I didn’t teach at all this week, which–yes–means that I won’t be getting paid for the canceled classes, but it also means that I’ve had the chance to do some long-intended sightseeing before I up and leave this country.
So, today I went up to northern Seoul and hiked around Inwangsan (Inwang Mountain). The base of the mountain is populated with Buddhist temples and traditional Korean houses, and it’s really an amazing area to wander through. It felt the way Seoul must have felt fifty or sixty years ago–before the economic expansion took over and destroyed much of the ancient city. My wanderings took me to a huge bell, which I’m told marks the entrance to the largest temple–Bongwonsa. It was a big-ass bell, to be sure, and I was tempted to ring it but for the noise that would attract angry Buddhists. There is nothing more vicious than an angry Buddhist.
As I kept heading up the side of the mountain I came across this huge and unusual-looking rock. A zen rock, apparently, as there was a small shrine of sorts set up at its base, complete with two women who seemed to be thanking/praying to something or other. My Lonely Planet book tells me that women pray for a son at this rock, so perhaps that was it. The rock was cool-looking, to be sure–it resembled a human skull, and it was covered with skittish pigeons.
Moving on, I found myself on a pseudo-path going up and down and around all these rocks on the side of the mountain. Words don’t do it justice, but I remember thinking that this was the most amazing place I’d been to in Seoul. There were views of the temples and the city beyond, and all around me was nature. Every so often I would come across an enclave that seemed to be a temporal Buddhist home, and at one point I found an altar of sorts with an image of Buddha carved into a cliff. The area reeked ancient, like thousands of years ancient, and that kind of ancient gives me chills.
After spending about an hour wandering around the temple area, meditating, standing on some huge rocks, staring out at Seoul, thinking "I am alive–I am fucking alive." I started to wander back down, via a different path, and there was this wall–the ancient Seoul fortress wall, which I’m told dates back to 1396. I stared at it for a while, trying to fully comprehend 1396, and then decided that I wanted a closer look. I hiked down to the bottom of the temple area, through a parking-lot of sorts, and then I found the stairs. Instinctively, I started climbing them.
The stairs went parallel to the fortress wall for quite some time, which is what kept me climbing them for longer than I’d intended. Eventually I realized that the stairs actually lead to the top of Inwangsan. The top, and this is not a small mountain. I realized that I really had no choice at this point but to go all the way up, so I spent the next forty-five minutes or so climbing a combination of stairs carved in rock, rickety metal stairs (frighteningly affixed to the sides of cliffs), and upward headed dirt paths. It was quite a trek, to be honest, and I would have been much more terrified than I occasionally was were it not for the occasional Korean I passed on the way up. At one point I thought I had finally reached the top–I was sitting on a rock, the wind was whipping through my short hair, and I was looking around at the city below me–when I noticed that the path continued over to an even higher peak. I had come this far, so after catching my breath I set off on another set of rickety metal steps and rock-carved steps to the top-top of Ingwan Mountain. It was very high, and while I am not prone to agoraphobia, I had occasional bouts. The unfortunate thing was that it was a very overcast/smoggy day, so the view is not what it could have been. I have plans to climb back up on a sunny day, but I don’t know if I actually will–my time here is short, after all. The trek down was, of course, much easier, although by that point my legs were like rubber and I was seeing pink bunnies.
On the way back to the subway station, I walked through an abandoned series of buildings that were clearly being readied for demolition. It was eerie, in a way, as there was all sorts of meaningful garbage lying in the street–abandoned baby carriages, stuffed animals, calendars opened to the apparent date that the former residents moved. The buildings, too, were in a eerie state of abandonment–the windows were all gone, but some remnants of the former lives that took place within were intact. As I neared the end of the abandoned street, there was a dead cat lying in the middle of the road, it’s brains splattered all over the pavement.
I did, of course, take many many photographs. I shall try and sort through them and get some posted on here post-haste. Also, the winner of the Happy Toilet Caption Contest is still being deliberated, but is coming soon-soon. I’m planning on shopping for the Korean Prize Package tomorrow.
Today was a good day.