Hike in Seoul: Mt. Gwanak

Climbed Mt. Gwanak today, near Seoul University. Many people out for a weekend jaunt! Neat that there were so many seniors. Old Koreans are an interesting topic–the culture has changed so much, that I think senior citizens are living members of a past that is starkly divorced from the present. A disappearing era. Everybody was decked out in gear: day packs, hiking sticks (some with ice picks on the end, which is funny), boots, etc. The street was lined with vendors selling equipment and the usual assortment of Korean street food. It had the air of a national ritual or festival. I wonder about the role of solitude in Korean life. The nationalism combined with the population density seem to devalue spending time alone with oneself. This was definitely not a quiet hike in the hoods. But, I was in the middle of Seoul. What kind of wilderness experiences are to be had in Korea?

It’s a poetic time of year. Gwanak is mostly deciduous, although there are scrubby conifers near the peak. Also at the top, somewhere, is a little Buddhist temple, but I couldn’t see it. The peak I ascended boasted a Korean flag, flapping briskly in the wind like a flag should. Most of the trees are still bare, which looks nice when the sunlight filters (what a cliche) through them. The buds on the limbs are ready to hatch–very fat. There are some simple, light purple flowers on some of the bare trees. They were very beautiful against the mostly bare limbs of the hillside, especially when sunlight was added to the mix. It struck me as a very Asian aesthetic–the rough mountain side contrasted with delicate flowers. I think Asian aesthetics often emphasize the contrast between rough and gentle in nature, maybe a Taoist influence.



Top of Mt. Gwanak

At the top were panoramic but hazy views of Seoul. So much bad air around here ! The Koreans blame the Chinese (of course)–yellow dust from Chinese industrialization I think. Many forests of apartment buildings (of course). Some recklessness in the Koreans climbing the rocks. I thought about stereotypes. Koreans (as an average, as an average) are playful and reckless. Their driving is as bad as the Italians. The stereotype is that they are uptight. There are many rules and formalities governing social interactions, but there are aspects of the culture very free from formalities too. They love sports and games of all kinds. And they like to drink.

After my hike, I took the subway to Kaldi’s Coffee shop in Hongdae. So far, the only good coffee I’ve found in Korea. A cup of the good stuff costs 3,000 won (a little over $3).


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