Tuesday, August 15, 2006

shower hour on Namsan: two random encounters

It's August 15-- Liberation Day in South Korea, which means a holiday today (hols if you're British). I spent the morning and afternoon in my domicile, contemplating wrack and ruin, as is my wont on rainy days. When a mosquito flew close, I crushed it with the sheer force of my mind, then rearranged its molecules into a miniature, evanescent replica of Rodin's Le Penseur.

Around 4-ish in the afternoon, it started raining. Big time, as Dick Cheney might say. Large, fat, loud droplets, splatting on the ground like miniature souls being tossed out of heaven by the millions. My ears perked up and a most Schwarzenegger-like thought composed of exigent monosyllables began, slowly, to coalesce in the vast, echoic interior of my skull.

Rain. Hike. Now.

When the summer is as ass-crack-nasty humid as this one has been, it's always best to hike when it rains. But this is no longer the monsoon season: today's rain was a sonagi, a rainstorm. How long would it last? Experience told me that I might have about an hour at most. To hike, or not to hike?

Minutes passed.

I suddenly made a command decision, leaped to my feet, and burst fatly out of my domicile, a vision of Namsan centered in the crosshairs of my brain.

Once on the street, I passed a short, skinny little kid, maybe eight years old, walking along under an enormous umbrella. The kid looked out from under the edge of his protection and said, with polite gravity, "Annyeong-haseyo?" I greeted him in kind, quite impressed at his composure-- it's not uncommon for kids simply to gawk at my freakish, foreign dimensions.

I trudged through the rain, through the Huam-dong neighborhood, and up the first two sets of stairs. Many a dead earthworm on the Koreanische Philosophenweg today. No time to bury their little corpses.

My walk took me back down to the third and final set of stairs-- the 743-step doozy-- and I encountered a woman I hadn't seen for nearly a year: this was the plump old lady who would lay out a blue tarp, set up a gas range and supplies, and cook for people who were hungry. I've never eaten her food (you have to pay), though I've seen a few old guys sitting on her tarp in the past. The plump old lady saw me approaching, recognized me immediately, and greeted me Korean-style:

"Boy, you've gained a lot of weight." (Sal-i mani ji-shyeot-nae!)

Goddammit!! And things had been going so well up to that moment.

I smiled and took my usual kick to the balls of my ego, a scrotal abuse I receive in some form or other almost every dingle-damn day.

Well... back to hiking at night!



The rain lasted almost precisely an hour. It stopped when I was two-thirds of the way up the final set of stairs, which was fine: not enough time for the sun to generate more humidity through evaporation. I was completely soaked through with rain and sweat, mantits a-floppin' as I topped the stairs and gasped in victory: another climb done. 1095 steps. The sun hid itself behind some clouds; the walk back home was warm, humid, and mosquitoed, but at least it was downhill.


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