Sunday, May 5, 2013

My Heartwarming Journey to Snow Mountain in South Korea

To experience snow - scope a fistful of it
- this is my ultimate birthday wish 

My diligent research helped me find a place in South Korea where snow has not melted yet by mid-March. Search engines in the net and various travel stories in the blogsphere directed me to Seoraksan National Park that serves as the gateway to Mt. Seorak, the highest mountain in Taebak mountain range.  It's located in Gangwon-do Province nested in the eastern part of South Korea and can be reached via a two-to-three-hour-bus trip from Seoul.  It is named as the Snow Mountain with "Seol" meaning "Snow" and "Ak" meaning "Big Mountain" because the snow would not melt for the long time.  Indeed, it is the Snow Mountain.

At the top of Gwongeumseong Fortress

I took the 7:20 AM non-stop bus from Dong Seoul Express Terminal to Sokcho Intercity Bus Terminal after I missed it's first trip at 6:20AM.  Amidst the aching morning coldness of 2C degrees outside the holding area of the terminal, I opted to stay while carefully checking the bus signages with my ticket.  The scheduled time was a bit confusing - one bus was showing 7:19 and the Korean characters looked like the same with my ticket Sokcho’(속초)  but mine should be at 7:20.  
my ticket and the bus to Sokcho City
I got my confusion cleared-up when people started to fall in line to the bus with time indicated at 7:20AM. I went up the bus looking for seat number 5, it's on the window seat.. and someone was occupying it. I was about to tell him that it was mine when her daughter from the opposite row said something and then laughed.  She was seated beside her mother who also said something.  He then figured out that he should be sitting on the aisle seat, that is, seat number 6.  After I settled in my seat, I placed my backpack on the floor, took my bubble jacket off (buses in Korea are non-aircon for obvious reason that's its very cold outside but the lack of ventilation inside the bus make it suffocating instead), and just had my camera in handy.

The bus left exactly at 7:20AM.  Very efficient!

As soon as the bus started running, I kept on looking outside the window.  In just a few minutes, we were out on the highway where patches of greenfields, riverbanks, houses, lots of tunnels and mountains as the backdrop were part of my journey.  After awhile, the man beside me nudged me gently and I turned to him.  He was offering a cup full of cherry tomatoes.  I looked towards the opposite row and his wife smiling and speaking in Korean with hand gestures seemed like telling me to take the cup.  I shyly took it out of courtesy, uttered a "Thank You" and picked one tomato and with a constrained smile swallowed it.  I do not eat fresh tomato unless served with a salad dressing or dipped into vinegar seasoned with pepper and salt.  I sensed that the old man was observing me.  He was not talking but his face exuded an aura of friendliness with his smiling eyes.  I took another one and kind of like it.  Then, I put the cup at the holder at my front.

my cherry tomato

A few minutes later, the wife handed over an apple which she cut into halves and the husband gave me the other half.  I thanked both of them looking at their daughter who was smiling too.  They were so kind to me that I did not think of rejecting their presents.  In the remaining hours on the road, I was like an orphan fed by this kind family of three.  They offered me oranges after the apple which the husband himself peeled off before giving some to me.

the Korean family who fed me inside the bus 
The picnic on the bus momentarily stopped when the wife and her daughter took a nap while the husband still awake and also looking at the scenery outside.  How I wish he can talk in English or I can speak Korean.  I was getting sleepy as well and a bit frustrated that nearly two hours of the travel time had passed but I haven't seen any signs of snow yet. 

While contemplating what to do should I found out that the snow has melted already in Seoraksan National Park, I saw the wife rummaged the picnic bag and took out a cup and poured something from the flask and gave it to his husband.  I heard them talking again.  Then the husband asked me, "Kopi"? I turned to the wife who was carrying the flask in one hand smiling.  I shook my head and said, "No, thanks!"  As much as I want to take it, I was advised by my doctor not to take any caffeinated drink nor coffee yet. Three weeks before I left the Philippines, I was rushed to the hospital due to stomach spasm which attributed to either too much salty food, less water intake and too much coffee.   But the wife only heard or understood my last word, "thanks" and she thought I was thanking them already.

She then took another cup, poured the dark liquid with sinful aroma and passed it on to her daughter, then to her father and handed it to me.  I mumbled in prayer to spare me from any stomach pain. I should not get sick in this foreign land.  Then, with the same cup full of cherry tomato at my front, I saw the message imprinted on the cup as I took a sip from it.
"Love is likely to the wind. I can't see it but I can feel it".

I then surrendered to the thought that snow could be nowhere to find and I might not able to make my wish to scope a fistful of snow come true but I have received more than a fistful abundance of kindness from this Korean family. That would be enough for me and I'd be happy with it.

After awhile, I saw the mountain ranges covered in whiteness with trees brushing it like highlights of the painting.  My face suddenly lit as my heart filled with excitement.  I was nearing to the fulfillment of my dream.

Taebak mountain ranges as seen from the road
We arrived at Sokcho Intercity Terminal past 9:30AM and the family alighted from the bus ahead of me.  I wished I brought some dried mangoes with me so I can return back their goodness. When I got off, I saw them waiting so I approached and thanked them again.  I waved them good bye  as they went out of the exit for the arriving passengers while I walked towards the departure boarding area to check the bus schedules back to Seoul.  After taking notes of the time, I went to the exit of the terminal and looked for the tourist information booth.  I asked for the bus stop to Seoraksan National Park and took some travel brochures as well. 

Surprisingly, I saw that family in the bus stop as well.  And the wife started talking with me in Korean and I only understood the word "country".  I assumed she was asking where I came from so I answered "Philippines".  She was again talking, ecstatic and I was hoping I could understand where the excitement coming from.  Her daughter noticed the expression on my face and said something to her mom.  I then looked at the bus stop guide to check whether that was the right one.  The other lady who were then a witness of our early "conversations" asked something and pointed the bus stop.  She might have hinted that I was going to Seoraksan.  She asked me, "Seorak?". And I answered, "Yes".  She pointed Bus 7-1 printed on the board.  The wife kept talking again and seemed like asking me about Seoraksan but I did not understand anything.  Her daughter kept on telling her about something that I only managed to hear as "English".  I was just happy observing them how her daughter explained that I did not understand what they're saying but she kept on talking while her husband had smiles on his face.  I did not want to forget their faces so I asked them for a photo souvenir with me.
the wife and the husband with me
They were waiting for Bus 9-1 and when the bus arrived, they were saying goodbyes with the smiles on their faces.  It was like I've known them for so long.  It was such a heartwarming introduction.  I saw then that Bus 7-1 was behind Bus 9-1 but the daughter turned to me before she got on, "Unni, (in Korean) Bus 7-1" while pointing to the Bus 7-1.  I answered back while nodding so she'd understand me,"Yes, yes, I saw it!"  She then waved her hands and I still saw her smiling while saying her goodbyes to me.

the kind strangers, bless them with more blessings!

No comments: