There are a lot of them here.  Every time I get to the top of a mountain I feel glad to be alive, grateful to be here, happy to be me.  Like diving in the cold English sea, reaching the peak is something I never regret doing.  So even when I’m walking grumpily on an ice path with naught but a plastic, pointy stick as an anti-slipping device, or when the sky is grey and the upwards climb is steep and seemingly endless, in the end, the summit is always worth it.

My hike today included seeing 1000 year-old Buddha carvings and statues situated throughout the tree-covered, stoney mountainside.  Despite the ice, the walk was busy and at times I was traipsing along in a single-file line of around thirty people.  Hiking is a popular hobby here as you might imagine, and one thing I’m working out is that Koreans take their physical activities seriously.  So whether climbing 1000 feet or 100, on rocky terrain or a wooden walkway, chances are that a Korean person will be kitted out to the max, sporting proper hiking boots, walking sticks, sitting mats, caps, padded leggings and matching breathable sports jackets.  At top of the mountain today the atmosphere was jubilant, full of chatting, photo taking, well-equipped hikers. When I looked back at this spot from the next, the sight of so many people pootling about between the trees made me think of ants on a hill.

A lovely Canadian girl called Sarah has been my main mountain friend since I arrived.  Sharing a love of the outdoors we have together combated a few beautiful mountains – in shockingly normal clothes and trainers.   In this country, foreigners are still novel, especially taken out of the city and put up a mountain. In general, Korean folk usually seem rather pleased we’ve joined them for the spectacular view and are ever happy to help with onward directions or a glug of soju.

Not so long ago Sarah and I climbed to the flag-covered ‘White Cloud Temple’ at Tongdo, and caught the first snow of the year. Walking back down the road by which we had come, a monk stopped his land-drover to take a picture of us with his smart phone.  We first posed obligingly, and then laughed.  In this land we are as much the spectated as we are the spectators.  It feels fair.

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