Saturday, December 07, 2019

how the walk to Hanam City played out

Saturday's walk to Hanam City, which I did with my buddy JW at his behest, went well. It was about 36,000 steps, according to my pedometer, and it took a solid five hours to go about 25 kilometers. I had originally plotted Hanam City Hall as our destination, but JW suddenly realized he had visited Starfield—a huge mall—in Hanam before, and he knew there was a nice food court there, so we switched destinations and headed to Starfield, which I had never heard of (I may have seen the sign for the mall in passing several times, without ever once realizing it was a mall), but which is apparently well known in Korea, or at least in the Seoul area. When I asked JW whether Starfield was like eMart or Lotte Mart, he laughed and said, "Those stores could fit inside Starfield!"

The walk began at JW's apartment building, which is close to Samsung Central Station and only a few blocks away from the Tan Creek path, right where the creek meets the Han River. I took a cab to JW's place; the vehicle was a nifty little electric cab, and I had never ridden in an electric car before. The lack of a vibration from the motor was almost disturbing at first, but as I quickly discovered, one gets used to the preternatural smoothness of the ride right away. The cab dropped me off at Samsung Central Station; I walked the short distance to JW's apartment complex, texted him that I was outside his building, and waited. JW appeared a minute later, decked out in a powder-blue winter coat and fluorescent-green shoes; he handed me my "breakfast": an apple wrapped in a plastic bag, and a small can of V-8, which is one of my least favorite drinks. I accepted both food items with a wry thank-you, and off we went.

The walk to the Tan Creek was a straight shot east, and we came out only a hundred or so meters away from the Tan/Han confluence. It was just a matter of crossing the creek to reach the Han, which we followed east for almost the entire walk.

Below are some pics from our trek. It actually snowed while we were walking; I'm not sure whether the photos in this essay capture that fact. We had to stay off the pedestrian path and walk in the bike lanes because the pedestrian paths, being painted over, accumulated snow more quickly and became slippery, in part thanks to their painted surfaces.

The first pic shows something neither of us had anticipated: a marathon. Two huge groups of runners had decided to brave the below-freezing weather to run their guts out on Pearl Harbor Day (December 7 is meaningless to Koreans, but I wish a mindful Pearl Harbor Day to my fellow Yanks). The runners wore clothing that ranged from bundled-up to nearly naked. One awkward, hulking, long-haired dude with an 80s-era sweatband around his head had a jersey on that said "JERRY" on the back; JW and I automatically started rooting for him for no particular reason. Later on, when we saw the runners doubling back, we made an effort to look out for Jerry, but we never saw him again. Either we missed him, or he may have given up and gone home. In the meantime, I noticed that many of the female runners were gorgeous; with some of them wrapped up against the winter chill, I joked to JW that the pink-faced little ladies reminded me of photos I've seen of Mongolian women out on the gelid steppes. JW noticed that the markers for the run indicated that runners had the option of running different distances: both a full marathon and a half-marathon.

Racers racing:

JW griped that he had hoped to have a nice, quiet walk. He pronounced himself annoyed by the runners, so at one point, we shifted to a path that was down an embankment and slightly closer to the river so as to avoid the crowds and noise. But the runners ended up disappearing after several minutes, and all was quiet soon enough. Near Jamshil Bridge, we popped into a convenience store to buy 500-milliliter bottles of water—one for each of us.

JW gives me a look:

For dedicated followers of my adventures, this obligatory shot of the Jamshil Bridge ought to be a very familiar sight:

Below, a shot of some ladies tending to a refreshment station for the runners:

When I took the above photo, one of the ladies saw me and challenged me with a rude, "Wae?" ("Why [did you do that]?") Instead of taking her to task for impolitely using the low, informal form of speech with someone who was older than her, I asked whether I had done something wrong by taking a photo. She smiled and shook her head, then bade the other ladies gather 'round so I could take a group photo:

My shwimteo (rest area) fetish continues. Below, a shwimteo that appears to be in the middle of some kind of renovation. Normally, there should be benches underneath the pergola-like structure, but none are to be found:

And so JW and I walked and talked. I was wearing my tee shirt, the one I had designed for the big walk, and I showed it to JW when we were talking about print-on-demand artwork for tee shirts. JW had some nutty idea about creating art, putting it onto tees via some local facility, and selling the tees at one of those informal markets, like the old Freedom Market and Hope Market over at Hongik University, where I had once tried (and largely failed) to sell my brush-art images. Eventually, we neared the official border for Hanam City, so I snapped the following pic of JW as he approached the threshold:

I was fascinated by the freezing-over of a creek that ran parallel to the Han River, so I took the photo you see below:

JW was similarly inspired:

Your selfie for the day:

As we began the final leg of our trek, JW expressed amusement at and admiration for the artfully made "sleeves" that were wrapped around a number of trees. I said the effect looked a lot like a hug; we both guessed that the "sleeves" were there to protect the trees from cold-weather insects, like the grass versions that I've seen in the neighborhood close to my office. Here's a closeup of one of the very first ones we saw:

And here's a wide shot of many, many decorated trees:

I finally took a pic of the two-kilometer-long motorboat raceway. It's empty of water now, but in warmer weather, I imagine it's got plenty of boats zipping along its surface:

You might have to enlarge the following pic to see it, but Starfield, that mall, is distantly visible in the image below (look for a red-cursive sign on a large, beige building). I snapped this shot, not for Starfield, but because it's an area I'd like to explore later on, maybe in the spring. There seems to be a network of walking paths, as well as wide-open spaces where a person might fly a drone or a remote-controlled aircraft. So I took the following picture as a way to remind myself to go exploring sometime:

By the time I took the next pic, we had left the path in order to cross into town. I've photographed this tower before, so it ought to look familiar to some readers:

The shot below is of a corner of the imposing Starfield, which is indeed a huge mall:

You'll have noticed, in the above photo, the steep embankment. JW, impatient to get up to the mall, decided that we needed to climb the embankment so as to enter the mall more quickly. Naver Map had plotted a course that took us around the mall to its front entrance, but JW was having none of that. So—up the embankment he went, impatiently beckoning for me to follow him. I sighed and did, pulling myself up the steep incline by grabbing on to skinny trees. Soon enough, we were at the mall's street level, and the attendants standing near the mall's rear entrance said nothing about our manner of arrival.

What follows are some interior shots of Starfield. First up: a wide shot to give you an impression of the place's interior design, which is reminiscent of just about any large mall in the US, with its hospital-white walls and ceiling, its all-English storefronts, and its use of vaulted space. The aesthetic of the 1970s-era Springfield Mall in Springfield, Virginia—with its dark recesses, muted lighting, and pit-style circular rest areas—is long gone. Nowadays, everything looks like a fusion of modern airports and the Mac Store:

A photo can't capture the smell of the mall, alas, but I can say that it's a smell any American would recognize: when we first entered the Shinsegae department store via the mall's rear entrance, we were bombarded by the odor of hundreds of styles of perfume. The setup is meant to be a pleasant way for the store to "greet" the customer, I think. How pleasant all that perfume is, though, is completely up to the individual. Your mileage may vary.

Here's JW, wearily seated:

JW beckoned me to join him on the couch, so I did. We let our weariness take over for a few moments while we people-watched and talked about the death of big malls in the US, a trend that JW had apparently read about.

It wasn't long before hunger overcame the weariness, and we were on our feet again to look for the fabled food court that JW had talked about while we were still on the trail. The food court turned out to have the Konglishy name "Eatopia" because Koreans, for some reason, have a penchant for overusing the "-pia" in "utopia" as a way of indicating the manifestation of some idealized reality. An online resource on Buddhism, for example, might be called a "Buddhapia." I saw over at ROK Drop that the city of Daejeon is casting about for nicknames and slogans, one of which is apparently "Sciencepia Daejeon" or some such nonsense. So, yes: "Eatopia" is par for the course... although, to be honest, I think "Eatopia" isn't nearly as bad as most of the other "-pia"s I've heard or read.

Behold the escalators:

We wandered around Eatopia, looking for both a restaurant to feed us and a free table at which to plant ourselves. JW ended up leading us to Lee Kimbap, a simple bunshik (street food) place that sold kimbap (rice, vegetables, and meat in seaweed rolls—a sort-of cousin of Japanese sushi*), various soups, and other types of street food. I told JW that I would have whatever he was having; he decided to order a little of everything so that we could share, which is how Koreans typically approach mealtimes. JW ended up ordering a pretty standard spread: beef and tuna kimbap, two bowls of eggy ramyeon, and a bowl of some very sweet ddeokbokgi. Stare at the pic below to see what that looked like:

It was simple food, but very good. The tuna kimbap had a hell of a lot of mayonnaise in it, but I didn't mind. Mayo is Atkins-friendly, after all! The ddeokbokgi had a super-sweet chili sauce and little, hard-boiled quail eggs in it; I scooped a few out with a spoon. The beef kimbap was nothing special, but I ate half of that roll, anyway, despite its ordinariness. The ramyeon may have been the best part of the meal; my bowl had a scrambled egg on top, infused with minced green onion. JW and I, both ravenous, ate and drank our way to the bottoms of our respective bowls. Koreans normally eat the solids in a soup and don't bother finishing the broth; that didn't happen with us. We consumed every last morsel and drop.

Below is a shot of the frustratingly filled tables adjacent to the restaurants in the food court. I had the impression that I was looking at an airport's gateside waiting area:

We didn't find a table before our food came out, but we found one pretty quickly once we'd gotten our food. The crowd was unbelievable, for a couple reasons: (1) it was past 3 o'clock, which means most Koreans have finished their meals and have moved on to other things; (2) we were in Hanam City, not Seoul, so you'd think there wouldn't be such crowds. But I guess the quality of the food in Eatopia spoke for itself, hence the hungry hordes at the wrong time of day. Anyway, we ate and talked in a tired, desultory way about this and that. I had checked the map to see how far away the intercity bus station was; it was only a kilometer away, so we heaved ourselves up from our hard-won table, put our trays away in the "Tray Return" room off to the side of the dining area, and lumbered back out into the cold to reach the terminal. We ended up coming within sight of the terminal, but JW noticed a bus stop along the way, so we checked the bus stop's chart and decided to wait right there for our bus, Number 9303 to both Jamshil (my stop) and Jonghap Sports Complex (JW's stop).

A coworker of mine had advised me that there was a samgyeopsal restaurant called Hanam Pig House (Hanam Dwaeji-jip) that, by her reckoning, was awesome. I had originally suggested to JW that we eat there, but once JW caught sight of Starfield in the distance, those plans went out the window. Funnily enough, the bus stop where we had chosen to wait for 9303 was only twenty meters away from Hanam Pig House:

9303 took its sweet time coming. We probably waited close to half an hour before the bus finally showed up. Here's JW, caught in the act of waiting:

And our final picture is of the bus schedule. If you can magnify the image, and if you can read Korean, you can see the details for 9303's route:

All in all, it was a good walk. I congratulated JW on becoming a veteran distance walker; at this point, we've done three or four long walks together, although all of our walks have been on the short side, i.e., 25K or less. I told JW that I'd be willing to do the long walk from Hanam to Yangpyeong with him (35K) if he wanted to try that; he didn't say yes, but he didn't say no, either. JW did have a tiny bit of trouble with his shoes; footwear has been a recurrent problem for him, and while he hasn't complained of any blisters, I do have to wonder whether his current shoes might actually work against him should we decide to do the Yangpyeong walk. JW, meanwhile, wants to do a long walk on New Year's Day, and I groaned at the thought of doing that. I told him that, quite frankly, New Year's Day is normally a day when I prefer to sleep in, but I also said I'd think over his idea.

JW has mellowed out in recent years. It used to be that hanging with him meant enduring fat jokes at my expense and other macho bullshit, but ever since he and his family came back from four years in India, he's been a changed man, and he's much more pleasant to be around. Today's trek to Hanam City was in that vein: JW was a good walking companion, even if he did have a tendency to walk diagonally such that I was forced to slow down and get behind him in order not to be run off the path. But asking a Korean to walk in a straight line may be asking too much: this isn't a country that prioritizes linearity. You see it in how Koreans drive, in how they think and interact, and yes—in how they walk.

*I could go on at length about why kimbap most decidedly isn't sushi, but this isn't the place to do that. A post for another time, perhaps.


John Mac said...

Another great walk!

On the Hash Saturday, a guy next to me said he'd been walking a week ago in the cold of London. I laughed and said I was walking in the cold of Seoul. I'm so spoiled by 365 days of warmth a year. Of course, lots of them are rainy, but still...

Kevin Kim said...

I'm glad you feel as comfortable as you do in all that heat and humidity. For me, though, too much of that would drive me insane. I need my four distinct seasons, and winter has to be cold.