Saturday, April 28, 2018

one of many last hurrahs for Mr. McCrarey

I met my friend John McCrarey (who blogs here) this morning for a hike up Namsan—something I haven't done for a couple of years—followed by a rib-sticking lunch in Itaewon. I don't have any pics of our meal at Tabom Brazil, but here are a few images from the hike:

In less than two weeks, John is leaving behind a well-established life in Korea to begin anew in the Philippines. His blog has been a frank, and often hilarious, chronicle of his life here on the peninsula, peppered with many a confessional post about the rocky road he has walked in terms of human relationships. There's been enough pain here to motivate John to leave and start again somewhere else, and since he's already an old hand at navigating the perils of being an expat in "the PI," he moving to Southeast Asia, thereby pretty much cutting people like me out of his life permanently, as I have no desire to visit hot, humid regions of the world like Southeast Asia and South Asia.

For today's hike, I had asked John, who has thoroughly explored Namsan's many paths (see his blog for evidence of that), to take me up an unfamiliar trail to the top. True to form, John did exactly that, proving along the way that he is now light years from the gasping fellow who could barely make it up a single hill a few years back. Yes, I'm both happy and ashamed to report that I was the one who requested that we pause—several times—on our way up to the summit. John is easily fit enough to hike to the top of Namsan without stopping.

The path we took wended and wove, snaking up and down at points, occasionally providing the false hope that this, at last, would be the final hill. It reminded me a bit of the path up Daemosan, in fact. There were a few brutal staircases along the way, but the rougher portions of the path were also—at least to me—fairly brutal as well. During our hike, John walked and talked without once sounding out of breath, all while I heaved and gasped several feet behind him. We eventually reached the top of the little mountain and had no choice but to merge with all the Chinese tourists, honking nasally like geese, as we walked the final, steep stretch. I took a few pics once we were at the top, and when we finally started back down (after we'd bought some water), we encountered the weird bit of litter that you see in the final photo above: someone had tried to keep that little foil wrapper off the ground, but had been too damn lazy to cart the trash out of the forest park. John jokingly wondered aloud as to what the trash "meant," and I tentatively concluded it had value as modern art before I snapped the shot.

Once down from the mountain, we realized we still had over an hour before the restaurants in Itaewon would be open, so John proposed that we meander over to his hotel and his car so that he could give me a parting gift (he humorously confessed it was a regift), which turned out to be a very nice bag of Himalayan pink salt. John asked me how one uses such salt, and I told him I'd have to look that up. I mentioned having seen chefs on TV who cook on large blocks of pink salt, heating the blocks up and placing raw beef or shrimp directly on the salt's surface to cook the proteins.

John's path to his car was, as he described it, "the long way," which indeed it was. I hadn't realized how hilly the back end of Itaewon was (by which I mean the part of Itaewon that lies south of the main drag), but it was hilly enough to give me a second workout. John's hotel was a nice one, and we both appreciated the scent of fresh seafood when our elevator's door opened onto the second-floor banquet hall, where a wedding banquet was in progress.

Now armed with pink salt, I walked out with John along the shorter route back into town, visited a restroom, and found blessed relief while John worked on his cell phone outside. We finally headed over to Tabom, where we had a fantastic meal of the huge-meat-on-huge-skewers variety. This culminated in Tabom's famous grilled-and-sugared pineapple, which was a bit like eating sweet, juicy steak made of fruit. I marveled at how the cooks had contrived to keep the pineapple's cinnamon-and-sugar surface perfectly dry while also preserving the pineapple's inherent juiciness. I need to learn that trick.

John is in the midst of a long series of last hurrahs, which is one of the reasons he's back in Seoul. He's been living in the Anjeong-ri/Pyeongtaek area, close to Camp Humphreys, for the last little while, but Seoul was his home for years, and this is where many of his friends and acquaintances live. After he and I parted ways, John went off to go play darts—one final championship for him. He jokes that he'll likely be pretty drunk come the evening; I'm glad I met him while he was sober. All in all, it was a great hike, a great lunch, and a sad thing to say farewell to one of my few expat friends in South Korea. I wish John the best as he transitions over to the Philippines; God knows I won't ever be visiting him there, so I'll have to wait for whenever he comes back to our humble peninsula if I want to see him again.

Have a good life, Herr McCrarey! Happy trails.


John Mac said...

Thanks for this, Kevin. Reading your account was the next best thing to being there!

Kevin Kim said...

Thanks for the comment, John. I noticed a lot of traffic for this post, which I guess means you've got a lot of friends coming over here to visit. Hello, numerous friends of John!

John Mac said...

Yeah, I posted a link on my Facebook page as well. Good stuff!