Early Saturday morning I hefted my pack and strolled to the front gate of the base. 4 hours, a cab ride, a train trip, and several subway rides later, I emerged from the Seoul’s underground world into the bright sunlit crowds of Itaewon. Just off the US Army base Yongsan, Itaewon is the foreigners’ shopping district, lined with shops selling luggage, lingerie, suits, jewelry, junk, and anything else you could imagine – except climbing gear. For that, one of my traveling companions requested a Korean friend of his to act as a guide. She led us through more of the maze of subways, then up into Dongdaemun shopping district. Unlike the America-crowded Itaewon area, Dongdaemun was Asia-crowded – as in wall-to-wall bodies. We pushed our way to the sports store, bought what we needed, marveled at the plethora of roller-blading gear, then jostled our way back into the subway system, passing an infinite number of shoes, t-shirts, handbags, and unidentifiable odd-smelling snacks along the way. Seoul goal #1 accomplished.
Seoul goal #2 was meeting more English-speaking rock climbers at a Canadian tavern that evening. There we sat, 3 Americans living in Kunsan, beside Rhett from Saskatchewan; Caitlin and Logan from near Vancouver now living near Seoul; Eric the American and Jake the Aussie, living in Daejon; Jenny and Jill stationed at the US Army post at Yongsan just down the road; Russel and Joey stationed at Uijongbu; Heidi from Canada, living in Seoul; Collin the Aussie, living and studying just south of Seoul; Sonia from the US, living near Cheonju; and several others I met only briefly. As with any gathering of climbers, we were a very varied group of personalities and interests. Oddly, however, we were of only 3 professions: one student, several English teachers, and us, US military.
We climbed Sunday in the shadow of an overhanging man-made wall amidst the concrete maze of Seoul. I was loving the challenge of it, even if it made me sore for days afterward. Waiting for the train back to Kunsan that evening, we explored one of the 9-story world of electronics at Yongsan Station. Display cases containing only digital cameras, MP3 players, tiny computers, and electronic accessories stretched from wall to wall on the vast brightly-lit floor. I was the only one of our group to escape without a new digital camera.
After living in a town with only a post office, gas station, and convenience store to its name, I have to admit it was a bit overwhelming, despite being a great weekend. And now back to flying over the “land of the not quite right”, where you can see the runway just fine from 4000 feet, but between 3000 feet and 700 feet, you can barely see the ground below you, and struggle to see the runway before you reach 1 mile from it and have to go “missed approach”. The joys of flying in Korea!