 6:45 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jeff, good to see you here again. My family jaunt at Soraksan was itself too brief . . . except for the nonblogging aspect, which was too long.

I'm not sure how I recognized that the Spaniard wasn't American. I didn't realize that he was Spaniard, of course (and he was actually Basque, if we want to be precise), but Europeans don't 'carry' themselves like Americans do.

Probably, there are a lot of small things -- the cut of the hair, the way someone glances, a different sort of focus. I really don't know. I do recall that when I saw Americans in Europe, I could spot them by their walk.

I suspect that someone, somewhere, has written on this, and if I could read that, I'd say, "Yes, that's exactly right!"

Jeffery Hodges

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