Sunday, December 09, 2007


Korea: Growing Economy, but More Skiing

Only now that I have left do I appreciate certain things about Tennessee. At this moment, I can especially appreciate that, during the 25 or so winters I lived through in my home state, no one ever asked me if I wanted to pay money to experience a painful and humiliating lack of coordination while wearing very uncomfortable shoes.

Of course, no one in Korea has asked me that either, but they have asked me to ski, which is essentially the same thing.

Don't get me wrong, because I do enjoy learning new things sometimes. One thing that I am not so fond of is having to relearn things I thought I'd mastered years ago, like standing, walking and stopping myself from moving.

Like learning a second language or playing an instrument, skiing is one thing that would certainly have been more convenient when I was younger. When you're a small child, people expect you to fall and hurt yourself at completely random times. Also, you don't mind nearly so much having others help you accomplish basic tasks.

However, by the time you reach your late 20s, an utter lack of coordination is no longer expected nor cute, and having someone rush to your aid when they notice that you can't stand up is rather the opposite of an ego boost.

The Seventh-day Adventist Language Institute where I teach hosts a three-day winter camp for its staff and students every January. On one of those days, all who are interested can try skiing or snowboarding, and all those who are not interested can lounge about and wait. Two years ago, not knowing any better, I decided that I had not chosen to leave Tennessee and travel abroad to sit around not doing things.

The choice was made easier in that I had a young woman from a more snow-and-mountain-inclined region of Canada offering to teach me how to ski. She also happened to be my ex-girlfriend, but I can't remember if that made the process more demeaning or not.

Once I had the skis on, she told me that I had to dig them into the snow, making a "snow plough" effect that would prevent me from moving uncontrollably. Once I started going downhill, she told me that I had to point my skis slightly toward one another, making a shape that some call "A," others call "V" and she called "pizza slice." If I was unable to control my direction or my downward descent, she told me it would be safest to simply fall over sideways.

And so my hour-long slide down the beginners slope began, with me progressing a few meters at a time before she would begin shouting, depending on the situation, "Snow plough!", "Pizza slice!" or "Okay, just fall down!"

Having been able to enact only the latter of her suggestions, I would lie in the snow, checking to see if my skis had become detached and if my legs still bent in the proper direction.

"You had the cutest expression of pure terror just now," she would say as she looked down at me.

"This is what you've been doing without," I would say as soon I had spat most of the ice out of my teeth. "Can you live with that?"

When the next January came around, I was unable to attend our winter camp. My absence had nothing to do with skiing, but I did consider it a happy coincidence.

However, this winter, my current girlfriend suggested an afternoon jaunt to the slopes while I was visiting her in Chuncheon. Despite a few ominous warnings about my lack of skiing ability, she persuaded me to come along. Even though nearly two years had passed, I can say that this experience was quite different from my first.

It was different because this time my shoes didn't fit. We are in Korea, after all, and I buy a size 13 when I'm in Tennessee. Over here, they measure by millimeters and the biggest pair of snow boots the resort could muster up was a size 285, which felt considerable smaller than it sounds.

Also, this time the woman shouting instructions at me didn't speak English as a first language, so the instructions she shouted my way were "Make A!", "Bend your body more!" and "Just fell down!"

I am happy to say that by the end of the day, I'd learned how to successfully navigate the beginners' course without falling. She then suggested that we try the intermediate slope, which I assumed was different in that it was longer.

Actually, it's different mainly because it's steeper and has more curves. It is also notably longer, giving one more time to contemplate how a task easily accomplished at an angle of 30 degrees is virtually impossible at 60.

But like all pastimes we do with loved ones, the most important thing is time spent sharing new experiences.

"It will get easier," she told me.

"My feet hurt," I responded.

"The first time I did it I fell down a lot, too," she confided.

"My arms are sore from picking myself off the ground," I replied.

"After you get used to it I think you will enjoy it," she said, hopefully.

"Did I mention that my feet hurt?" I told her.

Next winter, when I live in Chuncheon, I'm told that we're going to get our own ski clothes and go more regularly. I'm told that skiing is an excellent form of exercise during the winter.

I'm also told that Korea experiences an average of 5 percent annual economic growth, but by this time next year I think I may be missing Tennessee and its lack of ski resorts, nonetheless.

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