Howdy again. I’ve been a terrible blogger of late — I know it — but I start redeeming myself right here and right now. What’s it been since the last post, a week or so? Unforgivable — I was shooting for two or three posts per week, pre-computer breakdown.
The shocking truth is that I can’t even blame the breakdown. Two Fridays ago, after skipping school at lunchtime and enduring one of those bruising trawls through the shabby Busan backstreets that I do so well, just as I was admitting defeat and retreating to the subway, I chanced upon a sign, which led me to an exit, and then a stairway, and finally the nondescript office building housing the approved Apple service joint serving the Southeast. A few minutes with the just-barely English-speaking technician, an arcane configuration of fingers on keys — something out of an I.T. Karma Sutra — and this here laptop was purring like a phlegmatic kitten.
The diagnosis? Battery fine, something to do with PRAM or SMC or KGB or IUD…and I was fully equipped for blogging and coffee-house photo fun once more. MacBook’s working better than ever now — except for its latest passive-aggression, a refusal to charge its battery. I am once again a housebound blogger/photo editor. But at least it works. The void in my life has been plastered over.
So the good ship TGTW is sailing again. I have a ton of other crap going on that is the real reason for the recent absence…but all will be revealed. Let’s set sail for steamy Seoul — hope you enjoy my truancy from Hell Skool as much as I did…
* * * * *
I’ll probably never set foot in Seoul again — but if I do, I’ll start the same way I have on my three visits, by jumping on the subway when the bus pulls in, and heading straight downtown to the Cheonggyecheon.
Regular readers might recall my previous visits: the wintery day-trip last year, complete with snow and frostbitten fingers, which I talk about here, and the more leisurely ramble along its banks during my week of training the following Autumn, which is touched on (sans pictures) here. This time I arrived in the sprawling megalopolis typically unprepared; I needed something solid to grasp while I got my bearings, and Cheonggye Creek would do nicely.
Seoul’s subways are marvellously efficient. I even found a seat — practically unheard of in Busan — and was soon daydreaming through my stop, requiring a lengthy backtrack. Whatever, I still got out before lunchtime, scored a coffee, and got to the nearest access pont, the Supyogyo. Gyo means bridge, and the cheon in Cheonggyecheon means creek (not stream, surely, as it’s always translated — if it’s big or significant enough to earn a name, it ain’t no stream).
This is one of the 22 bridges traversing the five-mile
stream creek. I set my coffee on the rail, posed for a picture with a rather forward tourist who apparently considered me part of the local colour, and at last descended to the walking path, already sweating in the sweltering heat that would only get more intense during that beautiful long weekend.
I found myself walking east…
..and my 22-bridge day would actually end up being closer to a 44-er, since I was going to walk the length of the waterway in both directions.
By God, it was hot. Cloudy at times, but consistently stinking hot. Oddly, I found myself enjoying the heat, and the sweat, and — oh, God, yes — the delicious fact that I was free, and alive, and above all not entertaining deadbeats in a godawful soul-destroying classroom.
But it’s wrong to
goat, Gloat gloat, Goat. Back to the mighty Cheonggye…
..for our tour of the underside of just about every bridge in inner Seoul.
I’ll say this about the good citizens of Seoul (the older ones anyway): they know how to find relief from the searing midday heat. It was two or three degrees hotter than home in Gyeongnam Province. What better place to seek refuge than the soothing underbelly of a creek-crossing bridge, with its shade and cool water?
Every bridge had its heat-dodging denizens, dipping their toes, drinking, eating, socialising or dozing in comfort. A troll’s oasis.
Until a few years ago, this was a dank, degraded waterway called the Gaecheon. The shantytowns that clogged its swampy banks post-Korean War had given way to concrete, cars and soulless overpasses. The restored version, complete with refashioned bridges, paths, plants, artworks, water features and human- (and wildlife-) friendly microclimates — 3.6 C cooler than the rest of Seoul — opened in 2005.
Reminders of the creek’s role in the Seoul of old are everywhere:
I walked on into the blinding glare of afternoon. Seoul gets the best of both worlds: a dismal, protracted Winter and a brutal Summer. My town might lack the sophistication, entertainment and dining options, charm and vitality of Seoul, but it… Damn, it, no. It just lacks all that good stuff, okay?
Let’s change the topic.
Despite the brutal light, I persisted with attempts at wildlife photography. The creek banks were abuzz with birds and insects. Fish — slothful carp and darting smaller types — were abundant, too.
Not far past this point, further than I’d gone previously, the landscaped section petered out, and I turned around for the long stroll back:
A homage to the former residents:
And another patch of welcome shade:
Thousands of hand-painted tiles on the “Wall of Hope”:
Somewhere around here I stopped for a beer. It was great to be alive and free. I know: you’ve read those words before on this blog. Well, it’s still great, lemme tell you.
Like Koreans everywhere, Seoul-ites begin to shrivel and wilt if they’re disconnected from their “smart”-phones for more than a few minutes. Even under bridges:
Nearing the plaza, with its gigantic mollusc-sculpture, at the western terminus of the creek:
A “concert” was in progress: taped music, painfully over-amplified, the shrill, hysterical bleating of some throwaway K-pop…
..to which a shapely gloop — I mean, group — of wannabe sensations were bending, flexing and contorting with great urgency.
It was essentially soft porn, but with an awful soundtrack. No place for an elderly person of good moral character to linger. I stayed barely an hour and split, tut-tutting furiously…
..to the subway, with (I realised again) no idea where I was going to spend the night.
I tried the environs of a famed palace I thought I might check out tomorrow, but it turned out to be right in the political heart of Seoul, and the streets were crawling with cops, soldiers, and various stern individuals with machine-guns. I was asked where I was going. I began to get paranoid. Then I reached this spot…
..one of the few where shots of the Blue House, official residence of the South Korean president, are permitted.
I bailed. No palace was worth this tension.
Decided on Acha-San, where I could hike a famed mountain in the morning. Was rejected by one vile, racist motel proprietor, and wound up in the cheapest, nastiest “love motel” I’ve ever stayed in. There were roaches, the manageress was a pig, there was no key or hot water, and the first room she showed me was still littered with the previous occupant’s dirty sheets and towels. I had to put up a fight to get my own roach-hovel.
$25 well spent. But I slept surprisingly well, secure in the knowledge that — surely — no act of love had ever transpired within these grimy walls, beneath these mouldy sheets…
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote