Saturday, February 5, 2011

A snowy mountainside

Yesterday's 38th Parallel hash run was in Uijeongbu, just north of Seoul, erstwhile (albeit fictional) home of the 4077th MASH. Though Hawkeye and BJ never set foot there, plenty of real doctors and nurses (and soldiers, American and Korean and Chinese) did. These days, Uijeongbu is full of high-rise apartments and convenience stores, but just north of the town, where the hash led, is all farmers' fields guarded by shivering chained-up dogs, and mountains covered in bare trees and wet snow.

The hash itself was arduous, 75 minutes of (for me) hard running followed by a long hike over a very high, very snowy, hill. Halfway up, already hundreds of feet above the valley, I turned around and it hit me, as it never has before: this was a horrible place. I looked down at the river and the little houses below and the big hill facing us across the valley and realized that real young men were hunkered down on this mountainside, perhaps readying to fire artillery down on other real young men on the flat below. And both sides (the American kids just out of high school up above and the Chinese farmers' sons below, or vice versa; it doesn't matter now) were shivering through the vicious winter, hoping or praying to live to see spring.

Seoul, just to the south, changed hands four times in twelve months. This place has seen much too much.

Yesterday, like today, was very foggy, so the forty-story apartment houses in the distance faded almost into nothingness and the valley below was silent. It felt like a dream, so that those poor guys on both sides, stuck here just before I was born, seemed almost more real than the twenty-first century waiting at the bottom of the mountain.

And the bunker sitting beside the trail (built by which side? Who knows?) testified that it was all real and, in the scheme of things, not that long ago.

And then it was time to go over the mountain and back into my world of Starbucks and 7-Elevens.

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