One awfully cold day in the middle of winter, just before I turned thirteen, my best friend and I went exploring a mountain and found something that we would never forget.
I had just returned from a big trip in Australia to visit family and I hadn’t seen Erik for a month. I was looking forward to exploring Namsan with him – Namsan is a mountain in the middle of Seoul right near our house. I messaged him to ask if he wanted to explore. Luckily he said yes.
I went up the street to meet Erik at the base of Namsan. As I was heading towards Namsan I heard the “wolf howl” greeting from Erik so I howled back. But because my voice was worn out from talking with dad, it sounded more like a rooster than a wolf. The people on the street looked at me like I was crazy, but I didn’t care. When I messaged him that morning I had suggested going on a long expedition so Erik had brought ginger snap cookies. They looked delicious and made my mouth water, but we agreed that we would save them until we were hungry or absolutely needed them.
We walked up the mountain path and turned left into the woods to explore. Soon our way was blocked by overgrown spiky plants but luckily we had packed our survival tools that included a pocket knife, binoculars, compass and map. But we ended up getting carried away and cut all the spiky plants in our way. Just in case we got lost, I noted which way we were going so we could find our way back to civilization with our compasses.
Suddenly, we discovered an abandoned sports equipment area. The rusty equipment had vines growing all over it. It looked like something from a horror novel. I tried to use the exercise machine, but it didn’t move an inch.
After sliding down hills, climbing up dirt cliffs and jumping over overgrown drains we found a small frozen river that ran steeply downhill like a frozen tsunami. The ice had lots of bumps and made it look like waves of the ocean. The steepness reminded me of a water park slide.
Erik and I decided that we should eat a little of the cookie to give us some energy. We found a rock that was perfectly shaped for a seat and had an awesome view of the frozen waterfall. I took a bite of my quarter of the ginger snap cookie and it tasted delicious! It was crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside and it tasted like crystalized ginger but not as strong. We skated for a while on the ice, walking up the side of it and sliding down on our butts. Soon we were wet and aching from the bumps on the slide.
Next, we explored up the river doing our version of parkour, jumping from rock to rock and using tree branches to swing over gaps in the rocks like Indiana Jones. Occasionally while we were doing this, the branch would brake and we would scrape our hands on the rocks or make us fall on a unstable ice-plate that would give way and get our feet wet in the freezing cold water. We also found some really nice skating spots where we skated for a bit and when we were finished skating we stomped on the ice and smashed through it which got our feet even wetter. At last we got to the top of the river where we discovered that we were near the path and Namsan Tower. We followed the path for a couple of meters and then went back down into the woods. Soon we found our favorite terrain: pine forest with the ground soft from pine needles that smelt like toilet cleaner.
It was then that we noticed something very unusual. Erik said, “Look Seb, there’s an old guy over there!”
“Wait. I will just do my shoe laces,” I replied. I did that, looked around and asked “Erik, where’s the old guy?”
“Just there through the bushes,” he said.
We walked slowly and carefully towards the man. I could see he was an old guy wearing a black jacket. “He looks like he’s peeing!” I joked. It is common in Korea to see old men peeing in the street or garden.
Erik said, “Maybe he’s looking at the scenery.” I stomped loudly as I walked towards him to get his attention but he didn’t even twitch.
We went nearer and tried to get his attention. I stomped a little more – still no movement. Quite worriedly I said hello in Korean, “Annyeonghaseyo?”
I expected an answer but there was none. I yelled again, “Annyeonghaseyo!?” Still, no answer. We thought for a minute then we saw an orange rope running from the tree then down around the man’s neck. I pointed at it in horror and said, “I think he might have…” Erik said, “dead…”
The forest suddenly felt dark and I half expected the body to move and become a zombie. We stayed there for 5 minutes, our feet glued to the ground. Erik finally said “We should get help.”
“We should make sure he is dead,” I replied shakily and picked up a stick. Erik took it and threw it gently at the man. It missed him but hit the tree and dust fell on him. He still didn’t move. Erik said very quietly, “That would be enough to get his attention if he was alive.”
We turned and jogged nervously towards civilization following our compasses. We kept turning our heads and looking at the dead man until we couldn’t see him anymore. As I ran, I worried what I would say to the adults we would find.
We came out of the forest into a badminton court where a small group of people were playing. In Korean I said to one of the men “Follow me.” and put my hand around my neck. Erik said “Dead.” The guy understood. He told the other people but I don’t think they believed us as they looked too cheerful. The guy called the police. I worried that maybe the corpse would be gone when we got back and we would get in trouble.
Soon the police arrived and we led them through the forest towards the man. I noticed them tripping and falling over behind us and occasionally we had to stop because we were so far ahead of them. Luckily the corpse was still there and once the police had seen him I felt less uneasy. They asked questions in Korean and English like, “What’s your name?” “How old are you,” “What’s your phone number?” and “how did you discover the corpse?”
When I told them that we were just exploring the forest, they looked really surprised, and some of them laughed like we were joking.
Finally, they let us leave and we walked back through the forest to my house together. I felt very hungry so we walked to the convenience store for lunch that was just down the hill from my house. After lunch Erik went home and I fell asleep on my bed. When I woke up dinner was ready – my favorite, lentil soup.
Erik and I had planned to have an adventure and even though it was not what we had expected, it’s exactly what we got. That day I realized that we could find almost anything in the forest and sometimes being careful isn’t such a bad thing. Sometimes I wish we never found the corpse but when I tell people and when I see their shocked faces it’s almost worth it. Before I even went to bed that night, I messaged Erik and we agreed to play on Namsan the next day.