Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Story of Sketchy Deals and Also of Skiing at Night and Being Cold

The video above is a short one I took during a two-day skiing trip last week in Muju (무주), Korea. It was my first time skiing in Korea, and it was also my first time skiing at night. I didn't even know people skied at night, actually... it's always struck me as kind of dangerous, not to mention freezing. But at Korean ski resorts, there are lift ticket options for evening, late night, and even past midnight. The later it gets, the cheaper the ticket!

Okay, let me backtrack a bit. When Ammy and I arrived in Cheongju on the 13th, we spent the night at Anna's (a fellow Fulbrighter) grandparents' apartment. We also watched Les Mis! This was my second viewing, and it was every bit as good as the first; I came so close to bawling during some scenes this time...

At Deogyusan Resort at night!
The next morning, we took a cab, a bus, another bus, a third bus (which was actually the same bus as the second, but we had to by an additional ticket), and then another cab to get to the Deogyusan Resort (걱유산 리조트) in Muju. The transportation was exhausting and confusing, and we arrived later than expected at the resort. As a result, we spent the afternoon napping and listening to the soundtrack of Les Mis in our hotel room.

When we woke up, it was time to get our skiing and boarding gear and lift tickets. (스키 is yet another genius Korean loanword, pronounced s-ki, and I think the technical term for the type I rented was "carving skis", or 카빙... Also, snowboarding is 스노보드: s-no-bo-duh.)

The task of buying lift tickets turned out to be much more interesting than I expected it to be, on account of a friendly and incredibly embarrassed Korean man who heard us speaking in English while discussing which ticket to buy and came up to us with a bizarre request. He explained that he had been drinking with his friends the night before and ended up with exactly no cash left in his wallet, so he couldn't buy a bus ticket home. On the other hand, he did have four membership cards for the Deogyusan Resort, which meant that he could score us fast-pass lift tickets at the members' rate, if we could pay him back in cash. So, we would save about $20 from what we'd been preparing to pay, and we'd also have shorter lift waiting times, and he would get in return enough money for his bus.

This was, of course, super sketchy. I mean, red flags were popping up everywhere: Where were this guy's friends? (Already left, he said.) Did he not have any credit cards with which to buy a bus ticket? (Nope.) He wanted the four of us to give him $120 in cash. Was he really allowed to buy lift tickets using his friends' membership cards? (Yup.) Factor in the broken English and our heightened cautiousness, as 외국인s ("waygookins", or foreigners), and I could have easily declined. I mean, I was even ready to just give the guy ten bucks to get his bus ticket, if it meant that he wouldn't abscond with hundreds along with our pride.

But then, I thought about his purported situation, and it reminded me of a very similar one that I had been in a few years ago. I was returning to Swarthmore from visiting my brother and parents in Philly, on the platform waiting for the last outbound train. I then realized that the evening fare was a dollar more than the afternoon fare, and that I didn't have enough to buy a ticket. The actual ticketing office was closed (in which case passengers can buy tickets on the train with cash), so I was stuck waiting for the train but without enough money to get on. Long story short, I approached the nicest-looking old gentleman on the platform, explained my situation, and then asked him if he'd like to buy some of the granola bars that my parents had just gifted me with (snacks for an ever-hungry college student) for a dollar. He agreed, gave me what I needed for fare, and I never lived that down with my family. They still make fun of me for it today. But I always argue that I was being resourceful!

So, that is why I sympathized with this man, who had probably spent the entire morning swallowing his pride for the sake of a bus ticket home. And he was indeed being resourceful. I don't know how he got ahold of his friends' resort membership cards, but they were legit, after all. He secured us our members' lift tickets, got a ton of cash, and was really embarrassed and grateful and finally could go home. And my friends and I, in turn, got a great story out of it.
Finally, we went skiing! Anna, Ammy (photo cred), me in my super-tight, completely-not-weather-proof red jeans, and Katelyn, at Deogyusan Resort.
Ammy, Katelyn, and Anna chose snowboarding, and since it was Katelyn's first time, we spent the first part of the early evening going on a bunny hill and teaching Katelyn the basics of boarding, or: how to survive falling on your butt and knees and face over and over and over again. It quickly got dark, and finally our evening tickets were activated for night-time skiing. The slopes had been freshly groomed, too, so I got to ski on some crisp corduroy. It was quite exhilarating. However, the snow (눈/noon) wasn't of the best quality: it was very icy in some spots, which worried me because I was over a year out of practice, and I was also not wearing waterproof pants. If I fell, my pants would get wet, and then they'd freeze, and then I'd freeze, and that would be no good. Fortunately, I didn't fall! I even tried some of the most difficult slopes that were open (I'm not entirely sure if they were blue or black, since the rating system was both inconsistent within the park and not recognized by fellow skiers I tried to ask...), with success. In the meantime, it was also below freezing the entire time, and despite never taking a spill, I was soon very, very, very cold. The long solo lift rides were the worst, and the wind picked up around 9pm... but I kept telling myself, "I've been colder."

I'm a bit sorry to say that I left the girls on the beginner slopes for most of the night, but they reported that they had a great time. We met up later, in fact, to try one of the more difficult trails together; it was a beginner trail, but quite long and windy. The never-ending-ness was hard for Katelyn, but she toughed it out like a trooper, and in the meantime I got to practice my backwards-skiing.

Ski lifts at night. Kind of eerie!
One perk of skiing alone, though, besides being able to cut in front of groups in the lift lines, is the chance to strike up random conversations with other skiers. I was often on a chair with just one other person, and when that happened, I would always use it was a chance to practice my Korean. "얼마나 자주 스키를 합니까? 한국에서 무슨 스키 리조트가 제일 좋아요?" (Hint: not Muju.) "어디에서 왔습니까?"

Even though my Korean is poor, I got an answer every time and even some lengthy conversations sometimes. One skier I met was only a beginner; he seemed surprised that I've been skiing for such a long time. Another man was interested in what I was doing in Korea, and we talked about differences between ski resorts in the US and in Korea. (I've only been to a few in California in Nevada, to be honest... but Colorado and Vermont are on my bucket list!)

That's about it. The first night, though just a few short hours, was fun in unexpected ways, very chill, and a success all around. I have a few more photos, but they're on my phone, which is temporarily powered off while I'm out of the country. I'll upload them as soon as I get back to Korea. Next up: day 2 of skiing, which was fairly disastrous. Stay tuned!