Korea, Urban Walking
Comments 12

A Tree & a Ferry in a River

Hey, folks. First, some disappointing news. This post contains no accounts of ferry rides, submerged trees or rivers (well, there is a stream). Just some coffee-cup wisdom from this morning’s breakfast cafe for you to ponder carefully before proceeding.

Seoul is great. I’ll save the remaining (and most spectacular) part of the Seorak-San saga till I return, since I didn’t bring my laptop — fortunately, as I would’ve had to lug it over half of this rather large city. There are computers nearby I could use, but I’m enjoying this couch — so here comes another phone post.

I’m in the lounge area of our dormitory after knocking off Day 1 of the training session. I stayed the last two nights in love hotels as I rambled over downtown. Got off the bus after a four-hour journey, map-less, plan-less and clueless in the 2nd-biggest city on earth. I’ve never been so unprepared for a trip.

Bus-dazed, I was immediately parted from 10,000 won by a pretty arts student selling necklaces she assured me were “unisex”. She laughed heartily at my insinuation that it was a tad girlish — the alternative was a crucifix that would have done Ozzy proud circa 1974. I descended to the subway, a tad more girlishly than before.

Ad-libbing with great aplomb, I enjoyed an upscale $6 coffee in a toney old suburb with alleys full of period houses and their groupies. Eventually found myself back on the banks of the Cheonggyecheon, the revitalised stream I visited that cold day on my only other visit. Again, it rained, off and on. People everywhere, relaxed and buzzing with Saturday insouciance.

As I walked, my musical compadre in Sydney sent me our latest song, all mixed and unbelievably good. I was so happy. I was sauntering along smiling, one of the smiling thousands, listening on my new headphones and laughing out loud at our daring and genius. I do not exaggerate when I say in all modesty that this is one of the finest punk rock classics of all time. Now whenever I hear it I will – I do – think of that gushing stream in central Seoul. And one day you will, too.

Love hotel: 60,000 won and once again, no love. Again with the false advertising. But yesterday was awesome. At last I had a vague plan, and was soon exploring the old prison where the Japanese colonial goons imprisoned, tortured and executed thousands of Korean patriots, liberationists and activists. Sad, but well done and with enough English to teach me a lot. My God, no wonder so many here hate Japan with such vehemence.

Outside it was sunny and lovely. I spent a couple of hours exploring the cells, the grounds, the execution wing. It was fascinating to watch the Korean visitors. Most were smiling, their kids playing and running around. I have such respect for Koreans when I think about what they’ve endured and how much they’ve salvaged from the rubble of repeated subjugations. And as a whole they come across as content and good-natured — and yes, very patriotic.

Looming beyond the prison walls was a small but impressive peak I climbed next — An-San, it’s name. From the top, a view of a nearby mountain sacred to shamanists — and the famed hill of Nam-San with its great tower, symbol of the city, on top. This may surprise you, but I decided to walk there.

Well, it took about 90 minutes and was totally enjoyable. Glorious autumn weather, relaxed people, autumn leaves, great modernist buildings towering over streets of crappy shacks…and the mountain top where great throngs of — yes, happy — visitors, including dozens of fellow foreigners, were having a blast as the sun set over the hazy vastness of the city and the tower throbbed with colored light. I listened again to our song, several times. A dozen listenings had not dulled its perfection. What a great day.

I walked down the mountain in the dark, lucked onto a subway — God, the trains here — and quickly got myself to Hyehwa station, in a cool university district, where this institute is located. Tracked down another hotel, 20,000 won cheaper, dined on two convenience-store burgers, ice-cream and yoghurt. Ah, Korean food. Listened to our song and proclaimed it Good.

It was pouring his morning. Killed an hour with coffee before rushing through it to this place. Was given a T-shirt we all had to wear — well, not the same one, we got one each — to the opening ceremony. Speeches, jokes, Korean history, music and taekwondo demos. Teachers from all over Korea — none of them Australian. I’m sharing a room with one of the many South Africans who walk around the joint talking to each other in Afrikaans — not really appropriate if you ask me.

We have to plan a lesson in small groups and demo it on Friday. I despise group work of any kind except rock bands (and even those are problematic) so I wasn’t too thrilled. But I knew it was coming; it’s one of the many downsides of this “career”. I’d rather have some intensive workshops on how to beat middle schoolers into submission.

And on that cheerful note I’ll bid you goodnight and talk to you soon.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote


  1. I’ve missed a few of your posts lately, but I thought I’d drop in and I’m finding this insanely enthusiastic Goat quite disturbing! Are you sure you’re not having too much sugar?! This new song sounds very intriguing and I like how you’ve put it totally on the line as ‘one of the finest punk rock classics of all time’! The hubris is cranked right up!

    I guess it’s understandable after reading that coffee cup of yours. Mind and body upgrade? Pride in life?! Wow!

    I’m looking forward to the trip photos…

    • Thanks, Greg, I know you’ve had far more important things to worry about. Yes, I went through the roof with the self-love in this one, didn’t I? But what the hell, it makes a nice change from the self-loathing!

      Back in Gimhae where the sound of nothing happening is almost deafening. Time to blast my eardrums and record some vocals…

  2. I can’t help but notice what a cheery and positive blog that mostly was! Good to see. Though I was glad of the more cynical ending that saved your reputation.

    • Thanks, Sue. I like to keep people guessing. That was a hard week — the training part — but other than that (and even, sometimes, through it) I did feel excited to be alive. It hasn’t all worn off yet, either!

  3. Sounds like a reasonable start to your time in the city – I just hope the training isn’t too much of a pain. Like you, I hate such things and will run a mile to avoid them when I can.

    • There was no escape, unfortunately, Nick. But it gave me an excellent, almost-all-expenses-paid intro to Seoul, a fascinating place, so I’m not grumbling too much.

  4. So upbeat! And there was I thinking you were turning into a whinging Pom! Just kidding, actually I find most of your posts pretty uplifting. Must be all the mountains and solitude. We don’t have either of those here. Glad you enjoyed Seoul.

  5. Reading backwards as I’ve got a bit behind… It’s occurred to me, perhaps you were wearing your new necklace when that boy in the next post said you were looking good?

    • Haha, yes, I’m tarted up like a William Street, er, lady of the night (Sydney reference)! Trying to push the dress code boundaries at work, and reaping the rewards.

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