Jirisan National Park
11.04.2009 - 12.04.2009 15 °C
With no time to waste, I caught a local bus before sunset from Sokcho to Daegu, with my smelly body. Even as a frequent traveler, when confronted with unfamiliar environment and language after dark, all I can depend on is my common sense and instinct. Not knowing where I am since there are a few intercity bus terminals in Daegu, my guidebook became useless. I looked around but can only see Korean characters everywhere. The woman who was on the same bus pointed me at a direction when I signaled 'sleep' to her. As far as my eyes can see, everything seems to be closed. My common sense, however, told me there must be accommodation somewhere around the bus terminal. It's just a matter of time to find it.
I walked along the quiet street for a good while. Finally, I see a tiny neon sign says 'motel'. Overjoyed and desperate for a shower, I lowered my guard about the 'cleanliness' of this motel and stepped right in. Many motels in South Korea can be rented hourly with free pornography channels and even 'bedding equipments'. Luckily, a friendly middle-aged woman offered me a modern and meticulous room with a very friendly price, 20000 won. I gladly settled for the night.
When I checked out early next morning, the same woman told me that she lived in San Francisco for a few years and showed me the Express bus terminal only 10-minute walk away! I boarded a 2-hour express bus to Jinju, a student town. After lunch and internet café, I walked to the intercity bus terminal 45 minute away. Feeling bewildered with all Korean bus schedule, I showed a conductor my Mt.Jiri map. He smiled and pointed me to the ticket counter for the bus to Jungsan-ni. Next to the cherry trees, I slept early at a new minbak.
Next morning around 7, I walked towards the entrance of the Jirisan National Park. One will never feel lonely in national parks here. Hikers of all ages and sizes crowd the summit trail everyday. I followed some, surpassed some, and surpassed by some. Most use hiking sticks. I found it cumbersome. Half way up, a professor from Jinju offered me his guidance. He summits every weekend! I gladly accepted and followed him. We rested at the Beopgyesa Temple and started the final ascend up the steep rocky trail. We reached the summit Cheonwangbong (1915m), second highest peak in South Korea, at 11am. 'Good timing,' he said. I felt a rush of exhilaration being surrounded by nothing but mountain ranges as far as my eyes can see.
We took some photos and headed to Jeseokbong (1806m) before returning on a long and windy trail passing waterfall and massive boulders in the river. A handful of purple azalea started blooming and added a tint of color to the otherwise blend landscape. It took us about 4 hours to get back to Jungsan-ni.
Professor Yang invited me to go to a public spa near Jinju. This is what he does every weekend after hiking and before going home. Once inside the spa, we split. I went to the female area. Naked bodies of all shapes and sizes were all I could see, busy rubbing and cleaning every inch of their skin from head to toe. Small children screamed and cried when being forced by the mothers to sit still and wash. Massage and exfoliation were offered at a price. Although I have done this in Istanbul, it is still not quite easy to feel totally comfortable here. Nevertheless, I undressed and dipped into the hot tub to relax my muscles. My shyness and consciousness was soon overcome after realizing that no one actually know that I am a tourist. I could not help myself but stared at the voluminous women rubbing their breasts and buttocks against the coined exfoliating machine. (Sorry no photos here)
We joined outside the spa and went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. Prof Yang insisted on finding a motel for me with free Internet connection. I gladly accept his help and sincerely thanked him for a unique experience. Another example of Korean hospitality.