I’ve been in South Korea for just under a month and I am just starting to get my bearings and make some friends. My co-teacher at Reading Star had invited me to go on a hike with him and some of his friends. Hiking here is something I had really been looking forward to and was so excited to get out and get active.
We took a bus an hour out of town, there was standing room only. The bus navigated through the busy streets and I got a good perspective of how big of a city Daegu really is. I also got to see some parts of town didn’t know existed which got me excited to do some more exploring.
The trailhead was the terminus of the bus line. You knew you were there because the bus started filling up with people in matching neon hiking outfits. There were two different options of trails, one was paved (yes, paved) and one was rocky for a portion and a staircase for another portion. It was a short hike but it was pretty straight up. You pass a beautiful temple on the way up as well and there were some pretty great views.
The last portion of the hike is pretty much a staircase cut into the mountainside. The hike was fairly crowed and made for some excellent people watching. Many Korean families brought tarps and camped out on the side of the trail to have elaborate picnic lunches. I missed the memo on the neon outfit and it seemed like there was a dress code that me and the other Americans failed to comply with. Oh well.
At the top of the mountain was a giant Buddha statue and a breathtaking view of my new home nestled in the green valley. On the mountain top was one of the most interesting juxtapositions of culture I have ever experienced. To my left people were grabbing mats and doing their 108 bows to show their devotion to the Buddha. There were monks, there was chanting, there were prayer candles, but there was also a vending machine and a gift shop. There was about two feet of space between the people praying and the people taking selfies.
My boss later informed me that this statue of Buddha, the Gatbawi is famous throughout Korea. Parents will make the trek to the top and pray for their children to get good test scores and get into good Universities. No Pressure.
Although the culture and the company were great experiences the most powerful part of the day happened inside me. While I was climbing the staircase, I looked down at the rocks and paused to drink in the fact that these were Korean rocks. I had done it, I was here. What had started as a fleeting thought was now my new reality.
I stopped for a moment and I looked up at the trees. I took a deep breath of air, looked into the valley and I thought “Isn’t this cool?” It was the feeling that I crave, the reason that I travel. To know the world is big and you are small. To get new experiences and new perspective. To feel giddy, euphoric. It was what I came here for and I knew I had made the right decision.
I started hiking again. And as I did my mind drifted back to the Leah I was in January. I thought of her, broken, sad, and lost. I saw her collapsed on the floor alone and crying.
I walked into the room as the Leah I am now and I sat down next to her, I brushed her hair away and I said “Don’t Worry.” It was all going to be okay. I just had to hang in there. I wanted to tell her that all these amazing things were about to happen. That she was finally going to move abroad, and fulfill a lifelong dream. I wanted to tell her she was going to rediscover her independence and freedom. She would feel giddy and happy but strong. Really strong. I wanted to tell her that by going through this pain she was going to be more confident than she ever had been before.
But all I said was “Don’t Worry.” And I sat with her for a while. And I gave her a really big hug.
I came back to my surroundings and took in the view, the people, the outdoors, the excitement of new friendships and brand new beginnings.
By the time I got to the top I was breathing easy and felt lighter than I air. I felt at peace, because I knew I had made it.