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The Great, Terrible Stone Circle – Fantastic Travelogue #8

Sometimes you have some amazing adventures you just have to tell everyone about. Read the rest of this account here. From now on, I’m going to include a short synopsis at the beginning for those who haven’t read the previous episodes and don’t have the time. Skip it if you know the story.

Synopsis: I was hiking in the mountains of Korea when I got lost at night and came out in a strange valley. I met a young woman sweeping a stone circle. She was friendly but then she and some other women locked me in a room; for my safety, I found out later. That night I heard weird sounds and noises coming from the woods. I escaped into the forest and saw a creepy woman standing on the stone circle. She mesmerized me and I went over to her. She couldn’t speak my language, but brought me to a building with a golden dome and showed me a map of the area, which wasn’t Korea. That scared me and I managed to get away. I met up with the young woman I had first met and through Chinese characters, we were able to communicate. Her name was Ain-Mai and her brother was Sing-ga. The creepy woman was named Hengfel and came from another world. She came there to eat a certain fruit called gaan-shi and also kidnapped all the men she found, which was why they hid when she came. The brother and sister tried to help me escape but Hengfel’s guards overtook us in the woods and captured us.

Great Terrible Stone Circle

The woman known as Hengfel walked towards me, smiling in triumph. She ignored Ain-Mai and Sing-ga and came right up to me. She said something to me, very slowly and deliberately, enunciating every word. Of course, I didn’t understand any of it, but I replied, very slowly, “You’re a hideous old crone, who walks like an arthritic baboon.” It was childish and it wasn’t true, but I also knew she couldn’t understand me. I was about to keep going when she slapped me and walked away. I guess my tone was clear enough.

They sat us down together at the edge of the clearing, surrounded by four guards. The other two—Ain-Mai and Sing-ga—looked dull and defeated, but I wasn’t going to give up yet. If I could get away into the woods—even with restraints on my hands—I could still make it up the valley by nightfall. I hadn’t really looked at the guards closely before. The night before, it had been dark and when they grabbed us, I didn’t really have time, but now that I looked at them, I saw they were different from the other women I had seen. They were definitely female, but muscular and very serious. They weren’t paying attention to me; just staring straight ahead.

I inched my way backwards, and then in a moment of breathless apprehension, stood up slowly. Still, they didn’t notice me. I looked down to see Ain-Mai looking up at me, a tragic expression on her face. I motioned with my head for them to come with me, but she just looked back at the ground.

Well, I was going. I took two steps before my foot cracked a dead twig on the ground. Then I was off, running for all I was worth, not looking back. As long as I could lose them in the woods, I could make my way back up to the ridge.

I had gone about 200 feet when a guard appeared among the trees just ahead of me.

You got to be kidding me! She has guards out this far? I thought.

I changed direction , but another one appeared in front of me there as well, pointing her spear at me. I tried another direction, but the same thing happened. I stopped and the guard stepped back into the trees. A moment later, I felt a spear point in my back. It was the same guard and with an impassive expression, she led me back to the clearing. Sure enough, there were only three guards there now. But how could they be so fast? Unless it was just an illusion. We got back to the tree where the other two were and the guard suddenly hit the back of my legs with her spear, knocking me flat on my back.

I wasn’t ready to give up, but the hopelessness of the situation began to dawn on me. Two of the four guards remained facing us with their spears leveled. So instead, I watched the activity in the clearing. Women from the fortress village were bringing baskets of the yellow gaan-shi fruit and putting them next to the stone circle. Hengfel wasn’t in sight, but she appeared as the sun was setting.

The guards got us on our feet and moved us closer. I started to get a feeling of apprehension deep in my stomach and all I could think of was what Ain-Mai had said about them taking men and them not coming back. I was getting frantic to get back home. I thought of my wife back in Jeonju, not even knowing that there was a problem yet. My plan had been to go for six days and although I usually called every day, she would just assume I was out of range or that my battery had died. I had left my phone back with my backpack and I wondered if she had called.

Strange Meeting

Hengfel stepped onto the stone circle. The clearing had darkened and I could barely see her, until a glow started to form around her. It grew stronger until it lit up the whole clearing and cast strong shadows. A pillar of white light formed around her and she held her hand straight up. I saw that she was holding a medallion, with a complicated, snaky pattern on it. Ball lightning formed on the medallion and shot out into the forest. A sound like a scream began to build to an ear-splitting pitch. My hands were bound in the front and I put my fingers in my ears. I saw that the women from the town were doing the same. The guards and Hengfel herself seemed unaffected.

The scream built into a high, shuddering roar. The light seemed to thicken, however that’s possible, until it enveloped Hengfel. Then she was just gone, just like that.

The guards nudged us forward.

As I looked at the column of pure light and felt the sound reverberate inside my body, I felt like I was approaching a guillotine. Sing-ga finally found his spirit. He sprinted to one side, but it was far too late for that. A spear shaft caught him on the side of the head and he crashed to the ground. One of the guards stooped and picked him up with one arm and motioned for us to follow. Watching a woman carry a stunned man in one arm like a rag-doll gave me a very strange feeling inside. I looked over at Ain-Mai and saw that she looked terrified.

A spear jabbed me in the back, going through my fleece and breaking the skin. I lurched forward, staying just in front of the spear until I climbed slowly onto the stone platform. Light surrounded us, taking us into itself, until the rest of the world disappeared.

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A Long, Disjointed, Enlightening Chat – Fantastic Travelogue #7

Sometimes you have some amazing adventures you just have to tell everyone about. Read the rest of this account here.

I woke up with a jolt and an incoherent exclamation, which is about the least dignified way a person can wake up. I had been dreaming about that horrible woman and her weird stare and creepy smile. In the dream, she had been searching for me everywhere, until I had nowhere to run. Waking up was not much better, since I realized that it was mostly true.

I was still in the small room by the secret gate in the fortress. The young woman was not there and what I could tell, from the light coming in from under the door, it was full daylight outside. I was just wondering what I should do when the door opened and the young woman stepped inside, followed by a man.

A man! It was the first one I had seen in the last two days. Not that I minded being around women all the time, but it was nice to know men existed here. The man seemed pretty surprised to see me too and he and the woman had an intense conversation back and forth. Finally, I got up and with my finger, I wrote “Who are you?” in the dirt, the best I could (誰是你). It was a mixture of Japanese and Chinese characters and I didn’t know the right syntax, but at least it got their attention.

They knew Chinese characters, and began writing some in the dirt as well. What followed took several hours and a lot of miscommunication. They knew characters that I didn’t and I knew ones they didn’t and dirt isn’t the best medium for making lots of tiny strokes. There were a lot of dead-ends and a lot of good-natured frustration, but here is the gist of our conversation. I’m going to present it as if we spoke it all, just to make it easier to read.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I am Ain-Mai,” the woman said (she wrote it as 安美). “This is my brother, Sing-ga (石鋼)”. (I only learned later that they were brother and sister. At the time, I had no idea what she wrote and the whole thing was very confusing.)

“I am David. I live in Korea. What is this place called?”

“This is Dwengshink (東山). How did you get here?” Sing-ga asked. He kept staring at me in curiosity, especially my beard.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I was walking in the mountains and I lost my way and came here. Who was that woman?”

When they understood who I meant, it sparked a lot of what seemed like angry cursing from them. “She is like a queen,” Ain-Mai said finally. “She has magic and lives in another world. Whenever she finds a man here that she likes, she takes him back with her and they don’t come back. So when she comes, all the men hide in the mountains.”

I asked them more, but they did not know anything about where she came from or who she really was, at least not that they could express through writing in the dirt. They called her Hengfel, although I didn’t recognize the characters they wrote. As far as they knew, she had always come, since the time of their parents, at least. The golden dome was her residence in Dwengshink and no one else used it.

“She comes every six months or so,” Sing-ga said, “and stays about two days.”

“But why does she come here?” I asked. “Is she the queen of Dwengshink?”

“No, she is not our queen,” they said. “She only comes to this valley. She comes to eat gaan-shi.” That was how they pronounced it. They didn’t know how to write it, but I gathered that it was a kind of fruit.

“I want to go back to Korea,” I said. This sparked a lot of discussion between the two of them, presumably about how.

“Hengfel goes back tonight,” Sing-ga said eventually, “and I think it would be good if you went before then.”

I couldn’t agree more. I never wanted to see that Hengfel woman again and I could only imagine what was happening back at the sanjang where my backpack was. I had been gone almost two whole days and they probably thought I was dead.

Ain-Mai left for an hour or so, while Sing-ga sat there with me in mostly awkward silence. He tried to talk a bit, but gave up when I clearly didn’t understand. Now that Ain-Mai wasn’t there, he did not seem to have any interest in writing in the dirt.

Ain-Mai came back with a basket of food, mostly fruit and flatbread. There were grapes, apples and things that looked like really long persimmons and finally one thickly wrinkled yellow fruit the size of a baseball that Ain-Mai said was a gaan-shi. They let me eat most of it. It was sweet and tart at the same time; really good, although I don’t think I’d travel across worlds to get it.

After we had eaten, Sing-ga said we should be going and they led the way out, on the inside of the fortress. It was mid-afternoon and the sky was blue. Ain-Mai led the way along a small path through the woods, while Sing-ga kept us fifty feet behind her, presumably in case she met anyone.

We gave the clearing with the stone circle a wide berth and kept climbing up the slope. The trees were mostly evergreens and the smell in the warm air was wonderful.

After another ten minutes, Ain-Mai stopped and motioned for us to come closer. I saw that we had reached the main path, which I had taken the day before. The old woman’s cottage, where I had gotten a drink, was right in front of us. We were approaching the house when the woman appeared at her gate. She looked scared and when she saw us, she started making motions with her hands, warding us away.

Old woman's house

I got a sick feeling of fear in the pit of my stomach and turned to to run. Ain-Mai and Sing-ga were doing the same. I saw two female guards appear on the path, up the valley ahead of us. We turned to flee, but more appeared out of the trees below as well. There was nothing to be done. I could tell that Ain-Mai and Sing-ga had both given up; I could see the defeat on their faces. As for myself, my upbringing hadn’t involved fighting multiple spearmen (or women) unarmed, so I didn’t try to be a hero. One of them clipped metal restraints around our wrists and marched us back down the valley. I heard Ain-Mai crying behind me but when I turned, I saw that it was actually Sing-ga who was crying. That freaked me out more than being handcuffed and escorted at spear point. What on earth does this woman do to men?

We went around a bend in the path and came out into the stone circle clearing. There she was, the woman they called Hengfel, standing in the middle of the clearing, with her animal skins and purple veil and her creepy, creepy smile.


Fantastic Travelogue #6 – Enough of This

Sometimes you have some amazing adventures you just have to tell everyone about. Read the rest of this account here.

 

There are times in life when something happens that changes everything. Like if you’re arguing with someone and they pull a gun out, or if you’re in a restaurant and find a mouse in your food. They’re kind of deal-breakers. That’s what it was like when I saw that map, which apparently showed where I was, yet was nowhere that I recognized.

That’s it, I’m done, I thought. I wanted to get some air. I wrote the word “air” (空氣) on the paper, but the woman didn’t seem to understand what I meant. So I just stood up and walked out. She came too, of course.

I had no idea what time it was, but it must have been pretty late. The moon had set and the sky was dark. One door of the gate had been shut, but the other was open a crack. I walked around a little, as if admiring the architecture, and then when I got close to the gate, I just took off running. The old woman shouted after me, but I was already through the gate when the two guards wheeled out of the darkness towards me. They lowered their spears to block my way, but I was too fast for them and a second later, I was running and stumbling back up the valley.

It was exhilarating to break social convention that way and just run away. Once when I was in Korean city with my cousin, a man came up to us and wanted to guide us around. Nothing we said could make him leave and eventually we ran away as he was getting a taxi for us all. It was that same feeling, a mixture of adrenaline and relief, spiked with the fear of being followed.

I left the path to avoid being caught again and started blundering blindly through the underbrush. That place may not have been in Korea, but it sure had the same amount of thorns on every living thing. My jacket was torn and my hands were scratched and bleeding before I had gone very far.

I was out there a long time, maybe hours. All I know was the sky was just beginning to lighten in the east when I came out of the woods and found a tall fortress wall in front of me. I didn’t see the gate anywhere. I had left the path on the left side, and so I now continued left along the wall. My plan was to walk around the fortress and then back up the valley where I had come from.

I was really tired by this time. I hadn’t slept all night and the last time I had eaten was when I was locked up in the room in the fortress. I kept stopping to lean against the wall and close my eyes. Maybe twenty minutes later, I came to what Koreans call an ammun, or secret gate, built into the wall. The tiny door was open and all I could see inside was darkness. I was about move on, when a lantern was uncovered and a woman stepped out of the gate.

I was about to run, when I saw that it was young woman I had seen earlier the day before; the same one who had helped to lock me up. Still, she beckoned me in and smiled so joyfully, that my legs moved on their own and followed her inside.

Just inside the gate was a small chamber, probably designed for guards. There was food and water there, as well as a bed. I had a drink of water, but before I knew it, my eyes were closing and I couldn’t keep them open. The girl saw this and helped me lie down on the bed and covered me with a blanket. Within a minute, I had drifted off to sleep.

I know I usually draw pictures, but I didn't have time this week. This is a secret gate close to what it looked like.

I know I usually draw pictures, but I didn’t have time this week. This is a secret gate close to what it looked like.


Fantastic Travelogue #5 – Inside the Golden Dome…sigh

Sometimes you have some amazing adventures you just have to tell everyone about. Read the rest of this account here.

 

Have you ever done something that you knew was a bad idea and then as soon as you did it, you realized it was a very, very bad idea? That was how I felt as I stood in front of the stone circle in the clearing, with the strange woman in animal skins and a purple veil smiling creepily at me. I must have been mesmerized, since I sure wouldn’t have gone out there on my own. Even my adventurous spirit was whimpering in the corner, asking for mommy.

The woman walked to the edge of the stone disk and stepped delicately off. As she did, the soft glow that enveloped it faded. A few of the women took out lanterns and held them up as the woman walked towards me. We were about the same height—over six foot—which was rather intimidating. She said something to me and when I didn’t respond, she something else in what seemed like a different language. She went through almost a dozen languages, and all of them sounded foreign to me.

“I’m sorry,” I said finally, in English and Korean. “I don’t understand.” I gave her a sheepish smile and shrugged.

She burst out laughing and then shrugged her own shoulders. She kept saying things and shrugging her shoulders as if it were a huge joke. I was starting to blush with embarrassment and the other women were looking distraught and studiously avoiding looking at her.

The woman stopped and barked a few orders at the women. Then she linked her arm through mine and we all started walking back down towards the fortress village.

Seriously, what would you have done? I would have given quite a large amount of money not to have been in that situation, but I felt trapped. There seemed no way of escape, short of punching and pushing them all out of the way. So, I let myself be led along, just a big, dumb lamb to the slaughter.

We reached the fortress town but to my surprise, the women didn’t stop. The fortress gate was open and we went right through and continued down the valley. I looked around for the pretty young woman I had met that afternoon—not that I liked her or anything, I just wanted to see a familiar face. She was nowhere to be seen though.

The woman kept looking over at me and smiling and saying stuff, as if she expected me to understand.

I don’t understand you at all, Your Royal Battiness! I thought. I admit, it wasn’t very clever, but I was desperately trying to cope with the situation. Unfortunately, calling her that made me smile, and she thought I was smiling at her.

The next twenty minutes were an ordeal of awkwardness I’m going to pass over quickly. She thought I understood a little of what she was saying and kept speaking slower and louder. I would have gladly gnawed my own arm off to get away.

Just when I was seriously considering punching her and making a break for it, the forest path opened out into a wide clearing and the tower with the golden dome loomed up in front of us. It was surrounded by a low wall topped with torches. The flickering torchlight glinted off the golden dome, making all kinds of effects with light and shadow.

The Golden Dome

The gate was open and guarded by women with spears. We went into a room with a low table in the middle and surrounded by lamps, so that it was fully lit. The woman sat down on one side of the table and motioned for me to sit opposite her. I decided to try to communicate: the old woman in the forest had understood Chinese characters, so it was possible this woman would too. I traced out my Korean name in Chinese characters on the table and I could see instantly that the woman knew what I was doing. She barked a few more orders and pretty soon a woman came in with paper, a brush and an inkstone. I’d never written with a brush before, but I did my best and wrote my name again (大成).

“Di-sheng?” she said. My Korean name is Dae-Sung, so close enough. I nodded. She grabbed the brush and started to write quickly, which I couldn’t read at all. After a few minutes, she caught on and wrote it all again, very meticulously. I didn’t recognize it all, but I saw the word for “come” (來) and the one for “place” (場) so I figured she was asking where I was from. I’m from Canada, but I don’t know how to write that in Chinese characters, so I just wrote “America” (美國).

“Mai-gog?” she said and burst out laughing. She was really getting on my nerves. She pointed at me and said, “Mai-nan” and then pointed to where I had written America. I didn’t get it until she wrote down some more, but when I did, it didn’t make me feel any better. “America” in Chinese characters literally means “beautiful land” and she was saying that I was from there since I was a handsome man. Evidently she didn’t believe such a place existed and thought I was just playing with her. I wished my wife was there. She wouldn’t have had any problem punching a creepy old woman who was hitting on me. I, on the other hand, was too much of a wuss gentleman.

After she got over the hilarity that is the word “America”, she gave a few more orders to the attending women and they brought in a map. I could tell that she wanted me to point out where I was from. She pointed to one place and I realized it was our current location. It even had a tiny picture of the dome.

The problem was, it wasn’t a map of Korea. It wasn’t even a historical, rough approximation of Korea. I don’t know where it was, but I got a sinking feeling as I stared at it that, all the same, I was there.


Seriously, Stay Away from Strange Women – Fantastic Travelogue #4

Sometimes you have some amazing adventures you just have to tell everyone about. Read the rest of this account here.

I just wanted to go home and I was determined more than anything to try. It was becoming a human rights issue, keeping me locked up like that for no reason. I pounded on the door a few more times and then stood next to it, waiting. Sure enough, the door opened a crack and I stuck my foot in it and pushed it open wide. I couldn’t tell in the dark which woman it was in front of me but I pushed past her and I was free.

Actually, I was in the hallway. Here, there was a bit more light from a lamp burning on the wall. The woman behind me let out a cry and started saying something really fast. Another woman, a young one, appeared at the end of the hall, blocking my path. She held out her hands and seemed to be pleading for me to stop.

I don’t know what she was thinking as I—a huge, bearded foreigner—bore down on her. I was running on adrenaline and I hip-checked her out of the way and dove through the open door. I almost blush to think about it now. I’ve never pushed a woman before, except maybe my sister when we were young, but I was frantic and just wanted to get out of there.

The streets outside were deserted, although another woman was sitting on the landing by the door where I came out. She was older and didn’t get up when I came out, although she shrieked at me something awful. I ignored her and ran down the road, heading back up the valley towards the trees where I had come from. Forget cool experiences; I was done.

The bright light was still visible through the trees, although the loud screaming sound had stopped and the ball lightning was all gone, thank goodness. I still figured it was a concert or something going on up there and I pushed my way through the trees and underbrush, trying to go around the clearing with the stone circle. If they were as crazy as the women I had met, they’d just grab me and put me back in the room. I wasn’t going back; I was sure of that.

I got close to the clearing and the light became so strong I could pick my way through the bushes as if it were daylight. I got to the far edge of the clearing and looked back.

Strange Meeting

It wasn’t a concert. There was a group of women standing in a semi-circle, close to the stone circle, but not too close. The whole stone circle was bathed in a brilliant pale light that shot up in the sky like a searchlight, although I couldn’t tell where the light was coming from. The stone itself, I guess. On the stone circle was a woman. She looked about middle-aged and was wearing what looked like animal skins and a shimmering purple veil that framed her face and fell down the front of her dress.

I was just about to move on and make a break for the mountain pass when the woman looked directly at me. It was weird, but for a moment I forgot about going up the valley and found myself walking towards her, out into the clearing. The assembled women noticed me before too long and I heard a few gasps that sounded like terror. That didn’t make me feel any better. The woman kept looking at me and smiled.

This is an adventure? part of me said, trying to reassure the rest of me.

I’m an idiot, the rest of me said, as I kept walking.


Fantastic Travelogue #3 – The Light in the Woods

Sometimes you have some amazing adventures you just have to tell everyone about. Read the rest of this account here.

 

The worst part about being locked up all day is not being able to go to the bathroom. This wasn’t a dank prison cell I was confined in: it was a nice parlor with polished wood floors and walls covered with a pale pink, fibrous paper. It held nowhere where a civilized person could even hope to respectfully relieve themselves. At that moment, I had just eaten as much as I wanted to of the meal and was feeling very comfortable, but I did not count on that feeling lasting.

I knocked on the door some more and tried calling, but no one answered. Finally, I sat down and looked at the signboard above the door. I had noticed it when I was eating but now I stared at it and tried to make some sense of it. It looked like Chinese, but the characters were a lot more curvy than what I was used to. From what I could tell, it meant “the fortress of the rising light” which would have been typical of the grand and lofty names of most Korean palace buildings.

Name Board

Things were getting urgent in the bathroom department and finally I started pounding on the door, calling out in every language I knew just to let me out for a moment. The door opened without warning and the head woman stood in front of me, holding two fingers to her mouth. When I started to speak, she put the fingers on my lips, which shut me up quick. She evidently perceived my distress in my expression and in my stance since she made a little noise of comprehension and slammed the door in my face. The young woman I had met in the forest opened the door and put a earthenware pot on the floor along with a small basket of freshly-picked leaves. She gave me a smile and then shut the door again.

Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do, and I did what I had to do. The rest of the afternoon, I moped around, wishing I had a book at least. A couple times, one of the women would open the door a crack to push in a tray with water or some fruit on it. They were at least running a hospitable prison.

Dark Room

I must have dozed off because I woke up to find the room much darker. Peering through cracks in the shutters, I could tell that the sun had set outside. I could hear shouts and cries and some of them sounded male to me. The men are back, I thought, unsure if I was relieved or not.

I stuck my hand out the small window and managed to push the wooden shutter out a little. It was fastened at the bottom, but I could move it enough to see through a crack between them. There seemed to be bonfires built around the village and by the dancing red light, I could see the outline of the nearby houses and the dark wood looming up beyond them.

At that moment, a burst of white light erupted from within the forest. It coalesced into a pillar of white light that shone straight up. It’s a spotlight, I thought. It was coming from the area of the large stone ring and I realized that they must have been preparing for a concert or something there. Why they would need to lock me up to keep me out of the way, I wasn’t sure, but they had been nice enough to me besides that.

A ball of light flew away from the pillar of light and moved horizontally through the forest. Okay, that’s weird, I thought. More and more erupted and flew here and there. Some of them came over the houses and rested on the tips of the roofs. Ball lightning was the only thing I could think of. I’d never seen it, but I had heard that it acted crazy. An orb of light came towards me scuttling along the ground, but it missed the building and kept going.

A sound like a scream came from the forest. It could not have been human though, because it was constant in pitch and grew slowly in volume, until it sounded more like the roar of a jet engine. Shadows were being thrown around in the forest, as if things were dancing in front of the light pillar.

I sat down on the floor and pulled my knees up to my chest. Suddenly, I was just tired of being there. All I wanted was to go home.


Fantastic Travelogue #2 – The Amazon Fortress

Sometimes you have some amazing adventures you just have to tell everyone about. Read the rest of this account here.

 

Life is good, I thought as I strolled through the forest, listening to the birds conversing in the trees, and breathing the warm, living scent of nature. The path had dropped down into tall trees and I could no longer see the golden dome that I had spied from higher up.

I came around a bend in the trail and found myself standing in front of wide disk of stone, about fifteen feet in diameter and carved around its edge with some amazingly intricate work. A young woman was standing on the stone. She was holding a broom, as if she had been in the act of sweeping it off, although now she was frozen in place and staring at me. She wore a light gray skirt and a slightly darker gray jacket, and her long, black hair was braided down her back. She was also insanely beautiful.

Life is getting better, I thought—not in a lascivious way, you understand, but just in a general way of admiring the beauty all around me.

Forest Circle

“Annyeonghaseyo,” I said, greeting her in Korean and bowing slightly. She bowed her head, but didn’t say anything. “Is there a restaurant around here? I’m a bit hungry,” I said, but again she did not respond and just keep staring at me. It was a bit ridiculous that no one could understand me, I thought. After all, even if these people had a very strong mountain dialect, they must still be able to understand standard Korean. They watch TV, don’t they?

I mimed eating, taking food up my mouth with an invisible fork (which I quickly changed to invisible chopsticks). The girl said something and I nodded, because honestly, nodding even when you don’t understand becomes a bit of a reflex after a while. She seemed to come to a decision suddenly and climbed down from the stone and motioned for me to follow her.

Not even two minutes later, we came to a sort of village. The houses here were similar to the old woman’s house I had visited earlier that morning but beyond them, I saw a stone wall rising up above the roofs. It had to be at least fifteen feet tall and was tipped with what looked like golden spikes. It continued out of sight, both left and right across the valley and I could see that we were on the inside of the wall. Somehow, I had come down in the middle of a mountain fortress.

Mountain Fortress

I saw a few woman here and there as we walked among the houses, but there were no men visible anywhere. As soon as the women saw me, they jumped up and looked quite agitated. The first few just yelled at me (or at the young woman guiding me) but a few rushed at me, brandishing tools of various sorts as if they wanted to attack me. The young woman starting talking really quickly and it was pretty obvious there was a huge argument going on. I bowed and smiled awkwardly at a few of them, until this seemed to make things worse and I just looked down and scuffed my boots in the dirt.

After about five minutes, an older woman came up and everyone stopped arguing. She didn’t have a name tag that said “The Boss” but it was pretty obvious. Also, her clothes were more colorful than anyone else’s. They had a much more respectful discussion in which everyone ignored me. I was just thinking about climbing back up the mountain pass to try to find my way back when they stopped and the head woman bowed to me. I bowed back and said, “It’s nice to meet you. I hope I’m not disturbing you.” This prompted another minute of discussion. I don’t know why I kept speaking Korean to them when they obviously couldn’t understand it, but it seemed rude not to say anything and I hadn’t quite gotten to the place where I just gave up and spoke English.

The head woman said something and all the other women suddenly dispersed and went back to their houses until it was only me, the head woman and the young woman left. They led me to a large house whose walls were made of stone for four feet, and then wood above that. The young woman led me to a bare room with small windows along the top of the wall. There was a low table and a cushion on the floor. I took off my boots and she motioned for me to sit down. Then she left.

Well, this is certainly an experience, I thought as I sat there alone. It intrigued me that I hadn’t seen any technology here at all. I wondered if it was a Folk Village or a UNESCO Heritage Site, where they did everything in the traditional way.

I also wondered where all the men were. Perhaps this was some hidden tribe of Amazons living in Korea and I was the first man they had seen in years. This didn’t excite me as much as you might think. For one thing, I was married, so I wasn’t looking for any significant increase of women in my life. Also, I had read about the original Amazons. They were scary.

The young woman came back presently with a tray loaded with food, all in individual dishes, which was refreshingly Korean. As she was arranging them on the table, I tried to learn her name. “David,” I said, pointing to myself. Then I pointed to her. “You?” I did this several times, but apparently movies have lied to us about this being a universal gesture since she just stared at me uncomprehendingly.

I was about to ask (i.e. gesture) if she was going to eat too when she stood up and left, closing the door behind her. I heard a sound like a bar being put down across the door. I went and tried the door and sure enough, it was locked firmly. A moment later, someone put down shutters over the small windows, throwing the room into deep gloom.

Great, they had put me in prison. Still, I wasn’t too worried yet. At least they had given me food, and if I ever got out, it would make a great story. That is my view on all bad experiences. So I sat down and started to eat.

 


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