Alone in a Crowd

THE LIMOUSINE BUS smells like octopus. Plush leather seats recline almost horizontally, but at 6 a.m., each passenger, dressed in brightly colored hiking clothes, is sitting upright, listening attentively to the PA system. It’s a Saturday morning in Seoul, South Korea, and the 4050 Seoul Metropolitan Mountain Club is heading to the trailhead. But first, some formalities.

The club president, wearing a black fedora and neckerchief to match his ventilated button-down, speaks softly into the microphone, introducing himself and wishing everyone a safe hike. The entire busload claps, then, one by one, each financial “sponsor” of the club comes to the front and gives a similar address, followed by the chairman, VP, captain, directors, and finally each member, bashfully murmuring, bowing, and scurrying back to his or her seat. A woman in charge of morning snacks passes out warm kimbap rolls wrapped in aluminum foil. The same ritual unfolds in three other tour buses, each equally full, and our caravan proceeds toward the mountains.

“Our club is the biggest in

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