With the randomness of a bee


I didn’t get much sleep this weekend because too much happened.  Just seven hours after I said goodnight to my classmates, I woke up and joined a couple Korean coworkers for “Walking at Namsan,” a walkathon sponsored by the Before Babel Brigade to commemorate Earth Day 2005.  Although Earth Day was last Thursday, the event was held on a Saturday to increase turnout.  The event was held at Namsan (South Mountain), the mountain where I hiked a few weeks ago in a vain attempt to visit Seoul Tower.  I didn’t know much about the event other than that it was billed as a seven kilometer “walkathon.”  The “walkathon” turned out to be more of an easy hike than a walk because the paved, seven kilometer trail winds its way around the flanks of Namsam.  Along the way, we ascended and descended several hundred feet up and down the mountainside.  The day was gorgeous—perfect weather for going on a long walk/hike.  We started at National Theater located at the base of the mountain.  About 3,000 people, including many expatriates, joined in the festivities. 

BBB did a fabulous job organizing the event.  We started the day with face painting.  Of course, with my occasionally goofy personality, I couldn’t resist painting my own face.  I stood in line with all the kids and let an artist paint my face.  My female colleagues adorned themselves with painted flowers, but I was too cool for that.  Instead, I asked the artist to paint a single green leaf on my cheek.  After all, I was a leaf among flowers.  (In Asian tradition, a man among women is a “leaf among flowers.”)  The event started with jazzercise-style calisthenics designed to help participants stretch their limbs before embarking on the walkathon.  We needed to stretch, because the walk/hike was much more strenuous than anticipated (at least one unlucky fellow was carried away in an ambulance).  Just before the walkthon, we all released orange and white balloons into the air.  Although this was a nice show of unity, I thought it a bit odd that we would release non-biodegradable, synthetic materials into the air in honor of Earth Day.  It’s not a very Earth-friendly thing to do.

Following the walkathon, we returned to the plaza outside National Theater.  We ate sandwiches provided by Paris Baguette, one of Korea’s premier bakeries.  The BBB gave away a plethora of prizes, including tickets to Jeju Island, dinner packages, and watches.  Alas, my colleagues and I won nothing.  Solid Gold-style disco dancers provided kitschy entertainment.  I much preferred watching the traditional Korean drummers who closed out the event.  An elderly gentleman dressed in street clothes serenaded the costumed drummers with a traditional flute that echoed throughout National Theater plaza.  It was a beautiful, impromptu accompaniment.  All in all, the day was enchanting.  I highly recommend walking around Namsan if you’re planning to stay in Seoul for awhile and enjoy hiking. 

When I came home, I was determined to have a quiet, uneventful night.  I washed our car caked with yellow dust.  I vacuumed and straightened up our house.  I was in the middle of reassembling a baby’s bouncer chair for a friend when I got a phone call from a colleague who just arrived in town.  He wanted to go out for drink!  I just couldn’t say no.  It was Saturday night, and he wanted to get out and see a bit of the town.  It’s been hard for me to sustain a pseudo-bachelor lifestyle night after night, but it’s hard to turn down a good friend.  We went out for a drink at a local pub and enjoyed Guinness and crab cakes.  Both were delicious and brought back memories of dining at the Delaware coast last summer.  In early April when pseudo-bachelorhood began I was determined to exercise more and consume less, but my schedule has not been forgiving.  I know I can’t complain, because what I do is up to me.  Unless you are already actively working out, it’s much too easy to say yes to social activities and postpone exercising.  I have a couple more weeks to redeem myself by getting into the gym.  I am not confident that I will.  But that’s entirely up to me.

I went into work today to help monitor some interior construction.  I worked 12 hours straight with only a couple short breaks for lunch and dinner.  It’s a really easy way to earn good money (I’m paid overtime on Sunday).  I did nothing more than monitor the workers and read a book during down time.  Nevertheless, it was a mind-numbing experience doing virtually nothing for long periods of time.  The experience gave me a chance to observe Korean laborers at work.  I gleaned a couple of observations that may or may not be applicable to Korean culture at large.  Perhaps these insights only apply to the workers I observed.  On the one hand, the workers worked diligently and took care and pride in their work.  They painted, stained, polished, and repeated these processes over and over again until they were satisfied with their work.  They were very engrossed in what they were doing and didn’t mind contorting their bodies to get the right angle to finish the job.  Their craftsmanship was impeccable.  On the other hand, I could not figure out any rhyme or reason to their work methodology.  Much like bees appear to move randomly from flower to flower during pollination, these workers jumped around as they worked.  They would paint one corner of a wall and then move across the room and paint some more.  They cleaned one window but did not clean the others.  My Korean language skills are not advanced enough to understand their conversations, so I could not ascertain whether there was a method to their work.  At the end of the day the work was finished, but I think that if they had been a bit more methodical they would have worked more efficiently.

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