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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Accidentally Sneaking into a Korean Military Base...their President's Backyard actually.

Every stupid move deserves another.
This was how it all happened. It was a mistake, an honest to goodness mistake. One of those fumbling, stooge-like mistakes that somersault into buffoonry, slip into absurdity, but yet emerges perhaps what could be dangerous dust, but falls altogether, nice and charming, like an afternoon anecdote of miscalculated wiles.

Stupidity for the most of us is a dull balm that hangs upon our day like a thick vapor blotting out the sun of sense and reason. However, stupidity for me, is full-blown, a fitful gust, a shooting star emblazoning the day and night with its unquenchable embers.

That day in itself was a spectacular one to begin with. I'd spent the early afternoon at a shamanistic ceremony. I won't bother with the details but suffice it to say that there is a mountain just a hop from Central Seoul where concrete ends and a forest springs. Here in a spirit temple, a shamanistic priestess was performing all types of sacrifices. Involving dead pigs, a trident, a cow's head, and various dances and trances that supposedly channel dead spirits. I will not unwind any lengthy tale about the Mu falling into a trance and dancing chaotically all in black possessed by the departed, nor how these women witches smoke bunches of cigarettes at the same time ala Groucho Marx, nor will I bore you on how after praying over a large butchered sow, a champion priestess turns circus act climbing on precipices to stand on blades all the while singing. Nor will I bother you with any digressions on how this spot, this very temple was some time ago, used solely as a place to exorcize spirits probably the chief exorcism place in all of Korea. My tale is not of these. All of which are fascinating. See my videos and pictures. I caught footage of all this. Needless to say, the whole mountain is considered by many to be a magic mountain full of mysticism and strange, blood-let sacrifices.

No sooner than I left the ancient clamor ringing up the mountain, that I found another adventure which concerns my story here. As I bounded up the path leading towards the summit, I would pass an old lady or two sitting cross-legged, an incense stick burning nearby and pinches of grain they'd scatter as a type of offering to the mountain spirits. Hoisting myself to one overlook, I was given a great view of Seoul which towered in the close proximity, the high rise apartment buildings, like paths oEven amongst all these highly interesting things. I had already pierced through the cloud of the mundane, the fog of life, and was still yearning for the Heavens. The ancient fortress wall rode on the back of the mountain and every now and then a shadow seemed to stand peering at the tremendous view of Seoul across the way. I clambered my way up in that direction. Intent, as most mountain trekkers are, of perching myself in a sublime spot. The winds were nice, the rains were absent, the cold was long gone. It was the month of May and everything was solidly delightful. The old gates of Seoul are all named after mythical creatures pertaining to the 4 cardinal directions. I was near the wall of the White Tiger of the West. Weeks before I had explored the Blue Dragon of the East. I made it to one protruding rock and sat crossed-legged, mind emptied before the sun and the sky and God. And prayed for two friends who were having difficult times. One battles cancer another battles divorce, the cruel realities of a savage world. Wearisome adulthood. While I a child, frolic about the world making of it a playground.

As I was making my way up the path, a small group of elderly people had finished their grain offerings and were descending. This old man of the group asked me where it was that I intended on going. I told him that I was going up. He shook his head and warned me, “No.” This was the only English he could muster for this bit of advice. And I could not muster up any Korean to understand if he was giving the reason why. Besides, I thought he was just giving me delicate old man advice, not too different than delicate old lady advice. A hen-pecked old man's translation from an Old Wives' Tale. In truth, I thought he was only passing along the knowledge that there were no trails in that direction. The path ends, and so forth. But he obviously didn't know that by saying “no” gave me all the more incentive to say “yes” and go romping up the mountainside. No sooner than he uttered the impossibility of going any further up, than my eyes darted over and spotted a steep deer path. I thanked him for his advice and instead of following the path back around which would bring me back down the mountain from another direction, I feigned this descent, and when I saw he was gone, I bounded up the deer path, ducking under limbs and stomping through patches of grass on the hillside.

Eventually, I could see peeking through the foliage, gray stone -the wall. And upon emerging, I marked the barb-wire wrapped in coils.
“Boy, they really don't want anyone parading onto their walls. They really take their parks serious around here.” I said to myself.
I was sure it was some type of satellite dish or radio tower they were protecting. And I skirted around the heavy barbwire. There was an area of the barbwire that was torn off the wall and was laying discarded on the ground. To me proof that it was not too serious wherever I was intruding. I merely stepped over the barbwire and even snapped a shot of my foot over the barbed wire with my camera as I did so. Next, I scaled the old gray wall. Upon entering, there were no ambling hikers. No grandmas in visors and ski poles scuttling about. No old men in neon pinks and blue fending off the decline of their health. No glued-together couples that are found in every public spot across Korea looking as though they're in a 3 legged race. It was strangely not Korean, strangely vacant of people. Solitude in Korea is a highly barren feeling. And then I noticed closer to the crest of the mountain where all the heavy barbed wire hung. A few buildings, a basketball court, and a dog behind these massive coils. If I would've entered, had it been possible, right where I first came out of the woods, I'd would've landed myself there.

“Ohhhh”, I thought, “ How about that? I almost sneaked into a prison compound. What an idiot I would've been. “ And laughed a good chuckling laugh. I was pretty sure it was a prison for they had all the scenery that makes a good prison movie, the fierce German Shepherd chained to a dog house. A worn basketball court where someone is probably stabbed on a weekly basis. A weary, vulture-home look to everything, without the vultures. For that matter, no prisoners were bustling about either. “Must be inside stamping license plates, or decorating chopsticks...whatever inmates do in Korea.” I took my camera out of my pocket and snapped some shots thinking it would make a good picture in an album one day. “See here, kids this was the time that I came within 5 feet of breaking IN to a prison compound.” Then I'd embellish it a little bit, “Sometimes I got so bored with myself and I'd fantasize about how I'd escape from prison to the point, that I would attempt to break in, in order to break out.”
As I took these pictures. The German Shepherd barked his threatening bark, probably not knowing what to think of a person standing gawking into the prison, him being used to all the humans standing on the inside staring dreamily out.

I, ever so carefree, followed the ridge path up to the highest part of the ridge where two massive boulders sat, and stepping sprightly around one of these boulders my eyes spotted the trouble of what I had just climbed over the wall into. It was just at that moment of good-feeling and sunshine, that I was probably well on the verge of bursting into song. For I tend to sing out loud when alone and walking like some modern-day Tom Bombadil, when I rounded the large boulder and saw two men standing dignified and at some important business. One dressed all in black and the other in camouflage. And my quick, careless bound out from behind that boulder seized their cautious natures, and set their hawkish eyes upon me. A look of flabbergast stretched onto their solid faces. That's when the realization hit, I hadn't almost sneaked into a prison, I had actually, very successfully sneaked into a Korean military base. It was all summed up in their looks of surprise and stupefaction.
In a flash I assessed the situation. My first inclination would've been to have hurled myself behind that boulder, if they hadn't turned to see me. But it was too late for that. The slightest feint to flee would be extraordinarily suspicious.

No, I devised to play, what has worked so wonderfully well before in other situations around the world, the dumb American card. Except in this case, it was every bit true. “But officer, I didn't KNOW this was a military base that I had stepped into. Which way is the Starbucks/McDonald's?”
As the soldier all in black approached. I mustered up all the affability, innocent expressions, good-naturedness, and utter block-headedness that was at my disposal at that moment. I play the dove-like fool amazingly well.

The officer spoke good English. “You do know that you are in a military base don't you? You're not supposed to be here.” His tone was nice and congenial, and put me in the assurance that I wouldn't be pistol-whipped yet.
“W-hhaat?” I made my eyes as big as they could. I tried to look overwhelmed as though I was registering everything. “Really?! Oh..no! I'm sooo sorry.”

“How did you get in?”
“Over the old wall. I hiked up from the temples down there.” pointing in the direction that I had just came.
He shook his head. “There are two ways out of here. You can go that way,” pointing in an area that was opposite with anything I was familiar with, “Or this way.” pointing still in another direction that I wasn't exactly sure where it lead but was still closer to the temple areas.
I chose this latter one.

“Okay, you just follow this trail, and you will pass many men positioned there. When you see them, just til them what you told me and they will let you pass.”

“Thank you. And again,” bowing which is the greatest sign of respect in Korea, “I apologize.” I think that I also complimented his English which is a good way to flatter in Korea.

I was relieved that the consequence was as light as my actual mistake. But the thought about these other sentries seemed dubious. “Oh great. Now, I'm to explain this stupid reason that I am trespassing on military property to a whole platoon of men. I wonder if I shall be interrogated about this. He probably sent me straight to my interrogator to be questioned.”
I knew that I was being watched from behind.
And as I walked around the bend where the scene of the German Shepherd, the basketball court, the huge coils of barbwire, in short, what I thought was a prison, the anxious thought flashed before me.
“Uh oh. I have in my pocket a camera that holds photographs of this very base. If they find this, this will harden my case against me being out for a leisurely stroll; they could very well incriminate me as a spy. I must keep this camera hidden at all costs.”

But I didn't meditate too much on this predicament, for it is in my nature to hold off thoughts for all the bad things that could happen in the middle of such circumstances and to sort of secretly laugh about it all.
I was walking on the ridge now on the path. To my right was the wall. I had the notion that if things got bad, then I could bound over this wall in one leap and then dart through the woods like old times, like the tomfoolery that was my youth that I never ever completely stepped out of. But then what? A blonde haired white man running loose in the area with squadrons at their beck and call? How long would that last? It was just a thought. Only if things got completely desperate, a bound over a wall is always an option.

And also, I didn't know this at the time, but it definitely would have influenced my thoughts had I had known, for I was in the close environs of what is the Blue House. The Blue House is the Korean version of the White House, the presidential mansion of the nation, where the president sits around doing whatever presidents do. I was basically, not only roaming around in the neighborhood but in a broad way, haphazardly frolicking in the president's backyard. Of course, I didn't know this at the time.

My path led down the ridge, and instead of creeping around surreptitiously, I thought it best to just stomp down the hill, absolute innocence my cloak. But it was something when out of the bushes on my left, or behind a tree, would shadows or figures would emerge all dressed in black. Like ninjas ready to spring, but they'd sort of nod or signal to me that it was okay, that they already knew my story and I'd continue on my merry, accidental-trespassing way. Eventually, I was halted. And this fellow in camouflage came down the hill. It was the same guy who gave me directions previously. He would direct me further and be my guide out of here, or to whatever dark dungeon they were taking me.

He was a young man. If not my age, then a little older. But as he accompanied me down the fortress wall, I soon realized he was some sort of high officer. For all the sentries would salute with passion and gusto, of what is becoming of lower soldiers in front of higher officers. His salute back was lackadaisical, as though the return salute was some over-used formality.

We passed, what I thought from across the mountain was an observation deck and it was, but one for military observations. Apparently, they were too busy watching the opposite direction, not looking at the way that I had wandered inside. It was here that we halted again.
“This is it. This could very well be where the dark room is where they place me under that bright lamp and get me to spill the beans, while a soldier named Scrappy punches me in the stomach multiple times.”

Up from another path from behind this large gate came this soldier all decked out in military gear. The first soldier I saw with a helmet on and a machine gun. He ran up as though something was of utmost importance. “Here we go.” I thought. But he was only some type of deliverer and gave my friend, the officer, a key.

And then we proceeded further. I began to make conversation with my guide. After apologizing for the 5th time or so, I told him that over to the East part of Seoul they have these same type walls that you can climb onto and a nice park, a man selling ice cream, a little museum even, and that I thought for sure that this was the same thing. It certainly looked like it from the distance. He only laughed and told me it was alright. As our path cut through a small forest we came to a small black iron gate. He unlocked the gate, told me this was the way out, and the funniest thing, he apologized to me. Which is a very Korean thing to do. “I'm sorry that our military base is situated right in the path of your day's frolic. Sorry that we interrupted your hiking by having this base here.” He didn't really say that. But the truth is had this been an American base, of which the irony is even being an American, had I stumbled upon their base, they would've cross-examined me in some basement somewhere just because its what they like to do. But no, this Korean base, I received only an escort out and then a very mild-mannered, “Sorry.” Come to think of it, they never asked me my name, my nationality, nor what I was doing in Korea. They probably rightfully assumed that I was an American. And something tells me that this sort of thing happens quite regularly.


Blogger thepriesthood said...

I'll have to give this one a go...

8:15 PM  

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