Out behind our house, growing up in Muskoka, were ten thousand acres of unroaded, unhoused, almost unowned and certainly unspoiled wilderness. A few snowmobile trails were the only access. Signs marked the trails as off-limits to all but paid snowmobile club members. Other signs, by absentee landowners, warned snowmobilers to "Stay on the trails!" and forbid trespassing. I, however, claiming the freedom of all non-human creatures of the forest (for what deer or raccoon pays attention to those signs?) broke the law and went trespassin'.
It's a wonder to me that no-one else in my family did likewise. What a wasted opportunity! A few times I took a tent and sleeping bag with me (or sometimes just a sleeping bag) and stayed the night with only the distant shouts and laughter of campers a few lakes over, or some indeterminate rustling around me of a raccoon or squirrel (although in the night, everything sounds like a bear!) In the morning, I would head home, usually in time for breakfast. Someone would ask where I'd been, and I would just smile and shake leaves out of my hair.
Usually, however, I would just spend the day with a trail map, exploring dead ends. I would search out Angel Lake, Upper and Lower Twin Lakes, and all the others, never sure which lake I found, as the maps were not that accurate. Sometimes I would follow a determined stream that crossed my path and seemed to have somewhere definite to go. Once, using a topographic map and compass, I blundered through the bush for several hours until I found Big Stephen Lake, which is uninhabited and unreachable by any road or trail. I felt like 'stout Cortez' in the poem by Keats. Was I the first to ever see this little lake? (Though not so little, it was a kilometer across.) But no, an old green bottle attested to the presence of previous explorers. I was almost as excited to find that lake, after so much sweat and scrapes, as I was when I later visited Stonehenge, or the Great Wall. For how many tourists have gawked at those wonders? But here was a wonder that was mine alone.
Andrew one time came with me, to find Artie Lake, which we'd seen on a map- a mere speck of blue, but we were curious why such an insignificant pond had a name. I don't think we found it that day, but I did find it later. It was not much bigger than a bathtub, but a single loon was resting in it, making a pretty picture.
Someday, park the car by a no-trespassing sign. Jump over the rusted chain that blocks the rutted road, and follow where it leads. Break the law. Go trespassin'. You'll only regret it if you don't.
Now that I've lived in Korea for a couple years, here's my list of the good, the bad, and the ugly in the 'Land of Morning Calm':
Koreans are super-friendly. I'm speaking generally, of course, but I find most Koreans to be surprisingly friendly and generous. And not just when they're selling something. A few examples: I was caught out in a rainstorm without an umbrella, and a complete stranger offered me an extra one he had! Another time I went to a computer store to buy a CD, and the salesclerk gave it to me for free! I'd never been in the store before.
Religious tolerance. About half of Koreans are Buddhists, the other half Christians, but they seem to coexist without any rancour. I've never heard of any incident of discrimination or violence between members of the two religions. That kind of tolerance and mutual respect is very rare in the world today.
Koreans recycle. For serious. Korea has a 5 cent tax on all take-away cups and bottles, as well as plastic bags, to encourage recycling. At the major supermarkets, such as Homeplus, the stores provide boxes for customers to pack their groceries in, and most people use them, or bring a bag from home. Rarely do you see anyone buy a plastic bag.
Seoul Subway. This is the most extensive subway system I've seen, except perhaps London's. It covers Seoul very well, but it also extends to surrounding cities, such as Incheon, Ansan and Suwon (sort-of TTC and GO transit in one, at half the price). Not only that, it has television monitors in every car (mostly playing advertising, it's true, but still better than nothing) and bilingual announcements for every stop. The only problem is it's overcrowded.
Korea is safe. Pretty much. I often walk around late at night, and I've never felt threatened here. It's true, my apartment was robbed, but despite that, I would say that this is one of the safest countries, and Seoul one of the safest big cities, anywhere.
Driving. According to the unwritten rules of the road in Korea, it is okay to do a U-turn, a left or right turn, or to go straight through, on a red light. I see it daily. Hourly. The motorcycle-delivery drivers are the worst. They drive on the road, the sidewalk, anywhere, at a minimum twice the speed limit. (What am I saying? There are no speed limits in Korea!) Often, they're carrying a huge box full of food and dishes with one hand while doing this.
Public washrooms. Although public washrooms are plentiful in Korea, rarely do they have all of the following essentials: a sit-down toilet, toilet paper, a sink, hot water, paper towels OR a handdryer, soap and a mirror. I've seen about three washrooms that had all of these, and one that actually had NONE. All it had was a squat toilet. I don't think it even had a door.
Finger jabbing. Korean children have a 'fun' game, whereby they jab each other (and unsuspecting foreign teachers) up the butt with their first two fingers. Don't ever turn your back to a Korean child. You've been warned.
Korean education. Here I must admit to being part of the problem. I mean, it's great that Korean kids are learning English. And Japanese. And Chinese, the violin, the piano, the flute, tae-kwon-do, gung-do, art, extra math classes and girl guides or boy scouts. But do they have to learn/do all those things? When do they just play? Never?
(I don't want to get too nasty here, so I'll just mention a few things.)
Sexism. This is not a good country to be a woman. A woman is expected to work only until she's married or expecting her first child, when she is expected to leave her job and become a full-time housewife. She goes from living at home, where her father rules, to living with her husband, where he rules. I've heard of cases where a father roughly cut off part of his teenage daughter's hair to keep her from leaving the house. We won't even mention what a husband is allowed to get away with. The flip side is that if a man loses his job or gets demoted, his wife will often leave him, in search of better prospects. Saddest of all, if a young couple is expecting a daughter, she is often aborted (even though prenatal gender tests and abortions are illegal).
Racism and Xenophobia. Both are directed at foreigners, but the worst racism is reserved for South Asians, Southeast Asians and Africans or African-Americans. A Korean, whom I otherwise like and respect, told me that black men "don't look quite human", while my Korean students, whenever they see a picture of a black person, always say how 'ugly' he or she is. This is not just the attitude of a few people, but is widespread among Koreans.
Public Drunkenness. Koreans never talk about this, but it's a serious problem. When you see, almost every night, several drunken businessmen, college students, or other Koreans throwing up on the sidewalk or staggering drunkenly home supported by friends, and it's not even 10 o'clock yet, you know there's a problem.
Prostitution (worth 4% of GNP) and 'love motels.' Ironically, this is a country that doesn't allow movies that show full frontal nudity. But prostitution is okay...?
Every country has it's good and bad points. Korea is actually a fairly nice place to live, I think. I'm going to miss it!