Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Namsan again

About my only worthwhile achievement these days is that I've become something of a Namsan regular. Since I live just off Line 6, it's a straight shot from Dolgoji to Beot'igogae Station. My walk, after only five sessions, has already gotten faster: from 50 minutes to almost 40. I even ran a very small part of the way uphill this evening. That's a first: I haven't had the desire to run since I lived in Switzerland back in 1989. It was dark. No one was looking. So my fat ass ran.

Tonight, needing to clear my head, I started the walk from Beot'igogae around 9:40PM and hit the top of Namsan around 10:20PM. I'm still a wimp and taking the easy way up. No stairs yet; just the road. Eventually I'll graduate to the stairs.

Namsan is better on weeknights. Fewer people. Coming from Virginia, where we have damn nice hiking trails, I've never gotten used to the crowds of walkers and hikers in Korea-- the noise, the pollution, the bizarre urge to yell "yaaaaaa-hohhhhhhh!" I prefer peace and quiet when I hike, not jabber-jabber-jabber unless I'm with a good friend.

Forty minutes. I hit the top and got my PowerAde from the same shop dude. He knows me by sight now. Amazing, how quickly rituals can form. I didn't want to spend much time at the top because of all the damn tourists. People drive up in buses, on motorcycles (usually couples wearing leather jackets), or in cars. They do the very short walk up from the parking lot and act like they've made a hard climb. Heh. Good for them!

I went down below the parking lot and found a quiet spot. There was a bench there, facing outward, giving me a view of Seoul's immense sprawl through the trees. Seoul can be very pretty at night. It was quiet where I was, and the air was still. Clouds above; no stars. A few tentative raindrops, but nothing big. The air's stillness was a blessing; it helped to calm my mind after a particularly turbulent weekend. I simply sat there, thinking, not-thinking.

A fat brown cat kept me company, crouched on a large rock way over to my left. It stared at me and I stared back, then we lost interest in each other. I guess we had nothing to say at that moment. Sometimes the best companionship is silent. And with cats, companionability sometimes means ignoring each other. Cats are funny that way.

When I lived in the village of Bourguillon, Switzerland, I walked every day, sometimes twice a day, to the University of Fribourg. My walk was gorgeous and largely quiet, taking me way downhill, across two large bridges, then into town and uphill for a bit. I refused to take the bus. Walking home was always a bit more difficult than walking to school, but I chugged along at a healthy clip. I ended up losing a lot of weight over the course of that year. Gained it all back as a senior, of course.

Switzerland is a day hiker's dream: there are so many clearly marked trails, and there's so much to explore. Trails can take you into a city, then back out again into the countryside or even, if you're feeling brave, up into the mountains. I rarely hiked at high altitude while living there, preferring the thicker, warmer air of the valleys to the rarefied atmosphere of the taller peaks.

Hiking was my thing back then. Now, living in Seoul, I've never felt that inspired to hike. Too many people. Trails so overused that they've turned sandy-- an unthinkable reality on something like the Appalachian Trail or any of dozens of little splinter trails off Skyline Drive back home. While Korea contains plenty of natural beauty, there's little in Seoul that inspires my feet to move. The Olympic Park comes close: it's a wide-open space. But that's about it.

So Namsan is something of a rediscovery for me. I'm glad I'm doing this. I've been trying to pick quieter times to go, but sometimes I encounter a lot of people. It's a decent workout, especially the uphill portion. I think my body is starting to remember what it felt like to hike those roads and trails in Switzerland. While the air isn't totally fresh at Namsan, it's a hell of a lot better than down below. And there's something to be said for a mountain perspective as you ponder your own existence, wondering what the hell direction to take next with your life. Sometimes the great heights remind you to take it all one day at a time-- the good, the bad, and the fat brown cats.

Enough philosophy. Now I have to leave you and take a shit.


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