Well, it’s been awhile. A long while. Nearly two months while. I know I’m in trouble when people that I live with in Korea are telling me they would like me to write. Most of them have shared the same experiences with me; y’all in the States haven’t. For that, I apologize, and ask for grace.
I’d like to start by introducing a Korean term called “ajumma.” Ajumma is a blanket term used for any older woman, especially one who is married. The range can be from 25 on up, with the major prerequisite being marriage. However, the term, when used among Koreans, conjures up an older lady.
Not in a way that mocks the culture, a couple of us have created a term of endearment when it comes to our older ladies here on the Korean peninsula: “The Aj.”
So, with that by way of introduction, were I to give this blog a title, this would be called, “All about Aj.” English teachers, marvel at my alliteration.
I need to spend some time writing about Sorak, which is where a bunch of teachers spent Labor Day weekend.
Dear Mr. Zanger,
You’re worse than us when it comes to meeting deadlines.
The Airbus A380 Team
Yes, I’ve been lazy. I’m also the Bible Department; I’ve been a little preoccupied.
One of the highlights of my trip to Sorak was our trip to Mt. Sorak National Park, where I was told that I must hike to the orange steps, walk up the orange steps, and therein get a breathtaking view of the Pacific and other mountains. The hike itself was grueling, and seven of us made it to the base of the orange steps.
According to Lonely Planet, “To reach the 873m summit, you have to climb up an 808-step staircase. It takes 45 minutes and is hard going but the reward is a spectacular view from the top.” I didn’t bring Lonely Planet with me, so I was unfamiliar with the severity of the staircase. Nor did I see the top, as a fog and rain had rolled in.
By the way, I am afraid of heights with such a passion that I got into the fetal position at the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
So, we started ascending the stairs—led by two high school students, followed by two female teachers, followed by two male teachers, and I took up the rear, going as slow as a snail up the steps. There were three flights, then a place to rest. So, I went up the first flight…no problem! The second was at a much steeper angle, and…no problem! The third was tougher…the angle was fine; however, the stairs, which are see-through, are hanging over a cliff. I somehow made it up to the rest area, then died when I saw a) the angle of the next set of stairs and b) the cliff over which they would go.
The high schoolers were high tailing it up the next set of stairs, and the ladies were close behind. However, the guys had waited for me, and then I committed cardinal sin for anyone who is afraid of heights—I looked down. And, as quickly as I could, I became a rock hugger. I hugged that rock like it was a teddy bear. Plastic wrap had nothing on me. Knowing I would not reach the top without a helicopter or a sedative, I told the other guys to go on without me and that I would go down after I had composed myself.
They stayed to make sure I wouldn’t pass out and fall off the cliff, and I insured them that if I had to go down on my butt, I would make sure that I would get down. They went off, and I was left with myself and my thoughts.
Now, the same orange steps you use to climb to the top of Mt. Sorak are the same orange steps you climb to get off the top of Mt. Sorak, so as I’m sucking my thumb and trying to find my happy place, group after group of people are flying down the stairs, looking at me with great wonder, and going down the last three flights.
I finally got up the nerve to allow myself to go down, and as I looked up the stairs, I saw that nobody was coming, so I started to go down.
I went down as if I was 107 years old. Here I am, a 27-year-old man, white knuckling the rail, and going down, one step by one step, with my body as far away from the rail as possible. I’m sure I looked like an inverted “L”.
Anyway, as I am going down at a slower pace than I had gone up, I look behind me, and here comes an ajumma.
Now, this isn’t a 30 year old, just-happens-to-be-married ajumma. No, this is an older lady, with many wrinkles. I’m guessing she was in her mid 70s.
She is hauling down the steps, and the contrast couldn’t be greater. Here I am, going inch by inch, and she’s almost going down two steps at a time.
She gets to me, and, in one great move, moves to the left of me, and keeps going down at a breakneck pace.
I stop going; instead, my eyes lock with hers as she passes me. I’m looking for some consolation, for some “atta boy, just a few more left, you can do it.” Instead, she looks back at me, stops, laughs at me, and keeps going down the stairs.
I made it down the stairs, let out a huge sigh of relief that my feet were back on solid ground, and went and sat upon a rock to wait for my party to ascend, take pictures, eat lunch, and descend.
While I was on the rock, I had a view of the greenest valley I had ever seen. The darkness of the green, in contrast with the wispy clouds that rolled through, took my breath away.
At that moment, the humiliation in front of ajumma was assuaged by a God-given picture that was meant only for me.
When my compatriots came back to my position, I walked down the mountain with the group in total peace, for my mind had been totally cleared as I looked upon that sight.