Saturday, April 30, 2005

Namsan: tales of near-death, fitness, and humidity

Today's walk featured a near-death experience: not mine, but that of some poor lady who was almost crushed by a speeding car. Fucking asshole driver. I was inclined to throw a brick at his rear window. It really was a close one, too-- the car screeched to a halt perhaps two feet away from the lady.

My walk also featured the usual loud whispers and unabashed remarks of "foreigner..." as I was walking past some folks on the stairs, and the amusement of the two adjoshis who run the concession/trinket stand at the top of the stairs, where I buy my ritual PowerAde. They know me very well by now, and noted how much sweatier I look nowadays. I told them I'd been coming up the stairs from Smoo lately, instead of taking my old wussy route from Beot'igogae Station and past the National Theater.

The main difference between the stairs route and my old route is that I've inadvertently added strength training to my regimen. Like so many stairs in Seoul, each step up Namsan is very short, almost as if the stairway had been crafted for midgets. Koreans, who really aren't much shorter than most Westerners (some folks claim they're the largest East Asians, though I don't know that for sure), somehow take the steps in stride-- no pun intended-- but they're a pain in the ass for me. Because the stairs follow the mountain's contours, they're also unevenly spaced and angled. Sometimes it's possible to tackle the steps two at a time; at other times you have to step up, bring your other foot to the same step, go one pace forward, then step up to the next step. The entire ascent takes about ten minutes, and you're constantly varying your pace, always a little off-balance.

I'm still making it to the top without stopping, though I can't say I'm going very fast. At some point, once I feel I've mastered the steps and made them a routine, I'll need to start experimenting with running up a flight or two, perhaps reaching a point (far, far in the future, mind you) where I can run up the entire stairway. But for now, my legs are trembling when I reach the top, and they're still trembling as I clump my way back down the stairs, post-PowerAde.

Looks like most of the cherry blossom petals have fallen away, and today felt positively summery. I've never been a fan of hot, humid weather. From now until about mid-October, life is going to suck. Korean summers are four months long, and so are the winters. But if last year was any indication, summer's gotten greedy and has extended its hegemony, China-like, to other parts of the calendar. We had too many warm days last November and December.

Back to our muttons: one of these days I'll photoblog the new route. In some ways, it's a lot more scenic, and it's certainly more exciting as a workout.


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