This will be the last post under this title. After this, I will either retire the blog, or, more likely, give it a new, more PRO AMERICAN makeover, just in time for the election. I even have thought of a new name. Hopefully, there will be enough adventures over the next two-three months to have a reason for writing online. If not, I might just make up a lot of shit.
So, you have been fore-warned, this blog could quickly become self-indulgent and untruthful.
I think there is more reflecting to be done about Jeju, but I am moving on. If you would like to have a private conversation and we can talk about deep things related to the experience of living in a foreign country for over a year, that would be fantastic. “You” know where I am, and how to contact me.
The last thing I will discuss related to leaving Jeju is an attempt to defend my leaving based solely on food.
I have a confession to make: I hate kimbap. Hate it hate it hate it. Can you feel the writing talent that went into that last sentence? I pretty much don’t like any ingredient in kimbap, except for the rice, and often the rice is too soggy. Don’t like the raddish. Don’t like the egg. Don’t like the mayonnaise. Ahhhhhhh. Mayonnaise. Mayonnaise on everything does NOT make food taste better. It cannot make white bread taste whiter. I cannot make chicken taste meatier. It cannot make potatoes more savory. I am so done with mayonnaise for the time being. Even on tuna. I’m going to mix my tuna with something else for now, like horseradish sauce or mango chutney. (I’m not going to do this, but I if I was going to do it, I would).
Brief update: my doctor says my “good” cholesterol is the best its ever been! Something to brag about at the bar?
Back to food: I wasn’t crazy about Korean food. I got a little sick of it about halfway through my time on Jeju. I don’t want to sound too negative or ungrateful: as noted by the above comment, Jeju made me a happier and healthier person (something my weekends couldn’t accomplish). The lack of bread and fat and normal-sized portions resulted in a normal-sized Aaron. Back home I will have to work hard to keep things this way as America has an abundance of delicious garbage.
But food is an important aspect of living somewhere, if not the most important. We are what we eat. Ultimately, foods like kimchi and teokk and galbi were great novelties which never matured for me into comfort food. Or maybe they did but I had too much and they went over the rainbow and I just had my fill of them. It’s hard to tell.
I’m not going to dump any more on Korean food. I don’t even know if Korean food can be blamed. Jeju certainly can. Whatever it is-beautiful, beachy, balmy-Jeju is not a great place for foodies. There’s a lot of Korean food and most of it is probably not as exciting as mainland equivalents. More importantly, there is not variety on Jeju. This has been covered in depth on this very blog! Perhaps if I had been able to mix things up a bit more, I would be dying for some mandu right now. As it stands, I am sitting at a Panera Bread thinking how wonderful it is to be surrounded once more by bagels and panini sandwiches.
Albany, cultural nonentity though it is, has good Indian restaurants. Good Thai restaurants. Good pizza. Good bagels. Great mexican food. Good barbeque. There’s even a Korean restaurant here now! There’s cheap shit too. Six dollar Indian buffets. Etc etc. Comfort food. I had bread before my meal for the first time in thirteen months! BREAD! It was so exciting.
The impression I am hoping to convey is coming home has gotten me excited about what I put in my mouth. I’m going to shove sausages into my mouth just like those imaginary people who gave me a very real ‘bad reputation’. Other phallic things too. Breadsticks. Pickles.
PICKLES! No more raddishes! Half sours! Full sours! Dill! Vlassic! So many pickled things! I’m going to pickle so much shit now that I’m home! I’m going to soak my frosted flakes in vinegar!
I’m getting too excited. The last time I was this excited about food was when I was in Seoul in January buying schwarma every five minutes.
Meals should take up about two-three hours a day, eight if you live in Europe. That’s a significant portion of your life, and this doesn’t include the amount of time you think about what you will be eating, or the hunger you feel when you are not eating. Also, consider the amount of time you spend shitting it back out again, but don’t think about this too long, because I guess potty stuff is gross or whatever.
(OH SHIT IM TALKING WHAT I TYPE AGAIN. This is a bad habit I will need to fix, as the people sitting next to me now understand what I am saying.)
Food is more important than just about anything else, certainly better, more reliable, and easier to attain than sex. Nobody ever felt guilty because they had to pay for food. Although it is kind of irritating.
You can’t get pregnant for eating food without proper utensils, although sometimes you can look pregnant. I crossed this part out in case it was offensive. You can’t get a bad reputation because you were eating too loudly. Wait, shit, I guess you can.
In fact, if people in need of a power trip abused sandwiches against their will instead of women, the world be be a lot less dangerous and a lot more delicious.
Okay, I’m done talking about this. My computer is about to run out of batteries.
Last Saturday, I finally climbed the volcano. I packed all the things one needs if they are going to attempt a 9-hour hike: my comb, my camera, and the NY Times crossword puzzle. That was about it. I was working on no sleep and some half-eaten kimbap. I had a small water bottle.
This managed to sustain me for the better part of the ascent up. I was in a good mood, I was setting the pace for the group, I was feeling intrepid and cracking jokes and getting exercise and enjoying the view when…
About 400 meters from the top, I just totally lost it. Couldn’t climb another stair. I felt dizzy and had a headache and thought I was going to vomit and looked up and looked down and then just kind of collapsed. I told my crew I was going to take a nap, which I did. Here are the photos:
Ten minutes later I wasn’t feeling any better. Somebody gave me their water and I still wasn’t feeling any better. I looked up at the summit, teasing me with its proximity, daunting me with its height, and I had to make a decision.
I went back down. I decided I would rather have ‘almost’ climbed Mt. Hallasan then have done so and risked some kind of health calamity. I walked down for 3 hours so in retrospect the energy needed to make it up must have been there, but perhaps that is beside the point.
I had a quiet and reflective walk down, almost entirely alone as nobody was going up to the summit at that point in the day.
What lesson can be learned from this? Perhaps it is something as simple and obvious as “don’t attempt a long hike on no sleep and no food/water.”
Maybe it is something less obvious, but still not a metaphor, like “don’t risk hitting arbitrary landmarks, what is really important is personal achievement. And if personal achievement is tied to hitting arbitrary landmarks, that speaks more to your weakness than your strength.”
Related, what does it mean to ‘win’ and to succeed? What is the significance, objectively, of signposts? What am I trying to prove? Am I trying to prove something to myself? To other people? So many questions.
I don’t know if there is any tangible, objective reason why reaching the top of Mt. Halla would signal some kind of ultimate success, beyond the short-term satisfaction and nice views from the top. This is a mountain that is climbed by thousands of people every year, it is not as if doing this (or not doing this) would speak to some kind of athletic accomplishment the way climbing, say, K2 would (notice how I use K2 and not Mt. Everest here. Just like if you want to win an argument with someone, bring up Stalin, not Hitler).
Subjectively, obviously, one could attach some kind of poetic, narrative arc to reaching the summit, make it mean something symbolic. But that’s an easy fix. If success is dependent on how we personally define things, then I can simply move the bar for success down 400 meters, to where I eventually rested and gave up.
To conclude, I am an unconventional storyteller, and this blog ends not with an obvious coda. I had a great year, learned a lot, gained a year’s worth of experience and stories, and if in the end I was too exhausted to make it all the way up a dead rock, so be it.
Nobody won, nobody lost. In the epic battle of Aaron vs. the Volcano, I am calling it a draw.