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  • Day5

    Day 4: Part 1, The long way down

    November 11, 2019 in South Korea ⋅ 🌙 -5 °C

    “As the pine atop Namsan Peak stands firm, unchanged through wind and frost, as if wrapped in armour, so shall our resilient spirit.” - Aegukga (South Korean National Anthem)

    On Monday, we headed to Namsan (South Mountain) to go up the Seoul Tower, a once broadcast tower and now a top tourist attraction in Seoul. While looking up facts and names, I realized that we missed something called “Hello Kitty Island” and I am currently filled with ALL of the regret. I will try to move on. Once this pandemic passes, “Hello Kitty Island” is like #1 on the bucket list.

    That’s the thing about this trip. Since we departed, there have been so many “We need to…next time” moments. I mean, #1 is “buy more fashion face masks”, but the list goes on and on. Missing Hello Kitty Island? Top travel fail.

    About those fashion masks…We are in the midst of a global pandemic. The US is now in week three of social distancing, public closures, and a changing way of life. In the last week, the governor of Colorado has asked citizens of his state to wear masks when out doing essential tasks. We’ve been asked to “go Korean” and wear fashion masks when we are in public.

    When I was in high school, my dad was cut off in traffic by a big biker dude. My dad said, “Hey jerk, nice move,” and me, being me, said, “Hey dad, be nice, that’s my boyfriend.” My dad didn’t miss a beat and said, “You wouldn’t date him…you’ve been a snob since you were 6 years old.” As I walk around town in an authentic Korean fashion mask THAT I PURCHASED AT A MUSEUM GIFT STORE, I can see my dad smiling down from heaven and saying, “Told you so.”

    But back to Namsan…

    We took a cab to the bottom of Namsan, and after wandering around a bit lost, we found the bus that takes you to the top. We were in Seoul at a beautiful time. It was late fall, and Namsan was covered in color: red, deep orange, yellow. There was a little more wandering at the top trying to find the entrance of the tourist viewing tower.

    The tower was another first for everyone in the group. I mean, me, obviously, but the other three are Korean natives. 1) You always know more interesting sites far away than you do in your hometown. I mean, home is where you work, go to school, have to clean your house, join clubs and activities. Other places are for exploring and sightseeing. I think we all fall into this trap to some degree. And 2) Korea is very different in 2019 than it was when Alice and her family emigrated. There is a new prosperity and with that comes tourism, but also a renewed sense of pride in one’s own country and its metropolis…and well, government funding for improvement increases as well. All of these sites that we were visiting existed in Alice’s youth. At that time they were the local history, maybe not kept in top condition, and possibly not even open to the public. In the last few decades, these sites have been made into Unesco World Heritage sites, or have been opened up for tours, or have been completely renovated and enhanced for sightseeing and education. You can go home, but you might not recognize it.

    The Seoul tower starts with a “Tower experience”, a kind of low-end Kpop meets sci fi movie experience, and then it’s a direct elevator to the observation tower. A beautiful view of Seoul, and directional signs that point out just how far I was from anywhere I’ve ever been: 8 or 9 thousand kilometers (over 5 thousand miles for those who refuse to go metric) to London, Paris, and Berlin. A little bit further (and the other direction) to Seattle and Denver. I was on the other side of the world.

    Seoul is a much more beautiful city than I had anticipated. I thought “massive Asian city with tall buildings and full of people.” It is that, but I had no idea how lovely the surrounding area would be. Alice said she remembered more cement as a child, so it is possible that some of the green areas are improvements from the past 20 years. Seoul is surrounded by a series of small mountains. I had seen photos, but I thought it might be the kind of photographic trickery that is often seen. I’ve seen photos of Denver that make it seem to be directly at the base of huge mountains. The mountains are close to Denver, but Denver is not nestled in them. Seoul really is built right up to and into these hills. They aren’t the Rockies, but they are prominent enough and covered by lush greenery, and in the late autumn, colorful foliage.

    We took the bus up to the top of Namsan, so that we could walk the paths back down. This was absolutely the smartest way to attack Namsan, but make no mistake…1.2 kilometers of straight down left me achy for the rest of the week. Traveling while old and out of shape keeps one humble for sure. We walked slowly down the hill heading towards one of the oldest markets in Seoul, Namdaemun Market near the South gate.

    Next up: Noodle soup, the best kimchi, Maria’s search for chopsticks
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