Seoul is an amazing city. It defines metropolitan. People, people, and more people, and buildings, and roads, and electricity, and smog, and all sorts of things that scream of modernization and G20 membership at the top of it’s yellow-dust-filled lungs. Seoul is dense, in every sense of the word. Concrete and jungle are appropriate words.
If you head in the right direction for the right amount of time, wind and humidity considering, you’ll soon step outside of the hustle and bustle of Seoul’s metropolitan atmosphere without leaving Seoul. Headed in the right direction, you’ll soon find yourself ankle deep in wilderness from the head down.
Seoul is full of Skyscrapers and apartment complexes. This is mainly because of the audacious number of people living in one city. It’s also due to the fact that there are an INSANE number of mountains; Seoul has nowhere to grow but up. It is a city nestled in mountains in every direction.
So, if the tyranny of city life is getting too much to bear, one simply straps on some well-treaded shoes and walks toward the nearest, greenest peak. My own apartment is only a block away from a “mountain,” but it’s the smallest I’ve ever seen. It goes by the name Bonghwasan, the suffix san meaning mountain.
Venture out a little bit further, and you’ll find legitimately portioned mountains, some within extended walking distance, others a quick subway ride away. The closest “real” mountain to my abode is Buramsan. A 20 minute walk from my apartment followed by several hours of hiking along the ridge-line and boom. You’ve got an amazing view of the entire Northeast side of Seoul, not to mention there is a sweet flagpole at the peak.
For a while, my crew was climbing a mountain each weekend. I’ve mounted (tee-hee) Bonghwasan, Buramsan, Dobongsan (both Uiam and Obongsan peaks), Bukhansan, and Namsan. I must admit, a lot of Namsan is ascending stairs and paved paths, but there’s an effin’ tower at the top of it.
Seoul is an amazing city. It does being a city really well, but I’m an outdoorsman at heart. Reaching these peaks has been an amazing reprieve from everything stressful in my daily life. There is something about sweating, huffing and puffing one’s way up the mountainside that peels away everything eating away at your motivation. Something about seeing nothing but trees, rocks, dirt, the occasional herd of Korean grandmas sprinting past you up the hillside in florescent purple lycra, and the lack of anything sterile makes me feel at ease.
Huddled over, wondering how many more rocks my knees can take, I’m suddenly overcome by the fact that I can’t hear a single car honking, a single Daelim scooter revving the fuck out of its engine to deliver fried chicken, or screaming children ranting about their favorite handphone game. The smell, the sights, the sounds, the feeling, the place is different. Suddenly, I’m not in Seoul.
Suddenly, I’m on the top of this gigantic–“fuck off” as Taylor would say–mountain, and all the problems I was worried about fade into a haze of homogenous apartments complexes. The people down there are freaking out about who’s in line first at Homeplus, and I’m watching clouds brush against the neighboring peak. How can anything matter when I look DOWN and see a fucking bird fly? I’m higher than you bird! Who’s so great now?!
That’s why I like the mountains, I think. Look in one direction and I see all the petty shit people deal with everyday. I wipe my brow, chug some Pocari Sweat, turn around, and there’s nothing but green. Supposedly, somewhere in these forests are moon bears and white tigers. I haven’t seen either yet, but I’ve seen enough to enjoy myself, enough to want to go back for more before I leave. If you visit Seoul and don’t climb these mountains, I’d sincerely argue that you haven’t seen Seoul.
P.S. Always bring toilet paper when climbing mountains, even in Seoul. Shitting in the woods is never fun when there are thousands of people on the same mountain and you don’t speak the native tongue.
P.P.S. My face in tingly from gin, so I feel like this post is rambly. Deal with it.