Hiking in Daecheon Park

Yesterday, I went into a bakery. There are many here and they sell mostly cakes. The bread is sweet and usually has milk. But there was some wholemeal/sourdough type bread. It was exceptionally good and may have been the best bread I’ve had on this trip. Today, I went back and got some more.

After that I headed to the bus stop to go to Daecheon Park. As I waited a man running a grocery stall next to the bus stop asked me where I was going and which bus I wanted, to ensure I was in the right place! His English wasn’t that good but better than my Korean! Very soon, another man (a customer) appeared. He spoke to the grocer and asked me some similar questions, his English being good. When he found out that I was going to Daecheon Park, he said it was close and that he would give me a lift in his car! What’s more, he said he was a monk (he wasn’t dressed like one) and that I should visit his temple! After he bought his apples, he drove us to the temple. Even though I feel I’ve seen too many temples now, this was still impressive. He prompted me to go inside the main temple and switched the light on to illuminate the central statue for my photos!

He asked me questions about family, what I’d majored in at university and where I’d travelled on this trip. He said that after he graduated (in “Economy”), he’d gone to Italy (Rome, Florence, Venice), Germany, and London (Madame Tussauds, Picadilly Circus!).

After I finished, he drove me to the park. He showed me a book and pointed to the cover, saying that was his master. The book, he said, was in Korean and English. He said it was a gift to me. I initially declined because I’m reluctant to pick up extra weight to carry. However, he would have none of it and I thought to myself that I’d read it then leave it at hostel before departing.

As I was getting out, he surprised me. He seemed to be sincere without any ulterior motive. He said he felt “very comfortable” when he met me, as though we’d met before: a sort of déjà vu, he added, which was his way of explaining meeting in a previous life (in case I was unfamiliar with Buddhism). We shook hands and I left.

In Daecheon Park, I was heading towards Jangsan mountain, which is 634m. I wasn’t sure I’d get to the top because it had rained all morning. (I had a lie in to avoid it.) It was still cloudy, and the mountain top wasn’t visible.

In all the countries I’ve been to on this trip, seniors take exercise seriously. You’ll see them hiking and exercising in public parks. Daecheon Park had several exercise areas. There were all sorts of machines. Apart from the usual, there was one for swinging your legs backwards and forwards in a scissor action; one for twisting your torso; one for lying down on a flat base and manoeuvring it until you were upside down. I admired their dedication, and they looked healthy.

On many walks I’ve done, there are usually several ways to get to a particular point — from using wooden planks and steps to scrambling. The parks and mountains are for everyone. Today, most of the people I saw were on the older side. Even though younger people were probably working, it was great to see so many older people trying to look after themselves.

The path I took started easily but as I went further on, the people disappeared as the path got rougher. Near the top (about 500m), I saw two cyclists resting. They’d come a different route. I spoke to one of them, the other not speaking English. Mr Kim, as he introduced himself, asked me about the Premiership and was delighted to know that my local club was Arsenal, his son’s favourite club. He asked me about my travels and mentioned that he’d been to Canada, Singapore, and China. He’s never been to India but wanted to go there when I said I’d been there. I said it must be a few hours away, but he said it took six hours just to get to Singapore.

After we said goodbye, I headed for the summit, which was 1.7km away. I wasn’t sure I’d make it before losing the light. At one point, the path was indistinct, which made me wonder because it had been well sign-posted until then. Almost by magic, having seen no one for most of the latter part of the walk (apart from the sitting cyclists), I was joined by a man walking behind me. I followed him. At one point we stopped because we’d come to a dead-end. But then, he saw a path. We started walking along it, but I was sceptical. It didn’t help that there were warning signs along the way telling you to stay away from particular areas because of land mines! I assumed these were leftovers of the Korean War.

I looked at my hiking app and saw that we weren’t on a path. I motioned to him that I was turning back; he continued. About 10 minutes later, I stopped to weigh up my options. I’d seen there was a turning that headed to the summit that we’d missed but the mist was drawing in, with not much visibility. At that point, the man re-appeared. He said words to the effect that the path had fizzled out. We walked together and I showed him my map. He decided to continue to the summit. But it was late for me (I had another item on my agenda) and since there’d be no view from the top I decided to head back.

When I returned to the point where I’d been chatting with the cyclists, I saw a sign that said the mountain was open between 10am and 3pm, and it was now much later.

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