The easiest way to identify a bulgogi restaurant is by the happy cow sign, lit up in neon glory. Their cartoon smiles hide the copious amounts of dead beef about to be consumed by businessmen, families and hapless western teachers.
We leave our apartment into the April evening in search of the Korean specialty. I pull on my fleece, still wet from the washing machine. It’ll dry.
The feeling of the fleece on my skin plunges me back into the deeps, chest high in the slot canyon. “Warm when wet,” said the woman who rented us shoes. “Wear something that’s warm when wet. Like a fleece.”
Bursting out into the fresh air, we walk down the main street of Eonyang. Eonyang: an anonymous suburb of South Korea, known only for the Samsung factory nearby. Curious eyes stare at us then look away. Old Korean women hunch over bright plastic buckets full of spring onions on the side of the road. Up and down the uneven sidewalk, across streets glistening with recent rain.
The water wound between my feet, fresh and cool, as we traversed the river between refuges of rocks and boulders. Between the vertical walls of the canyon is one of the world’s most beautiful hikes, the Narrows. We began at the Temple of Sinawava, an apt anointing for a day of baptism, washing our head clean with the running water.
The waiter hands us each a refresher towel, and we wipe the pollution from our hands. We communicate with the universal language: finger-pointing. It results in a six-inch square of flattened mincemeat accompanied by kimchi, five types of seaweed and some raw garlic.
At a nearby table, a businessman turns to speak to us. He motions with his hand above his head, pointing at my husband. I know what he means. Tall. Justin is a novelty in Korea, at six-foot three. “You small,” he says to me. “He long.”
Yet I have been to places where even a giant would feel small. In my mind, Wall Street will never again be a financial centre. It is where the walls run up to 1500 ft high, where I stood at the bottom and looked up, glimpsing the blue sky between the narrow rock corridor. Where I ran my hands over the smooth rock walls, feeling layers upon layers of compacted history, the hint of yellow in the stone, the smooth lines where flash floods have rubbed the walls until they spooled out like cotton downstream. People die in the Narrows every year, when flash floods punch through the canyon at lightning pace. There is nowhere to go in these traps, except be washed away by the force of nature.
The businessman offers a used shot glass to my husband, full to the brim with clear soju.
“It’s dirty,” my husband complains.
“Drink it,” I urge him. Otherwise he’ll be offended. He drinks the shot and pulls a face. I wonder why I would encourage my husband to drink from a dirty glass so not to offend someone we’ve never met, can hardly communicate with and probably won’t see again?
But the businessman seems pleased. He pours a shot into the same glass and downs it.
“Where you from?” he asks.
“Made in Korea,” he says, pointing to his heart. He points to us. “Made in Australia.”
The businessman turns back to his table, keeling slightly from the alcohol.
We turned around after the end of Wall Street; sure we could have gone on, up and down few more boulders. But we were getting cold, the sun was low, and it would be another hour and a half before we got back to the entrance. Leaving the Narrows, we turned and took one last look at the rock curtains of the Temple. Who knew hidden behind them lay miles of beauty?
Back over the uneven paving, bricks like rocks in the urban river. Without a stick to help me, I lean on my husband’s arm. We walk in silence for a minute.
“Sometimes I worry I’m going to lose you,” I say to him.
“You didn’t used to be like this when I met you.”
“As I get older I worry more. I’m leaving my twenties and heading into my thirties. I don’t seem to have the blind faith of my twenties any more.”
“What you need are hugs and love.”
“I know,” I say, melting into his arms under the neon gaze of bulgogi signs. “I love you. And I’ll be there through thick and thin.”