Friday, April 13, 2007

Namsan's unneeded facelift

Most Korean women who get plastic surgery don't need it: they're beautiful just as they are. There's a class of men who, perhaps out of a misguided sense of chivalry, claim that if a woman wants plastic surgery to make her feel better about herself, then by all means she should get the surgery. I'm more of a Neanderthal: while I heartily affirm a woman's right to do what she damn well pleases with her looks, I honestly think that few women need to have their looks surgically enhanced. If a given man doesn't appreciate a given woman's looks, then too bad for him. What bothers me about the sheer amount of unnecessary plastic surgery going on all over the world is that it represents a collective attempt to conform to a viral meme: the Beauty Myth. Self-esteem shouldn't be pegged to this myth. The end result of such fragile vanity is empty wallets... and bloody flaps of still-quivering flesh tumbling off operating tables by the ton as thousands of surgeons gleefully snip-snip-snip all over the planet. At the very least, we might redeem the plastic surgery industry by rescuing those meat scraps and making dog food out of them.

It seems that mountains are not immune to this trend toward superficiality: Namsan has been undergoing a lengthy renovation that spanned all of last year (in fact, didn't it start sometime in 2005?), and continues even as I write this piece. While some of the renovation is an improvement, most of it seems totally superfluous. Take, for example, the re-painting of Seoul Tower's observation decks and the addition of colored floodlights. The net effect of this particular "improvement" is that Seoul Tower, which juts whitely out of Namsan's summit, often looks from a distance like the bloodless, phosphorescent erection of an undead spider monkey. This is, as you can imagine, discouraging to me, as I have to hike toward that obscene prominence almost nightly.

Ever since the installation of new restaurants and an observation deck at the foot of the tower, it is no longer possible to walk to the summit's southern edge in the dead of night and look downward and riverward at the strange splendor of nocturnal Seoul. If you go early, you might catch the view, but after 10pm or so the area is cordoned off, and only the sneaky will dare trespass the cordon to take in a panorama that used to be available to all, 24/7. I resent this new change. I also resent the current efforts to re-surface the promenade, which as far as I could tell had no major problems.

Even worse-- and this is what called to mind the analogy of useless plastic surgery-- is the covering of the stone stairway, the one leading upward from Namsan Public Library to the little zoo and the botanical gardens, with wooden steps. What the hell is that all about? I think that this particular renovation is not merely bad: it's dangerous. Here's why.

The stone "library steps," as I call them-- of which there are over 700 no matter which starting point you choose-- are made of various materials. Some steps, especially some of the ones near the bottom of the stair, are made from slapdash but sturdy concrete. They are crumbling in places but perfectly navigable by healthy folks. The farther up you go, the more likely you are to encounter the most common type of step: stone blocks, apparently in the shape of parallelepipeds. But these blocks are misleading: many of them are not rectangular on all faces, but are instead triangular in the cross-section. The normal tourist probably wouldn't notice this, but those of us who travel those steps with any frequency eventually espy steps that, because they are poorly mounted, seem to be slumping or otherwise angling themselves strangely. These steps, if you look at their sides, reveal the triangular cross-section.

The danger with poorly mounted stone steps is that, if a Kevin-sized person were to jump up and down on one, there is a chance that, because the step's underside is angled and not flat, enough jumping will eventually dislodge the step and send our hypothetical Kevin-sized person on an unexpected luge run down the stairway. Something like this happened to me last year as I was descending the library steps: I stomped heavily onto one, and it gave way beneath me. I managed to recover from the imbalance (if not the loss of dignity), but I became cautious about Namsan's stairs after that night.

Given that more than a few of Namsan's steps are poorly mounted, it seems highly inadvisable for our renovation crews to be mounting wooden steps on top of the stone steps. I'm not an engineer, of course, so perhaps my fears are unfounded, but my Spider Sense warns me that danger lurks. It may be that the wooden steps are mutually reinforcing, which means that a small collapse at one point will not lead to a frightening cascade of splintering beams down the mountainside. But I'm still leery of those new wooden steps. I've been down them a few times, and they don't strike me as being able to take the pounding of thousands of tourists per week, year after year.

I'm impressed by some of the new features of Namsan's facelift: there are more benches all over the mountain, and some parking lots have been turned into small garden spots. Lighting has improved in some areas. There are also wooden "overlook" decks along some roads up the mountain which allow people to step off the main path and take in the forests covering the mountain's flank. These are all to the good. But the rest of Namsan's facelift is, in my opinion, about as necessary as a second asshole.


1 comment:

Stafford said...

for images of said phosphorescent undead monkey dong.