Friday, April 17, 2009

State of the Wallet

If you lived in my neighborhood, you'd notice that I haven't been myself lately. I'm not doing anything stupid like contemplating suicide or watching soccer. I'm saving up to spend half of June traveling on a rockstar budget. If I was a wise man, I would've been planning for this 6 or 7 months ago. Because I'm not, I started saving at the beginning of March. This means that, right now I'm in the middle of my saving spree: far enough into it that the initial motivation has worn off and far enough from the end that thinking about the trip doesn't make things a whole lot better. Of course, I'll make it, if nothing else because somehow I always do. Here's a brief comparison of my life then and now.

Then: Screw cooking. I'd have hot dogs and chips at home once or twice a week, but most of the time I didn't feel like cooking. And forget about ramen noodles. Those were the perfect snack, but nothing more.

Now: I was eating ramen noodles so often for a while there that it was giving me strange chest pains. I converted to the ( slightly more expensive ) instant curry and home-cooked rice, with store-bought kimchi on the side, and the pains have stopped, but there are plenty of days when I don't eat meat.

Then: I had pizza from the cheap place at least two or three times a week.

Now: I'm happy to get pizza once a week.

Then: Throw spare change on the kitchen table and forget it exists.

Now: Scour corners of my apartment I haven't touched or cleaned since I moved in more than two years ago in the hopes of finding enough coins to buy a pack of tissue/toilet paper.

Then: My Friday nights started off with beer and soju at a Korean style barbecue joint with the guys, then moved on to our version of Cheers, Noblock. Since Korean bars are open until at least 6 in the morning, it was not uncommon to leave the bar sometime after the sunrise.

Now: I went over a month without hitting up Noblock. A few days ago I finally went back there when a not-quite-sober version of my buddy Martin announced boldly that we were going and he was buyin'. My drinking is usually confined to a few convenience store beers in my apartment once or twice during the week, a Mini Stop session on Friday, and a few after the hike on Saturday.

Then: If it's looking like I might late I can always take a taxi.

Now: If it's looking like I might be late I assume we're running on Korean time and everyone else will be at least 20 minutes late, regardless of whether or not any of the people I'm meeting know more than three words of Korean.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg, and it's going to get worse before it gets better. I still have to take a trip south to Busan to do job interviews and get everything lined up so I'm not unemployed when I get back to Korea in June. I'm getting reluctant to pay for text messages, but I haven't forgotten about the light at the end of the tunnel. I don't wanna spoil it for anyone I haven't told about it, but if half of I'm planning on doing on this trip goes through then people will talk for years about having known some guy who pulled it off.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Strange Visit

I didn't bother popping in my contacs or even shaving. I threw on some jeans and some old hiking boots, then headed for the station. I'd never been to the place before, but since it's a stop between my apartment and the best place in Seoul to eat, I knew how to get there just on a few words in a text message my boss sent a few hours earlier.

I've seen all of my grandparents, one uncle on my dad's side, and my mom all pass on to the hereafter. By the time it was my mom's turn, I'd grown so used to death and my unusually short life expectancy that I was almost completely numb. But this was different, and when I got the phonecall as I was about to head off to bed Thursday night, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Of course, I didn't go there Thursday night, or Friday. My boss was there, and had only told me the news because he felt bad about asking me to do extra classes again. After pulling 11 classes on Friday, 5 with Kindergarteners ( one of which was actually two classes we had to combine because we were short-handed ) and 6 with Elementary kids, I wasn't good for much of anything else.

I sent my boss a text asking about it Saturday morning, and he said enough of the shock had worn off that people could visit. Korea University Hospital, one of the best hospitals in Korea, is a really beautiful place. It's built into the side of a hill in such a way that, even as high as the fourth or fifth floor, you can walk outside and be standing on solid ground, around a semicircle of earth sprinkled liberally with short trees and flowers. I find myself thinking that in a perfect world, all the hospitals I had to visit to see dying family would have had the same ambience. But in a perfect world, noone would ever get sick or die, and we wouldn't need hospitals.

They even have the fourth floor marked with the letter "F" on the elevators, staircases, and everywhere else. Instead of a number, they write the letter, because the Chinese character for the number 4 is the same as the word for "death". It's a common ( but not absolute ) practice, even now, to see elevators in Korea marked in similar fashion.

I don't see Len when I first walk in. His wife is sitting next to someone, although now, less than a week later, I can't even remember who it was. I wanna say it was her brother, but the haze of memory is already settling over it. The only thing I'm really certain of is that his wife was in the waiting area with someone else, and that someone else was someone I had met before. She tells me that Len's outside, and shows me where he is.

When I get out there, Len's sitting by himself on a bench on the far side of a concrete courtyard surrounded on two sides by walls of calm trees not much higher than a man and gentle ferns and bushes. He spots me over the empty space, stands up, and walks down to meet me. The courtesy of always smiling when you meet someone at a hospital is one neither of us observes this time. As we walk back through the building and onto a walkway along the edge of the building, one facing the concrete jungle, he recounts to me what I knew a day ago. Len knows that my boss has told me all of this, but I listen patiently in the hope that there might be some good news I haven't heard yet.

Of course, there isn't. The look on his wife's face the moment I saw her wouldn't lie. If there was any good news, Len, one of the most carefree people I've ever known, wouldn't be so somber.

Jasmine is as good as dead. She got sick, then couldn't swallow properly. Water got trapped inside her lungs, she went into a coma from lack of oxygen, and for a day and a half now she's lived only because machines are pumping air in and out of her body. A day ago my boss told us there was so much brain damage from the lack of oxygen that, even if she does wake up, Jasmine will never be the same again.

As we walk outside, I say the same things I've said to myself a thousand times in the last day and a half. Things I said to myself because I couldn't understand what happened, not because I was rehearsing. After working with Len for nearly three years, I still can't really think of anything seriously bad to say about him. Everyone who knows Len gets along with him. I've never seen him have a disagreement with anyone. It isn't just because he's built like an ox, either. Len's just the sort of guy that gets along with everyone without even trying to.

Jasmine got that from her father. I've never seen such a happy baby. She smiled whenever anyone looked at her or gave the faintest hint of attention. A lot of babies will cry when they see a man they don't know who smells like he's been smoking, or, in Korea, when they see a foreign man it will set them off sobbing. Not Jasmine. Nothing ever seemed to dampen her mood. She was always smiling and laughing. Jasmine was growing really fast, and the doctors talked about what an exceptionally strong, healthy baby she was.

Len offers me a cigarette. He knows I quit smoking nearly two years ago, but he also knows I still enjoy one every now and then. As I'm taking a smoke out of the pack, I notice Len's smoking Dunhill Lights, the same brand one of my best friends smoked before he went back home a few months ago.

He tells me that he needs at least a month off after this. Len says he's pretty sure he can't go back to teaching again. This is more serious for Len than for the rest of us, because most ESL teachers here don't have graduate degrees in teaching. Says it hurts so much every time he sees a kid walking by in the hospital. He's barely slept, he tells me. All the while, I don't really know what to think.

As a child, my dad conditioned me to deal with death. Dying is a part of living. There's nothing to really be sad about. My dad said this right up until my mom got sick. Even then, when he collapsed, I stayed calmer than people who had been a lot less close to her than I was. But this is different. Everyone else I've seen die was over 50. They had at least one child that was an adult. They'd led full lives. Jasmine hadn't even started talking yet.

Some things in life are just hard to understand.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Wanna make me feel stupid? Try being creative for once.

I hate it when people say the word "douchebag". I'm not saying it's a bad word. I even used it before it became the panacea for everyone who's mad at life and can't think of a creative way to express their feelings and is too lazy to actually try and fix their problems. I agree that there needs to be an insult for pretentious people who constantly embarrass themselves by trying to show off to the rest of the universe how cool they are.

What I don't agree with is when people get lazy and start labeling everyone they have a problem with as a "douchebag" when words like asshole, bitch, or jerk would be much more accurate. For example, there's this girl I work with. We'll call her Erin, because that's her real name. In the year and a half I've worked with her, I have yet to see a day go by when she hasn't been angry at life. I'm not implying that I'm always happy, but that few people are as good at hating life as she is. For the longest time, all she could do was mope about how miserable life was, unable to properly articulate her feelings.

Then, some months back, she learned a new word. It's gotten to the point that, in the 30 or 40 minutes between when I get to work and when my first class starts, I hear "douchebag" applied vaguely to at least 5 people. I know you're going to ask why I listen. I don't. I generally try to avoid her, and not just because I'm afraid her fat ass will mistake me for a twinkie. Unfortunately, I share a classroom-sized space with her and half a dozen teachers who call it an office, and she whines so loudly I'm pretty sure you could hear her from space. So in the interest of helping those of you out there who are having trouble learning your own language, I've compiled a list of some insults. I've even given brief definitions so you know when to apply them.

asshole-Someone who enjoy screwing other people over.

bitch-Woman who enjoys being angry at everything.

whore-Having grown far beyond it's dictionary definition ( a woman who sleeps with men for money ), whore can now be applied to any woman with loose pants. If you're tired of using this word, skank and slut have acquired almost the same meaning.

cheater-1) A person who is unfaithful to his/her significant other. 2) A person who breaks established rules to acquire an unfair advantage over opponents in business, sports, on tests, or in anything else involving competition. 3) The guy who just owned you.

pussy-This is another word that's grown far beyond it's original meaning ( that of the female reproductive organs ) to mean anyone who runs away from conflict, responsibility, or anything else harder than sitting around all day. Generally, it implies fear of others, and a tendency to run faster than Usain Bolt.

dumbass-Someone incapable of intelligent thought. If dumbass gets old, try retard, idiot, moron, fucking idiot ( for the wordy ), or even, if you're feeling smart, imbecile.

evil-A fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

If you weren't too lazy to read all of this, then you might find this helpful. Bear in mind that this is by no means a comprehensive list of all the insults that you, and should be using to belittle others. Think of this as a freshman core class on how to verbally lift yourself up by cutting others down to size. And remember, the English language is always growing and developing. Don't be afraid to coin new insults. No matter how stupid your ideas are ( and, let's face it, if this list helped you, they will be stupid ), it still beats calling the McDonald's manager that says they're closed a douchebag.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Hiking Dobongsan

One of Korea's best kept secrets is that roughly 70% of the peninsula is mountains. They don't even begin to approach the heights of most of the mountains in the Rockies, and I'm pretty sure there isn't even a peak in the country higher than some of the ones in the Appalachians, but the mountains in Korea are steep, picturesque, and about the only thing in this tiny country that hasn't been overpolluted. Add to that the fact that there are three or four really nice mountains for hiking that extend from the surrounding areas into the city limits of Seoul, and it's one of the few places in the world where you can spend a Saturday enjoying pristine nature ( minus the wildlife they killed off), run home for a quick shower and shave, and be in town right around the time things start to pick up.

This Saturday I headed to Dobongsan, my favorite hiking spot around Seoul. I got up bright and early for a breakfast thing in town, unaware that one of the guys I was meeting was going to pay for everyone else's meal. That seems unimportant, but is relevant to the end of the story.

After the breakfast I spent an hour or so getting out of town and away from the main entrance to the mountain, the one that leads you to what I like to call the boring, overcrowded, monotonous, easy way up. As always, I went off the beaten path to a steeper path that forces you to go through three or four distinct types of terrain ( more if you take side paths that you're not supposed to ) and gives you an extra hour of breathtaking views along the ridgeline. If you look at one of the pics I uploaded, you can even see the smog covering the city like a warm blanket.

A few minutes from the peak I saw the same crazy old guy that always sells cheap rice wine in the same spot. I usually ignore him, but something almost instinctual was triggered this time, so I asked to buy a bottle. One of the old Korean guys crowded around informed me, in English, that this was the one day of the year when he had some crazy shamanistic festival to pray for the coming year. This makes since, except that the Korean ( who am I kidding, they just stole the calendar from China ) lunar new year was a month ago. Whatever, if it gets me free cheap booze, who am I to argue?

After profusely insisting that I couldn't take part in the ceremony for religious reasons and repeatedly being told the crazy old guy doesn't care and is just giving it to any random passersby who stops to hang out with him for five seconds, I downed a couple of paper cups of the stuff.

On the way down I ran into Dave and Savannah, the engaged couple from Illinois, hiked with them briefly, then excused myself from the third wheel position. A bit later some guy started talking to me in English. I wasn't really interested in talking to the guy, but more than once in the past the exact same thing has ended up with me getting a free dinner and drinks, so I slowed my pace and talked with him for awhile. But alas, he broke my heart and left me feeling like some cheap slut when I realized he was talking to me for some free English practice but unwilling to pay this whore's price. My hopes and dreams dashed and feeling destitute ( except for the cash in my pocket that could've bought dinner and drinks for three ), I continued my dreary march homeward. As cruel fate would have it, I wasn't even allowed a proper chance to mourn this loss.

Somewhere between the trail and the subway station, I ran into the same guy who had translated between me and the crazy guy who was praying to a pig's head earlier. He noticed me before I noticed him. I wasn't really in the mood for conversation, but before I got the chance to tell him this he was rude enough to ask me to have dinner with him and the other old people he was with. I'm not much of a fan of eating with old Korean dudes, but I didn't have the heart to turn down a free meal. The restaurant was another one of the hundred at the bottom serving traditional Korean meals and rice wine, but this one was special. No, it didn't serve the filtered, brown, sweet, high class stuff in plastic pots like most of the restaurants. This place specialized in the milky-white, barely-drinkable green bottle convenience store stuff, apparently the only one the crazy old guy from on top of the mountain would let any of the rest drink.

It was really an odd mix. A few of the men spoke English really well, the rest couldn't speak a word, all these old Koreans who seemed to be there out of pity for the nice, crazy old guy that sells cheap rice wine on top of the mountain, and the one foreign guy who can't speak any of the language but was more than happy with the free dinner. We had a few different main dishes, ranging from an awesome spicy chicken soup to pah juns ( usually translated as Korean pancakes, but pizza would be much more accurate ), we raised plastic bowls of rice wine in cheers every five seconds, and for a season a good time was had by all. Right around the time when I was finally getting full and sailing that narrow straight between control and uncontrollable drunkenness, one of the guys that spoke English informed me that it might be a good idea for me to leave ASAP. Apparently the crazy old guy that sells rice wine on top of the mountain was drunk enough that noone was quite sure what he was about to do, and the rest didn't want him starting a fight with the one foreigner for no reason ( as Koreans are often want to do ). Feeling my stomach full enough that I need not want, and knowing that I was just sober enough to still refuse a drink when it was offered, I shook hands and thanked them all.

All too appropriately, I inadvertently nailed down a day's worth of free food and drink at the expense of people I hardly know the day before I discovered Tortilla Flat, a book about a bunch of lazy drunks that do everything short of murder so they can keep drinking cheap wine all night and sleeping all day without having to get jobs.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Philippines: Round Two

Much like my first trip to the Philippines, my second was anything but ordinary. To really do it justice I'd have to type several long blog entries, so in the name of injustice I'm cutting up the story and just posting the highlights. It started when this sex tourist in my row started talking to me on the flight. Out of politeness I replied. He gave me a story about being an Australian lawyer who owned ESL schools in three or four different countries. I only half-believed him, but he seemed to be familiar with Korea and the conversation was half-decent. On our way out of the plane, he gave me his business card with a Korean address and cell phone number. So I guess he wasn't a sex tourist.

So for the first time in five months I was in the same country as my girlfriend ( she's teaching high school kids for almost no money, and trying to get me to spend my life in the Philippines working for no money). We'd somehow managed to keep up an emotionally healthy relationship in spite of the distance. I think it goes without saying that the only thing I could do my first night back was drink beer with the guys.

The funniest thing about my second trip to the Philippines was that I didn't have a single whore ask me to marry her. Whether it was because I was with friends the entire time, because I knew where I was going all the time, because half the time I went to places too seedy for sex tourists, or because the look in my eyes told them I'd make an exception to the no-hitting-women rule if one of them tried to talk to me is something I'll never really bother trying to figure out. As with the 2008 Phillies, results are all that really matters.

I followed my Filipino friends around the night they went around singing Christmas carols for money. The caroling wasn't so much fun, but it was pretty fun going to Juliana's, the club that plays more Korean music than I've ever heard in a Korean club, and watching my buddy Marco strike out with a girl that didn't even realize he was hitting on her.

Christmas Eve 2008 was like every Christmas Eve would be in a perfect world. I spent the afternoon drinking dollar beers at a cockfight with my buddies Mark and Jovel, where some guy tried to sell me a rooster, then took an overcrowded van with my girl to the village of Balamban. It was night, the fog was so thick you couldn't see more than 30 feet in front of you, and the van went through the mountains at speeds that would've been dangerous for that heap of scrap metal in the best of conditions. Balamban was a true third world Roman Catholic small town. The church there looked like something out of a Quentin Tarantino movie, and the crowd at Mass was cultic. Since the ocean was just a few hundred yards away, we decided to stroll down to it.

I've never walked through a mine field, but it's probably not very different from that walk to the water. I didn't see anyone get hurt, but it's a miracle with the way those adolescents throw fireworks around. More than once I almost got hit. I love a roman candle fight every now and then, and even the time I got hit in the neck wasn't bad, but you don't throw fireworks out on a sidewalk while there's a crowd trying to use it. After that I had a couple of beers with her bro in a house in the middle of the jungle that doesn't have running water, before retiring underneath a mosquito net. Christmas Day was one of the most uneventful days I've ever had. I just ate a lot and enjoyed the weather.

The following afternoon we went to Bohol. In case anyone ever thinks about going to Bohol, here's my advice: the Western food tastes just like the Western food in America, the beer is cheap, and there's plenty to do. Just don't go alone, because almost all of the foreigners there are German divers who keep to themselves. The Chocolate Hills were picturesque, Alona Beach is nice, and some local stuck a tarsier ( tiny monkey ) on my arm and took my picture to get a tip. I don't know how illegal this was, but I know there were signs everywhere in English saying not to touch them, and when other people asked him to take their pictures with the tarsiers, he put them back on the tree and played dumb about it.

Because she was worried it would be hard for me to say goodbye, my girlfriend had the brilliant idea to make it easier on me by getting me wasted right before I got on the red-eye flight home. From what she's told me, I unintentionally pissed off an armed guard at a local fast food joint ( yeah guys, the Philippines is poor enough that fast food restaurants need guards with guns ). After getting to the airport, I passed out and woke up in a strange, dimly-lit bus that have a cavey feel to it. The only thing weirder than waking up in the middle of the night on a bus you don't remember getting on is when you are told by a lady who works on the bus that you can't get off because you're in the air. I'm pretty sure I'll never understand how I made it through airport security, took out my contacs and put them in their case, and even thought to stick my glasses in my pocket before nodding off, but couldn't tell the difference between an airplane and a bus.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Who is Sanakin?

I saw someone else has done this and, since I haven't been able to put up anything really telling about myself, and I'm certainly not above someone else's idea and filling it with original material ( this isn't plagiarism, all writers read what other people have written to get ideas ) I figured now was as good a time as any.

The screenname Sanakin, or 산악인 is the Korean term for " mountain man" or "mountain woman" ( the Korean term is gender neutral ). I stuck with the Korean term because I have spent countless Saturdays on the mountains around Seoul, the city I've called home for the last three and a half years.

I came to Korea in the summer of 2005, fresh out of college. Coming from a lower middle-class family in Tennessee, it was only my second international trip, the first being a beach trip to Cancun, Mexico in the summer of 2002. The plan was simple, I'd come here, teach for a year so I could travel, then go back home to the large-breasted upper middle-class girl I was dating then, go to grad school and eventually become a history professor. I was a teacher's assistant for the history department and did some tutoring the last year of college, and had gotten the job in large part because the profs thought I'd make a great professor one day.
One month later I broke up with that girl. Before the end of the year I realized that 9 years spent living near the poverty line as a grad student and then not being guaranteed a job as a professor and having no other job options in my 30s and finishing school so late that I might not be able have a family wasn't exactly my cup of tea. Why the family thing was important to me at the time is something I'll never understand, because I was one of the most immature 22 year olds I've ever even heard of. In retrospect, I think that was more just because I wanted to read The Chronicles to my kids at night. I've stayed in Korea because, up until a few months ago, I couldn't really imagine myself being happy anywhere else.
Ironically, it's also given me a love of and understanding for children that I never would've gained otherwise, and even though I definitely cannot see myself teaching for the rest of my life, even if it weren't for the experience of living in a foreign country, I would still consider it to have been worth doing because I wasn't comfortable around kids when I started teaching, whereas now I smile to myself and think it's cute when I see kids being loud and annoying everyone else in sight in public places.
Life Abroad
I haven't seen my family in three and a half years, and although I miss them at times, my family isn't that close. My mother passed away when I was 19, my father was always a distant figure in my life, even though we lived in the same house and I never once saw him harm or abuse my mother in any way. He mostly just ignored me or made me do chores when I was growing up. We've since made peace, but I don't think we'll ever be as close as we would be if he had spent time with me while I was growing up. I'm not saying I'm angry at my dad. I was for years, but with my old age ( 26 at the time I'm writing this, just old enough to start feeling the effects ), I've grown a bit more understanding of people. Consequently though, I don't really miss my family that much, and could really see myself just visiting home to see my family once every five or ten years for the rest of my life. As long as I can see my Dad again before he dies ( he's 61 now and men in our family usually don't live long ), I'll be content. I enjoy traveling, but because I grew up in a big tourism town, I like to bond with the locals and do the things they would do. I've had more great times with my Korean friends than I could ever possibly count. Like all foreigners who love spicy food, I think the local cuisine is great. Consequently, if you don't like spicy food, I'd recommend never going to Korea. You'll hate the food and that will make it hard to get into the Korean social dining experience that's so big, and one of my favorite things about this culture. Obviously there are a lot of things that I don't like about Korean culture, but you're going to find that anywhere you go. Much like my second home of Philadelphia, I find the positives far outweigh the negatives. I'll post more in a couple of days, but I think for now I better keep this post short enough that people will actually read it.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

First Snow

My buddy Martin is having a small art exhibition in an insurance building by Daehangno ( 대학로 ). Daehangno isn't the only downtown area in Seoul, or even the best. It is, however, the college town-within-town with the most old money. Really old. The oldest university in the world is within walking distance. Although Martin didn't expect anyone who didn't know him to come, but we went out last weekend and blanketed Hongdae ( 홍대 ), one of the other university areas, with little cards for the thing. Noone came to this event, but it is nevertheless significant, because it is the reason I saw snow this weekend.

The reason it caused me to see snow this weekend is because it kept me off the mountains last weekend. Although my mountain addiction is nowhere near as severe as it once was, I still don't relish the thought of missing hikes on consecutive weekends.

So the plan for Saturday was simple. I'd go to Dobong Mountain ( 도봉산 ), my favorite hiking spot, in the morning so I'd have time to shower and change before Martin's show. It was a simple enough plan, until Martin texted me Friday afternoon, asking if I could go into town to help him pass out flyers around Daehangno. No worries though. I wouldn't be able to go to Dobong, but I will next weekend, and I could always just to to Surak Mountain ( 수락산 ). Surak's not as fun as Dobong, but it has always been a special place to me, and the way I always take up is so steep that it has steel cables as thick as ropes running alongside the path for much of the last thirty or fourty minutes up.

Even when I do sunrise hikes, having to get out of bed so early in the morning is the one part I never enjoy. I hastily packed my bag, and since it looked like it might rain, I decided to throw in my rainjacket. I thought it might be too cold to touch the ropes with my bare hands, but decided against packing a pair because my hands are pretty tough and I wasn't quite awake enough to want to have to think about one more thing. I still hadn't shaken off the chill of first waking up when I left home, and I was shivering in the cold while I was waiting for the bus. An hour later, halfway up the mountain, I was just beginning to shake off enough of the cold that I could unzip my jacket and feel the cool, damp fall air against my chest without freezing.

The trip up by the cables was fairly uneventful for the longest time. I stopped to take pictures every now and then, causing me to constantly pass, then be passed by the same group of Korean guys every time I stopped to take out my camera and snap a shot, one of whom was a bit soft and was clearly struggling a lot more than anyone else on the mountain. Then, I started seeing ice on the poles that hold the cables in place.

It wasn't long before I was seeing snow, some of it on the ropes. As cold as my hands were, I couldn't help but be proud of myself for having hands strong enough to support my weight in spite the numbing cold. I don't know if people whose families have lived in tropical countries would experience this, but everyone who's grown up with four seasons knows that when the first snow hits, it triggers an instinct. This instinct, when triggered, acts almost like an awakening. You suddenly become more alert, more aware of everything around you, and you experience a childlike curiosity. Age has no effect on this phenomenon. I've seen middle aged Koreans throwing snowballs at each other and erupting with laughter every time they throw, or are hit by, one. When you're somewhere away from civilization, it also triggers survival instincts. Your body automatically begins pumping out more heat, and you can almost feel a well of strength bursting out of your chest. You feel a sense of pride at having gone out into the wilderness, faced the elements, and conquered them. As I was going down from the summit, I ran into the group of guys. They had fallen behind when they stopped at a tent for a cup of milky rice wine. Even the whiny guy couldn't escape this sensation, and we exchanged a look of pride and camaraderie at having confronted the elements and proven we could still stand.