Taebaeksan, South Korea
After two years of city-bound winters, I managed to abandon the wife on a holiday weekend and - devoted husband that I am - head for the hills. Dr. Phil would be proud. No really, he would: I was back home, boots off and under spousal jurisdiction, by sundown Christmas Eve. That's more than I can say for you.
We - that is, Ian and I - were out on the eastern edge of the peninsula for a couple days, spikes on and clambering up the slopes of Taebaeksan (Taebaek Mountain, 1560m). Ed Viesturs would not be impressed, but in case you're wondering, yes, we did reach the summit without supplemental oxygen, artificial limbs or indentured porters.
This mountain is more of a hill, really, just a steady 4.5 km climb with an occasionally steep stretch, just to keep you honest about the condition of your heart, and as neither Ian nor I was in any hurry, we took two and a half hours on our way to the summit. Taebaeksan is considered to be - and here's a distinction for you - the second-most holy mountain in Korean shamanism, the first being Baekdusan on the border of North Korea and China which, for obvious reasons, is not the most accessible place for your morning incantations.
Taebaek was once the center of Korea's coal mining industry and there's now a great museum devoted to the period at the base of the mountain. Now, I know what you're saying - "Ooh, a coal museum. Can't wait." - but it really is worth a visit and a damn sight better than the Korean National Museum of Presidential Bunions. The first floor of the Taebaek museum is filled with one humdinger of a collection of gems, fossils and precious stones and metals. I've long thought that, were I to give up my career as East Asia's preeminent proctologist, I would pursue a career in geology and, as such, I left my fair share of nose prints on the display cases in this museum.
In the interest of financial solvency, Ian and I opted to share a hotel room just outside the entrance and, to our surprise, the room had a heated waterbed. Remember those? They went out of fashion fairly quickly because the human back isn't meant to rest on aquatic surfaces. Just ask Larry Bird - there's a reason he always used to lie on the court when he wasn't playing. Fortunately, the room also had a normal bed, which I got when Ian spoke too quickly for the waterbed. Ian abandoned the waterbed at about 2 am, not because of the evermoving surface but because he was overheating on the damn thing. And no, he didn't climb into my bed, nor did I offer to trade. Friend that I am, I made him sleep on the floor.
The next night found me back home in my own bed, with our pillow-top mattress, where I daresay I belong on a Christmas Eve. Of course, my wife probably appreciated having the bed to herself for a night.