“This should be a very routine trip,” I naively thought while staring out my bus window, surveying the ever-breathtaking Korean mountainside. I was on vacation, fresh off of visiting Fireball and Special K in Yeosu, and thought I would throw in one additional evening of friendly frolicking in Gangjin.
Meeting up with Scrabbles seemed especially urgent after I caught wind of her impending departure. Due to a host of factors including communication difficulties and a distaste of Korean cuisine, she decided to end her contract early and return to America.
I also maintain the goal of visiting each of the Misfits’ respective towns. Gangjin would become the next “X” on my list.
So I met up with Scrabbles, Potato, and The King and departed for the Gangjin Eco Park. Little did we know we would trek to the edge of Gangjin civilization.
It was no matter. Removing the stimulating sights and sounds of Korean cities (and even large towns for that matter) provided a sensorily relaxing respite as well as a great opportunity for intellectually profound conversation.
“That dog looks mean.”
“Yeah, man. All of the dogs keep snarling at us. It’s as if they’ve never seen waygooks (foreigners) before.”
“Hey look, there’s a cow.”
“Moo,” I imitated.
“That’s not the sound a cow makes here.”
“You’re right. It’s as if I’m speaking a foreign language to her right now.”
Farmland abounded for kilometers in each direction. Isolated farm buildings, barking dogs, the smell of cow manure, and the occasional brap brap of an elderly Korean speeding on a quad comprised our entire visual sensorium.
“I wonder if Chuckles (my roommate from orientation) lives in a place like this.”
Chuckles lives in Jangheung, a rural town Southeast of Mokpo.
“Yeah. I bet his school is over there.”
“Yup. And that shed is his apartment.”
“And that warehouse hosts karaoke every Friday night.”
To be fair, I have rode the bus through Chuckles’ town of Jangheung on the way in. It’s small, but it looks livable.
Finally, after cresting a berm, we found the Eco Park. It’s hard to describe. Dead-looking brown reeds reach out of the dull grey mud. It is not my mind’s first connotation of “beautiful nature.” However, as we descended the walkway, the tall grasses enveloped us in a living, breathing canyon. I started to understand the pastoral charm. I bet it looks more exciting in the spring and summer when color and wildlife return.
Scrabbles and Potato, both lugging large cameras, took a plethora of pictures: Scrabbles sat on a bench, Potato sat on a bench, and Scrabbles coached her.
“Okay, that’s good, but try to look less pouty.”
“This is just my normal face!”
The King and I enjoyed every minute of this.
Then Scrabbles switched to taking candid shots of The King and I. For some reason, my candid pictures fall on two extremes of a spectrum. On one end, I look happy and pose as if I the reeds are merely a studio backdrop. On the other end, I look like I was caught in the act of an embarrassing felony and plan to cut up the first camera-toting voyeur I see.
As we neared the exit of the park pier, I noticed by a boat exhibit.
“I want to stand up there and live my dream of being a Korean ship captain.”
“I love how specific that it – a Korean ship captain.”
I ascended the stairs and lived out my dream. For a brief moment, my life felt twice as complete.
Then things got weird. In retrospect, it is all my fault. I steered us towards the ship display which actually served as the entrance to a sports park. The sports park had two lovely artificial turf soccer fields. However, the oddity in between the fields fielded our whole attention.
Normally I would simply say “wow,” take a photograph, and move on. Scrabbles wasn’t satisfied. She pulled the door latch. It was unlocked. She climbed into the cockpit.
As a newly-knighted Korean ship captain, I couldn’t allow a member of my crew to travel alone, so I climbed into the co-pilot seat. Scrabbles was awed by the intricate layout of instruments and electronics. I was shitting myself with nerves.
“Don’t get caught. Don’t get caught. Don’t get caught. Your next blog post will be a deportation story. Don’t get caught.”
Meanwhile, Scrabbles flipped switches, appreciating the moment like a schoolgirl on a field trip. We noticed Bose headphones behind us and put those on too. Fortunately (or not), Potato documented most of this in her camera.
Potato and The King were dumbstruck about how and why this helicopter sat in the middle of the sports complex. Scrabbles and I exited the aircraft and we headed towards the front of the complex to exit.
Suddenly, a wild ajushi (older Korean man) appeared. He seemed to lecture us (I didn’t understand much except for the words for “not allowed”). He then provided a wide gesture that seemed to suggest we should hike back into the park and around the fence. Apparently, the sports park was off-limits.
“Shit,” I thought. “How lucky are we?”
We proceeded to argue for half of the walk back to Gangjin about whether or not we were allowed to enter the helicopter.
“Maybe it’s an exhibit for children to play in.”
“I mean, who leaves an active helicopter unlocked?”
“If the aircraft was inactive, why was there a fuel truck parked next to it?”
“Scrabbles, you flipped so may switches. You probably just ruined their next flight.”
Did we get lucky? Were we acting within the rules? Were we out of bounds? I suppose we will never know. What I do know was that as long as the sun stayed in the sky, the weirdness was far from over.
Who just leaves an active helicopter unattended at an unsecured park? They were basically asking for trouble.
I am impressed by pilots’ abilities to focus amidst so much visual noise.
Scrabbles had the time of her life while just nervously scanned the horizon for angry Korean eyes.
Scrabbles’ youthful exuberance shall forever conceal her age. I am convinced that she is some kind of immortal demigoddess trapped on Earth doomed to forever troll mortals’ souls.
However, she takes a damn fine candid photograph. 😉