Thursday, August 25, 2011

Gyegok nori (playing in a mountain stream)

Korea has a lot of mountains, and these mountains feature a lot of fresh mountain streams running down through ravines. In the summer, Koreans like to go swimming and picnicking at deep spots along these streams. There is one such spot near our offices, and since the start of summer break it has been full of kids splashing around having a great time. A lot of days I feel like jumping in there with them.




Last weekend I got my chance when I went with Unni, our friend Jongshil, and another friend of Unni's on an outing to Gapyeong, east of Seoul on the border of Gyeonggi and Gangwon Provinces. First we stopped at the "Saneum Forest Nature School" (산음 숲 자연학교), a kind of eclectic arts & crafts center / campground, where Jongshil was friends with the owners and arranged for us to change clothes in their bathroom.

When I had earlier asked Unni if she was packing a swimsuit, she giggled as if I'd made a joke. "Silly goose, you don't wear a swimsuit to play in a stream." It's true, everyone seems to just jump in wearing shorts and a tee-shirt. I wore my old Umbros and the blue "Korea Team Supporters" tee-shirt I got at the 2006 World Baseball Classic.

It was a short walk from the nature school to the stream. We waded in at an open spot just below a bridge, where someone had built a rudimentary dam of stones to create a pool about two feet deep. Little kids were catching minnows, while their parents watched from the shade under the bridge. We seemed to be the only adults in the water. The stream was pretty cold but the day was sunny and hot, so it felt just right.




Another popular thing to do is eat at outdoor restaurants that spring up alongside mountain streams. By the by, the Korean word for a ravine is "gyegok." One time, my friends the Shins called me up to invite me to join them for dinner at a stream-side restaurant. Over the bad phone connection I misheard the word "gyegok" as "gegogi" (dog meat) and thought they were inviting me to feast on dog. I'm not opposed to other people eating dog meat but I personally have no desire to do so, so I struggled to think of a polite way to turn them down. Luckily, they quickly cleared up the confusion.

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