Author: Charles Freeman
2012/7/14 - 2012/7/15
I have been in Korea as a U.S. Army bandsman for a year and a half already (I play flute and guitar), and I have been a fairly active guest member of MENSA Korea throughout that time, having contacted the organization prior to first arriving in the country, as I thought it would be a venue for making new friends and learning the Korean language.
Most of my involvement in MENSA Korea thus far had consisted of attending various lectures at Monthly Gatherings, though I had very recently enjoyed a small group outing to a “B-Boys” production in which a Mensan was performing.
One of my favorite things to do in Korea is to get out in the wilderness (I have been on more than a dozen rock climbing outings since arriving in this country). When the foreign member coordinator told me there would be a weekend campout in mid-July, I jumped at the opportunity.
On Saturday, July 14, I left my barracks room a little after seven in the morning, giving myself ample time for the trip down to Yongdeungpyo. I rarely travel south of the Han River, so I was not familiar with that stop, and I wanted to ensure that I would be on time.
En route, I texted my contact to let him know where I would be and when. He met me at the top for the Yeongdeungpyo station stairs and we were soon joined by two young men, with whom we walked down the block, until arriving at the waiting bus.
Some guests were already on the bus, others boarded after me. The young men who had met me at the station took roll to ensure that nobody meant to be on the trip was left behind. This was done in Korean, of course, as was everything else thus far. I did not know whether I would hear any English at all that morning, or, indeed, throughout the whole weekend.
Every time I participate in a Mensa Korea event, of course, I assume the risk that I will not hear my mother tongue, and, though I have taken four semesters of Korean courses, I still struggle mightily with that language, so I always psychologically steel myself for being completely unable to communicate.
Having said all that, of course, it is often the case that, in any Korean MENSA gathering, there will be one or more English speakers, so I can usually find someone to talk to.
So, there I sat in a window seat halfway back on the bus bound from Grisim Pension, with an otherwise empty row of seats all to myself. Behind me were about a dozen or so young people whom I took to be university students. I believe there were students also seated in the front of the bus. Perhaps the only people near my age were the married couple with two young children seated a couple of rows in front of me.
The bus ride was long – perhaps two hours. I busied myself with my book and my new I-phone and prepared my mind for a relaxing weekend in the woods, while the young people behind me chatted excitedly.
About forty minutes into the bus ride, a young man came forward and sat down to my immediate left. He greeted me and introduced himself in halting English. I greatly appreciated the effort he was making to engage me in conversation, but I could tell that he was very nervous about speaking English. I was afraid that, if I spoke too quickly, I might scare him away, and conversing in Korean was somewhat out of the question, given how little I can say.
Such concerns were soon dispelled, however, as this young man’s brave and gracious gesture in undertaking to chat with me had been all it took to break the ice all around, and, soon, some of the other students started to talk with me, as well.
I found that two or three of them spoke English quite well. One young man on the bus had studied abroad in Malaysia for several years, and was quite fluent, though I did not meet him until we alighted from the bus.
The large bus rather awkwardly came to a stop at a small turnout at the crest of a hill in a densely wooded rural area. We all disembarked and walked across the street to the mouth of a windy country road.
We walked quite a long ways along that road, and, as we did, I spoke with the young man who had studied overseas. I learned that he was hoping to continue his studies of math and physics at the graduate level in Britain, but was awaiting the outcome of his recent exams.
Our hike took us up a fairly steep hillside and was mildly arduous, but the scenery was lush and picturesque, and before too long, we did arrive at the Grisim Pension.
The Pension comprises two buildings of nearly equal size built on a fairly steep slope. I believe they each had two main floors and one basement floor. The basement level of the first building contains a kitchen and opens up to a swimming pool. Several meters away, the other building has conference rooms in its basement that open up to a large covered patio with picnic tables overlooking the ravine below.
When we first arrived, we were directed by the staff to the second floor of the first building, where we doffed our shoes and made our introductions. I still understood very little of whatever was said or done at that point; I simply tried to follow what everyone else was doing.
I recognized some of the staff from prior Mensa events, so I assumed that they were probably fellow Mensans working the event in return for free admission. They had smart looking black t-shirts with the Mensa logo on the back near the collar and a quote from Geothe on the front, in which the letters “M,” “E,” “N,” “S,” and “A” were high-lighted in proper order. I recall remarking how much I liked their t-shirts.
We went downstairs and stood in line to register for the weekend. Upon registering, to my pleasant surprise, each of us was issued a t-shirt just like those the staff were wearing, except that they were light blue in color.
I requested and received a size large. Back upstairs, we men put on our shirts. I found that my “large” t-shirt didn’t look quite so large on me, and I resolved to lose some weight (at some point during the weekend, one of the staff observed that my t-shirt was maybe a little too form-fitting, and kindly handed me an extra-large, which I, regrettably, promptly lost).
We had a very nice lunch of traditional Korean food, of which, rice and kimchee are the only two items that I can identify with confidence.
Early in the afternoon, a group photo was taken. As always, I was in the back of the formation, owing to my height (there were, I think, only two or three men my height or taller).
Tall men usually appear in group photos as disembodied smiling faces floating above the crowd like Cheshire Cats, if they are not obscured altogether by the nearly-as-tall person directly in front of them.
With a view toward getting everyone as much as possible within the frame of the group photo, several of the men in back commandeered three or four wobbly picnic tables from the patio area and stood three or four abreast atop them.
The young men on the tables to my left and right were all fairly fit and slender, but, as I weigh a full 200 pounds, I had my doubts about whether my own picnic table would survive the combined weight of my immediate neighbors and me. Fortunately, not one of the picnic tables collapsed
We went into the large conference room in the basement of the second building and were divided into teams. I am still not 100% sure which team I was supposed to be in, but I think it must have been either team number nine or number ten. Each team had at least five people in it, I think, so there must have been no fewer than 50 of us, in all.
Again, I understood very little of the games or their rules. Fortunately, the young man who had accompanied me on the walk from the bus was on my team, and told me what to do.
We played a sort of war game, in which, each of us had a piece of paper pinned to his back. On the side facing one’s back was a Hangeul character lightly printed, such that it could not be seen through the other side.
Each of the teams was assigned a different character, and the object of the game was, by tearing off opposing team members’ papers or by whatever other means, to discern what characters the other teams had. When the characters were arranged in order according to which numbered team had which character, a commonly known Korean expression would emerge. The team that correctly guessed the expression would be the winner.
My team chose to hide out in the first floor sleeping quarters of the second building for the time necessary to devise a winning strategy. Several of our group set about to formulating that strategy, intermittently peeking out the window in the hopes of glimpsing some other team inadvertently revealing their Hangeul character in an unguarded moment.
Another fellow and I elected instead to repose ourselves on the hardwood floor of the sleeping quarters with pillows beneath our heads. This turned out to be the right decision, under the circumstances. I found that I was rather groggy and a little nap on the floor on Monsoon rainy afternoon was just what the doctor ordered.
Our team never did emerge from our hiding place, and nobody ever discovered us there, so none of us ever gave up his slip of paper, but we certainly didn’t win the game. I believe that some other team did eventually guess the phrase, and I recall that it had something to do with the Korean national flower blooming, or some such thing.
The rain returned around the time that game was winding down, so, for the remainder of the first day, we played card games and various board games in the second floor common area of the first building.
Most of the people on the trip were much younger than I. I presume that many if not most of them were strangers to one another, but I was struck at how quickly familiar they became and how easily they settled in to playing various games together.
It struck me that Korean youths seem much more skilled in wholesome group-oriented diversions than their American counter-parts, although it is admittedly difficult to defend such a broad generalization.
I found some young men playing chess, and I tried my hand at this. My opponent quickly deprived me of my queen, but I managed somehow to drag the game on for quite a while, and appeared to be headed toward stalemate when it was announced that the gogi dinner was ready. Toppling my king, I forfeited the ill-fated game in favor of gogi.
The food was ample and delicious and we all ate our fill. After dinner and beer, someone got up in front of the group to sing a song. After him, someone else took his place and sang, as well. Several individuals sang solos in that time after dinner under the patio cover, and some of them were quite moving.
For my part, I tried to sing “Gobak” a Korean song which I have been trying to learn for a couple of months now. I made it about halfway through before becoming hopelessly lost in the Hangeul lyrics I was trying to read off a sheet of paper in the half-light.
I also played a song on my flute, and a young man who had studied Japanese education played a song on his I-payed touchscreen, on which, were displayed virtual piano keys. The music he played was quite lovely, and it was an intriguing spectacle to see someone “playing” an I-pad. We even played a duet or two together back at our picnic table.
After dinner, everyone enjoyed some adult beverages, and played darts and other games, or sang karaoke, or simply enjoyed fellowship and conversation.
The party went late into the night, and some of the more intrepid revelers went for a midnight swim in the Pension pool in the rain.
As the party raged on, I laid me down to sleep with a blanket and a little pillow on the hardwood floor of the men’s group sleeping area at half past midnight. I was remarkably comfortable, and, soon, asleep.
Sunday, July 15, 2012
We were awoken at about 8:00 with the announcement of breakfast, which, to me, closely resembled the lunch we had eaten the day before. I could not recall ever having eaten Korean breakfast before, and I had wondered whether, as in America, breakfast fare was somehow different than lunch and dinner. It seems to me now as though there is no great distinction between the various meals.
The food was delicious and filling. There was some instant coffee, as well, and I was quite grateful for that.
I had come to breakfast with the three or four men who had shared a room with me in the sleeping quarters the night before. After breakfast, someone among us proposed that we go back to sleep. We all agreed this was quite a brilliant idea, so we returned to our sleeping quarters and did just that.
Sometime after ten, I realized that it wasn’t sociable to sleep all day, so I went back down to the sheltered area to mingle.
It was still raining, so, beneath the patio shelter there were many people talking and cooking bulgogi in the barbecue pit. I joined the assembly, met some people I had missed the night before, took some photos and exchanged some e-mail addresses.
So absorbed was I in chatting with my companions that I was quite unaware that all the people with whom I had ridden the bus from Yeongdeungpyo were gone. I expressed some concern over this and the person with whom I was speaking exclaimed, “the van (that would have taken me down that long, windy country road to the bus) has already left!”
I thanked him and hastily said goodbye and set out on the road, half walking and half jogging. Fortunately, the rain had by then relented, so I did not get terribly wet.
There were various intersections and turn-offs along the way, and it dawned on me that I had been so immersed in conversation on the trip over that I had not taken careful mental notes of the route back. I knew that I had walked up hill to get to the pension, so I focused on walking down hill to get back to the bus.
At the bottom of the hill, before ascending again to approach the main road, I found the road quite washed out by a monsoon flood. It was now submerged beneath a broad, shallow, rapidly moving river, with a depth of at least six inches.
I witnessed two or three locals walking ankle deep in the road-turned-river. I have no idea what they were doing, but at least I determined it was safe to pass.
Late as I was, I did not allow myself the time required to remove my shoes, but instead walked directly across, carefully placing my steps so as not to lose my footing. My shoes are still wet.
I was very relieved to find the bus waiting for me when I emerged onto the main road. I was similarly gratified to find that I was not, in fact, the last person to board the bus.
After a thoroughly enjoyable weekend in the woods, I quickly fell into a refreshing slumber that lasted the duration of our bus trip back to Seoul.
Back at Yeongeunpo station, I said goodbye to my new young friends, who all went their separate ways, while I, being American, entered the McDonald’s next to which our bus had come to rest.
After a double cheeseburger and a chocolate shake, I crossed the street to the Lotte Cinema to watch the latest Spiderman movie, further reinforcing my conviction that there is nothing one could want in the United States that he cannot find in Korea.
My weekend outing with Korean MENSA was great fun for me and, without question, it stands as one of the high-lights of my time in Korea thus far. I look forward to participating in future such events. I especially hope to attend the Asian MENSA Gathering scheduled for Bali in September.
See you there?
|7||2013 SIGHT Activities||Mensa||2013.08.11||422|
|6||2012 Monthly Gathering (March, 2012) - Charles Freeman||Mensa||2012.03.20||602|
|»||2012 Summer Gathering (July 14-15, 2012)||Mensa||2012.07.23||219|
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