This weekend we decided to explore the mountain that lies closest to our house. Geumnyeonsan (금련산) (“san” is Korean for Mountain so in English it’d be Mt Geumnyeon). Why this wasn’t the first one we climbed, seeing as it’s literally just across the street from our apartment, I’m not sure, but on Sunday morning we packed up some water and snacks, harnessed up Flash and headed out to Suyeong subway exit 4 to meet up with Alyssa Lynn Poirrer. We were supposed to be meeting up with our good friend and guide, Greg Foster, too but he had somehow had the slowest morning in history and was only just ordering brunch at some eatery in the KSU area at the time we were set to meet. We told him he could eat our dust instead and we’d see him at the summit.
Neither Tess, Alyssa nor I had ever trekked Geumnyeonsan before so we didn’t have a clue where we were supposed to go (if Flash knew he certainly wasn’t telling us) but after about half an hour of wandering through the back streets of Suyeong we finally came across the beginnings of a trail. What I really love about Busan is that you can go from bustling city to mountainside forest within 5 minutes and as we started our ascent the stressful sounds of traffic and industry were quickly replaced with echoing birdsong and parched autumn leaves both rustling overhead and crunching underfoot.
We were probably only 10 minutes in and unsurprisingly came across a small outdoor gym, full of Ajumas and Ajoshis (An amazing breed of Korean senior citizens, female and male respectively, that are actually more fit than the younger generations or anyone you’ve ever come in contact with.) rotating their hips, flexing their quads and swinging their glutes. As we tested our own flexibility, Flash caught sight of something up the hill and started after it, we all turned to see what was going on. D’oh –A deer. No, two. Two deer! I couldn’t quite believe it, it’s not like we’re veterans of the Korean wilderness, by any means, but we’ve certainly been off the beaten track a fair few times and not seen so much as a squirrel. In fact the only wild mammal I’ve seen since I’ve been here (excluding street cats) was a chipmunk at Taejongdae. I was starting to think Busan was a void of wild animals but then BAM two large-ish deer no more than 20 yards away from us and of course here we are with Flash off lead. He was good though and didn’t just disappear, you could tell he was listening to us shouting for him to stop (or maybe he couldn’t deal with the steep incline) either way I scrambled after him and got a hold of his harness just to be on the safe side. By that point the deer had completely vanished.
We continued up the trail, which splits and forks and splinters into many routes, we somehow ended up on a pretty deserted and treacherous track which really petered out into nothingness and we ended up having to traverse what looked like it would be a raging torrent that cascades down a shallow valley in monsoon season to get back to the official trail, but the views were fantastic and we were all having a jolly old time so we didn’t mind. We managed to get back in touch with Greg and arranged to meet near the summit, which was not too far away but in that time we managed to record two more signs of life out in the wild; A woodpecker of some description drilling the bark above our heads and a small squirrel (of course!) with long tufted ears swinging through the rusted canopy. We had racked up more wildlife sightings in an hour than we had in the last 5 months!
We found our way to the peak, which I have to be honest was a little disappointing mainly due to the fact that I could see that I wasn’t stood on the highest point of the mountain and that there was no way of getting there thanks to a large chainlink fence encasing a mobile phone mast and all its additional equipment. Great. Our disappointment soon dissolved however when a deep booming voice with a detectable Texan twang echoed from somewhere. “THOOOAAAM” the boom came again. Greg had entered the party! And he’d brought a friend in the form of Marie, a South African from Cape Town. Greg told us not to worry about our disappointment with Geumnyeonsan and he pointed to the West. Seems Geumnyeonsan has a larger more beautiful sister; Hwangnyeonsan. So the 6 of us (don’t forget Flash!) headed across the connecting ridge and climbed up the short distance to the top of the seemingly more popular mountain and once we were there we could see why!
The rocky outcrops atop Hwangnyonsan create a multitude of private places from which to view the spectacular surroundings. Gwangan Bridge can be seen to the South-East, the Busan Tower and Yeongdo to the South-West and if you look long and hard to the North-West you can even spot the mountain temple of Seokbulsa nestled in the rock face. It really is a wonderful view and helped me get more of a bearing on where certain neighbourhoods are in relation to others, popping in and out of the subway has a tendency to leave gaps in my internal mapping system. As we all sat there and admired our accomplishments I started to chill off, it was late afternoon by this point and the sunshine had been lost to a pretty grey and formless cloud system. I reinstated my jacket to its former position, threw my hat back on but when it came to my gloves I could only find the one. I was not happy. It may seem insignificant now and probably should have then too considering how insignificant everything seems when you’re looking down onto the world from such a privileged position but it was not.
Losing a glove is probably one of the saddest things in the world and anybody who has experienced it will no doubt back me up on that. The true tragedy lies in the glove that’s left behind. It’s whole life it has been a part of a pair, they were created, sold and worn as such, they have never known a life apart and then suddenly, senselessly they are torn apart. You’ll never know what adventures the lost one is having but one things for sure, the life of the one that’s left behind is destined for sadness and nonfulfillment. And you can’t throw it out. It’s still a perfectly good, functioning glove but unless you’re wanting to pay unwitting homage to Michael Jackson as you’re walking your dog, one glove just won’t cut it. So you put it on the top shelf of your wardrobe or at the back of the closet or bury it deep into your sock drawer hoping that the other one may still turn up or by some queer coincidence you manage to find another single glove under the sink that you’d forgotten about and it just happens to be the opposite hand and somewhat the same style because god knows you’ll feel at odds wearing a fingerless weightlifting glove on your left hand and a goalkeepers mitt on your right. And yet, you still can’t throw it away.
But of course, it never does show up. So your left with a single glove and the reluctance to buy a whole new pair. With this in mind I was determined to retrace our route and find the missing mitt avoiding the above scenario altogether. I was pretty sure I knew where it would be too, I’d bet my mother’s love it had jumped out of my pocket as I was chasing Flash up the side of that bloody hill after those deer. Unfortunately my mission objectives were not shared by the rest of the group and I was told that it’d be dark by the time I got back to Geumnyeonsan anyway. With that I was forced to abandon any ideas of a sunset rescue and we descended the west face of Hwangnyonsan into a neon-flooded Seomyeon neighbourhood.
That night the lost glove preyed on my thoughts. To make matters worse I’d gotten the pair as a Christmas gift from Tess’s Mum, Kelly, and they had been all over the world with me so far. It did make me feel a little better that Tess had lost her’s within a month of getting them, but she had had a clean break and lost them as a pair, still, the last thing I wanted to do was seem like I was being careless with someone’s thoughtful gift. Besides they were damned good mittens. Warm and cosy, but also stylish, they were made out of the same material as the classic winter sock and always turned out to be a talking point whenever I wore them. That was it, the challenge had been thrown-down and first thing the next morning I’ll be re-walking the whole route and I’ll find that bloody glove.
So re-walk I did. Equipped with an eager Flashington we tore back up the mountain, at a much faster pace than the day before, located the area we’d spotted the deer, clambered up the slippery incline and remarkably found the missing article. MYY GLOOOOVVVE!! It was soaked and muddy but uneaten by deer and back in my possession. I couldn’t believe my luck. I hadn’t honestly believed I’d find it but I knew I had to try before I gave up, my determination paid off. This episode reminded me of 2 other occasions in my life when I should have lost something, never to see it again, but had been overcome with a dedication to finding the lost item, and against all the odds came up smelling of rose scented soap.
If “The Glove Incident” is number 3 then number 2 is “The Sunglasses Debacle”. This came to pass back in September of last year. I was living in Toronto at the time and my parents were coming out for a visit, I had gone to the airport to meet them and for a reason I cannot recall now I visited a currency exchange kiosk in the arrivals hall. The kiosk was a small mobile unit, not a desk, that was parked infront of a blank stretch of wall. I can only assume there wasn’t enough space for a whole desk in that area, but having a handy currency exchange for people arriving on international flights is probably a pretty good idea, so while they worked out where to put a permanent one they had this little mobile thing there to fill in.
Anyway, for some reason I visited the booth and for some reason put my sunglasses down on the counter and never picked them up again. Then I found my parents and it wasn’t until we were on a bus heading into the city that I realised my mistake. Seeing as how I had guests and getting out to the airport takes at least an hour I had to let go of any dream of getting them back. So I forgot about them. That was until 10 days later; I was waving goodbye to my parents as they walked through the security check point to their gate that I suddenly had a flashback to the week before. It was after 9pm and the airport was pretty empty, more so when I took the escalators down to the international arrivals hall, predictably the little currency exchange booth was closed. But I took a closer look at the booth anyway and sure enough, on the counter next to the computer monitor were my glasses! They were so close, but a pane of perspex and probably an alarm system were standing in my way.
I looked around at the deserted hall and contemplated my next move. I’d all but given up on the glasses and had put thought into where I was going to buy my replacements, Kensington Market, I figured was probably the best bet, they’d certainly be affordable there and all I was really looking for was some aviator style shades, nothing complicated or hard to find. But now I had found my own pair and the challenge of retrieving them from a locked booth was more appealing than actually getting them back. I considered my options. If I stuck my arm into the gap in the perspex where transactions are completed I risked tripping alarms but I was sure security would just laugh it off when I told them how I wasn’t after the cash, no, I was just trying to reach my long-lost sunglasses. They probably didn’t even keep cash in this thing overnight anyway, any gang with a pickup could smash in, load it up and drive away. There probably wasn’t an alarm system to trip. Hmmm, still, airport security folk are some of the most miserable souls I’ve come across and spending a night explaining why I had my full arm, up to my shoulder, stuck in a currency exchange booth to a roomful of bored burly men didn’t sound like fun. Especially if I couldn’t reach far enough and got stuck and the CCTV video ended up on “The World’s Dumbest Criminals” T.V show.
At that point a burly yet pleasant security guard rounded the corner and I explained my situation to him. He peered into the booth. “How do I know they’re yours?” “Because if I was going to come to the airport to steal something on a Tuesday night it wouldn’t be a pair of scratched up sunglasses” . That seemed to satisfy. He told me if I ran back to departures I could catch the attendant at the booth up there before they left for the night, maybe they could help me. Which I did. But they couldn’t help me. Apparently she didn’t have the key. She told me to come back tomorrow. I wasn’t coming back tomorrow. How long do you keep lost property for? 2 weeks. I wasn’t coming all the way back to the airport anytime in the next two weeks just for a pair of sunglasses that realistically I could replace for the same amount of dollars as a return fare to the airport. PLEASE help me. She told me she didn’t know the code to the alarm. So there is an alarm. After 10 minutes of careful persuasion she made a phone call or two and suddenly we were strolling to the booth, she flipped out a key and opened the door. I thought you didn’t have a key? She grabbed my glasses and exited. Wait, what about this alarm? It didn’t matter, I’d gotten what I was after, it may not have been a graceful rescue but after 10 days of thinking they were gone it was pretty satisfying to have them back.
Those glasses had already been lost before in the Blue Man Theatre at The Venetian in Las Vegas and I’d gone back for them. I wasn’t allowed back in the theatre but a man from the help desk asked me to describe them to which I said “Er… I don’t know, they fit on my face and they’re dark” He couldn’t really argue with that and I got them back without any further ado. The best thing about all this is that I didn’t even buy the glasses in the first place, I found them, perhaps there’s someone out there with a steely determination to find them. Well good luck to them is all I say!
Perhaps the most impressive rescue (if any of these stories even qualify as “impressive”) would be number one “The Mobile Phone Miracle” or “The Miracle on Church Street” as some may want to call it. It was a stormy night in Toronto, back in the summer of 2008, the rain was falling in sheets and the traffic shuffled and honked it’s way through the slick city streets. I was living on Church Street, right at the intersection with Shuter, at the time and thought that this was a perfect night to go see a movie with friends, the AMC at Dundas Square didn’t exist yet so the closest theatre was the Scotiabank at Richmond and John, not too far away but on a night like this it was far enough for the use of a cab. I exited my building, ran across the street and caught a cab travelling South so he wouldn’t have to waste time turning around. I was at the theatre in no time and my pals were already there, I have no idea what movie we watched but it wasn’t until after it had finished and we were leaving that I realised my phone was missing. Well shit. Losing articles of clothing is one thing but a phone is a real pain. You have to let people know that you’re not being rude and ignoring them, and then gather everybody’s numbers again, you lose all your photos and hilarious messages you’d been saving and then there’s all the trouble and expense with your phone company.
This sounded like a challenge to me. A missing phone with a finite battery life, which, once depleted would make finding it considerably more difficult, a pretty tight timeline of events and locations and a limited number of possibilities. So, as the clock ticked, I shifted my mind to “detective” mode. The rain storm had first seemed like a hindrance to my investigation but now I realised it was merely setting the tone… I quickly ascertained that it was not in the theatre. Maybe I hadn’t brought it at all. My friends tried calling and it still rang so that was a good sign. Wasn’t it? I didn’t know how it would help but the fact it still rang told me it probably hadn’t been stolen. I got home and searched my apartment. Nothing. I kept calling it hoping that maybe someone would answer it and help me get it back or some dense thief would answer it to be cocky and I’d hear the background noise that made it obvious he was in a MacDonalds and the faint sound of a passing streetcar that would mean he was probably at the branch around the corner on Queen and call the cops and they’d catch him before he finished his Big Mac. But no one answered. I called the cab company in the vain hope that maybe the driver had found it and handed it in. They told me they’d do their best but without knowing which cab I had ridden in. It was a nigh-on impossible task. Beck Taxis claims to have over 1600 cabs on the streets of Toronto at any time.
I stood in the windows of my apartment and gazed through the water droplets streaming down the glass at the rain soaked streets 7 floors below considering what I could do. I kept calling my phone from my roommate’s mobile still hoping something would happen. I looked down to where I’d caught that cab in a desperate strain on my memory to try and remember something with which I could identify the cab or the driver. But nothing came to me. Except, as I was listening to the ringing in my ear I could make out something very faint, flashing down by the curb. The phone clicked onto answer messaging and the flashing stopped. Along with my heart. I redialed immediately and the flashing started again. NO WAY. NO BLOODY WAY. I slipped my shoes on and shouted to my roommate to keep calling, I took the stairs down to the ground and flew out the front doors. I was soaked before I’d even crossed the street but I could see the flashing more clearly now. As I approached it I could see that it was indeed my phone and it was somehow still working despite being completely submerged in the river of water flowing down the side of the curb. It had drifted along from where I’d caught the cab but had somehow managed to avoid being sucked into the drains.
I fished it out and looked up to my apartment windows 7 storeys up, wow, that was lucky. That evening I took the phone apart as much as I could and put all the pieces into bowls of rice overnight to try and soak up as much of the water as possible. Somehow when I put it back together it worked fine and I never had a problem with it after that. How, after it had spent at least 3 hours outside in the rain, had it survived? How had it not been picked up by a passer-by? I didn’t know then and I don’t know now but I do know that determination has paid off for me three times in respect to lost items. I’m sure I’ve failed to find things on countless more occasions but these 3 stories stick in my head. If things do work in 3’s then I guess I’ve completed my trio and will never find anything ever again. That will absolutely never stop me trying though. Not so long as it poses such a delicious challenge.