Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Namsan: lessons learned and relearned

I've been doing nightly hikes up Namsan, disdaining the stairs and instead heading up the small mountain along one of the bus routes (there are two such routes: one for buses going up, the other for buses going down). The first time I did the bus route, which was during the day, I walked faster than everyone else on the path. The past two times, however, I've walked at night, and have rediscovered that, even though nighttime walks mean fewer hikers and tourists, they also mean that the serious walkers and runners are out, so I've had my ass handed to me by everyone from young, lanky, single girls to old couples, all of whom are in more of a hurry to get up the mountain than I am. Runners are, it goes without saying, in a different class altogether, and I have no intention of measuring myself against them. I don't see myself ever running up Namsan from the bottom.

By switching to walking at night, I've relearned that this is, by far, the better time of day to hike up the mountain. Although I still end up dripping with sweat, I enjoy the cooler temperatures and pleasant breezes that caress the mountainside. Memories of Namsan hikes during my time at Sookmyung Women's University are returning to me; I'm eagerly awaiting winter, when I'll have the mountain almost all to myself except for the most dedicated of hikers and runners. Namsan has an eerie beauty at night (when it's not serving as a cozy little Lovers' Lane, that is). During the day, it's little more than a crass tourist trap.

And about those tourists: I've learned that the Chinese have well and thoroughly taken over Korea. Chinese folks are everywhere, all over the mountain, and the unpleasantly twanging, yowling phonemes of the Chinese language assault my ears at the crowded summit. It's easy to see why Koreans feel the need to learn more Chinese these days: China casts a significant shadow over the peninsula. The Middle Kingdom is already South Korea's largest trading partner, and it's my understanding that Jejudo, which used to be a fairly unknown, fairly pristine island back in the 1980s, is now just as rife with Chinese as Namsan is—not just tourists, but also property owners. The situation in Korea may be somewhat analogous to the Japanese invasion of America during the 1980s. On Namsan, I've noticed that many of the cashiers at many of the shops and restaurants can speak to tourists in Korean, English, and Chinese. I suppose that's only necessary.

My walk up Namsan takes me from my neighborhood, about twelve minutes away from the university, onto the campus, then over to Trailhead 8 and eventually to the bus route, which is a much longer hike than the path I used to walk when I lived across the street from Sookmyung. Back then, from 2005 to 2008, a walk up Namsan took less than 50 minutes, one way. Now, the walk is over an hour. But it's all good: I need the exercise. And there are different sights to see along this route. Here, for example, is the Buddha that stands in Dongguk's main quad. This is the same Buddha that had been defiled by some Christians (or by people looking to make Christians look bad) who spray-painted "Only Jesus!" onto the statue's pedestal.

The ascending bus route that I now walk wasn't originally familiar to me. It's a better route, in many ways, than the descending bus route that I used to walk, not least because a hiker will pass by more stone walls that remind him that Namsan used to serve a military purpose. I've also seen curious-looking stairways leading away from the road; one of these days, I'll have to explore those, too.

This is my final week of vacation before I start teaching again, but it's going to be busy: on Wednesday, I'm at the Golden Goose all day; on Thursday, I have to jaunt over to Immigration to renew my E-1 visa; on Friday, I've got an all-day orientation at Dongguk (I'll probably skip the dinner at the end since that's optional). Classes begin on Monday, if I'm not mistaken, and we get our first break not long after: the national holiday of Chuseok comes early this year and runs from September 7 to 9. The 8th and the 9th are Monday and Tuesday, so I'll be able to enjoy a long weekend. Somehow, I'll figure out a way to sneak the hiking in. Now that I've started Namsan-ing again, it'd be a shame not to keep it up.


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