Living in Wonju South Korea, These Many Long Years

Living in Wonju South Korea, These Many Long Years: Version 2.0!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

How I Learned to Love the Sun

While my brain was being cooked in the sun at the toll booth, my thoughts wandered spastically.  Eyeing the toll booth gate where the workers gave me the stink eye.  Off to the distance where some guys were roofing a house.  The highway signs that gave little clue as to where I actually was.  The fact that I only had enough food in my pack for a couple of days, and water for about the same.  What looked like a Safeway in the distance, a good 3-4 mile hike.  The asphalt shimmering.

I had started out on my walkabout with no clear goal, no direction.  I was ok with that, but I knew that completely losing myself in the road for an indeterminate amount of time wouldn't serve.  It was tempting, but I wasn't in the mood to become a Christopher McCandless.  I'd seen too many people come back from that trip a shadow.  Or not come back at all.

I needed to be free, but not so free I bugged out.  I needed to stay away from too many people for awhile, no big cities.  I've always been a bit of a country boy, prefering clean air and trees to boulevards and highrises.  As I came back down to earth, these thoughts crystalized into a plan.

I was going to head east.  There was a concert that I knew some friends were going to, so heading that way, somewhere where there was familiar, seemed like a good idea.  I didn't know when the exact date of the show was; I figured I had near two weeks.  This time if someone asked me where I was going, I could give a cogent answer without mentioning the personal.  I doubted I could be so detached about it in the retelling, and having some focus would sound better than: where ever.

I knew the concert was an outdoor camping thing, for which I had all the gear.  Looking at my map, I saw that I could get there by avoiding all major cities and all major temptation.  Invigorated, I stuck out my thumb.

And Waited.  Sat.  Stood.  Sat some more.  Drank water.  Waited.

Nothing.  Curious faces staring with apprehension driving past.  Some of them laughing.  An empty Coke can thrown at me.  No offer of a ride.

As the afternoon droned on, I felt myself sinking into the concrete.  I had to move, soon. I had passed the time watching those four guys roof a house about a half mile off.  They made good steady progress and had finished up by the late afternoon.  It was kind of disappointing when they came down, seeing as now I had nothing to focus on.  My feet were itchy, and I knew it was time to move.  I picked up my pack and started towards what I thought was the Safeway.

As I walked away from the tollbooth, I saw the roofers get into a beat up old Chevy Nova.  It belched a nasty black cloud when they started it up.  They seemed to hesitate when they got to the main road, then they veered left and drove to the toll booth.  They stopped.  Hey which direction you headed?  East?  Cmon in.

These four guys had been equally entertained watching me bake at the toll both for near four hours.  They decided to take pity and at least get me some way onto the interstate.  It seemed fitting in a way.  And it was good to finally be moving.

As soon as I got into the car I realized that I stank of ganja, and immediately got paranoid over the bag in my pack.  It took a few seconds for this fact to register with the guys in the car and a palpable silence followed.  I wondered how high I looked and wondered if that could explain why I hadn't been picked up for so long.  A couple of the guys were drinking beers.  They looked like the sort that might be alright with me pulling some out and saying hey my treat!  But there would be no some, only this huge bag.  I stewed.  To break the silence I asked hey was that a Safeway in the distance?  Naw, that's an office supplies warehouse.  So you guys finished that roof up good?  Yeah we finished it proper.  This is a nice car.  Yup.  Thanks.

The ordeal lasted about 25 miles when: this is our exit.  Good luck!

They dropped me off went on their way.

I immediately dug into my pack and found the bag.  It looked much bigger now in the light of the sun, more like an ounce than a half.  I took out a small amount and crammed the rest into an empty water container.  Wrapped it up in an extra pair of pants.  Washed my hands with soap.  The last thing I needed was to spend time in some county lock up because I had been the recipient of good fortune.  I wrapped the small amount in a baggie and stuck it in my pants.  All these precautions would prove a bit ridiculous considering everything that happened later.


Anonymous said...

Considering how many Koreans see foreigners as the main source of drug problems, is it wise to post about these types of experiences?

F5Waeg said...

This is a fair point. I am writing about an experience that happened over 10 years ago. I don't advocate drug use, and I certainly would never recommend doing drugs in Korea. If you really need to use drugs, you definitely should not come here since Korean society has a very dim view of that type of behavior.

Back in school I wasn't really a 'drug user', alcohol was more my thing. But the fact that soft drugs are generally easy to find on most western university campuses shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. And for the point of this story, it is relevant, as you'll see unfold over time.

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