&#91SCRIVENER&#93Wife, traffic, skiing, togetherness

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&#91SCRIVENER&#93Wife, traffic, skiing, togetherness

Last weekend, I went to Muju, a simple proposition for some folks but not for this one. It was a weekend of facing fears.
The first challenge was to build up the courage to drive out of Seoul. I’ve lived in the city for 20 years but have only on the rarest occasion wrenched myself from its bosom. Many years ago, without really thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that whatever green hills there are to be found without the city walls are not worth the eight-hour traffic jam coming back on Sunday night.
This barrier was reinforced by the ― again unexamined ― assumption that it’s all a bit rough and unattractive once you get south of Apgujeong-dong. Don’t get me wrong, the Korean landscape is breathtakingly beautiful. It’s just that what people have made of it is not very attractive. It’s all yelling, staring at foreigners, bad architecture, and slurpy food.
The other fear to consider this weekend was skiing, but we’ll get to that.
We left at 3 p.m. Saturday, which I’d forgotten was when everyone else who has a car drives it. The expressway was jammed. This gave my wife ample time to expound on her theory that the unattractiveness of the rural landscape boils down to signage. “It’s the totalitarianism of the billboard Hangeul,” she reckoned. “It’s all big state-run block letters whether it’s advertising perfume or land development.”
We arrived at the ski resort just before 11 p.m. an average speed of 30.5 kilometers (19 miles) an hour. That, I would say, is rather slow for modern roads, but there is a certain joy to be found when you face fears. I arrived in a chirpy mood.
Muju, I have to say, is very pleasant. It may be a copy of something, but to this uncritical eye, it is both attractive and comfortable. Our hotel, the Tirol, was an understated touch of Austria, a country which, like Korea, has snow.
The main activity to be had was skiing, which was something of an issue for me. The whole venture represented an effort by my wife to find activities that we could share. Skiing, I had tried to assure her after a lesson at Dragon Valley two years earlier, was not going to be one of them. But she was adamant.
As a couple, we represent the two basic kinds of people in the world: those who believe that skiing is as natural as walking and that you learn by falling over (my wife), and people who are sensible (me). My kind believes that taking your husband up what you mockingly refer to as a “bunny slope” and letting him go is rather like putting someone in a car and expecting him to drive before you’ve explained what the steering wheel does and where the brake is.
The first time I fell was deliberate. I was going straight down a sheer face and faster than we’d been doing on the expressway the night before. Not sure how to turn, I thought it wiser to eat snow. A few seconds after setting off again, I landed next to a young man who was either resting or had also fallen.
“Do you have the time?” he asked in English. Turns out he was from Hong Kong. I then noticed that a lot of people were at the same level of competence as I. People were slithering and falling all over the place. I struck off downhill again, this time attempting a zigzagging motion. I discovered that if you ram your pole into the ground, it is possible to pivot and thereby turn around, although turning too fast can land you back on the ground again.
At one point a young Korean lady crumpled in the snow before me and I hurled myself out of the way in an act of self-sacrifice that probably saved her life. I decided to walk the rest of the way down, carrying my skis on my shoulder like a veteran.
Once safely at the bottom, I found myself in an irritable mood. I like to think because of having wasted my time, but I know it was because I had not faced and overcome the skiing fear.
Something tells me I have to go back next year.

by Michael Breen
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