Tackling Namhansanseong

Today I decided to go hiking at Namhansanseong (남한산성). It was pretty much perfect hiking weather. It was overcast but not raining, very warm but not hot, and slightly breezy.

Namhansanseong 2011 Album

Good Man and I visited this park in 2007, but didn’t actually make it to the fortress wall. This time I took some detours. I started at the information area, where I got a map and tried to ask how far it actually was. (The map is not labeled with distances.) The men at the info station were not helpful at all, for the record. I know my Korean was fine, because when I asked a random man in the park the same question, he helped me out. The information guys screamed “English!” and handed me an English-language brochure that was completely useless since it had no map on it.

I started up the main path, stopping to take a few pictures along the way, and decided to visit one of the many temples in the mountains (specifically 영도사). In order to get there, I walked up a steep, rocky, wet path. I had to cross one small stream and climb many deep steps and I was alone the whole time. I realized that I was not getting good cell service and if I fell, I might have some difficulty getting someone to come. But the hike was gorgeous, so I continued on.

Lanterns on the Way to 덕운사

I got to the temple and took the road that connected it to another temple (덕운사). When I got there, I found a road going back to the main path. I started laughing. How else could I react to that? I could’ve saved a lot of time with that road!

There was path from the second temple heading up to the wall, but I decided it would probably be better to stick with the path I knew, since I wasn’t sure what the topology was like.

I went back to the main path and got to the fork. You can either take ~250 stairs up to the ridge of the mountain, or take a different path. Again, I stuck with the stairs since I’d done it once before with Good Man.

Please Only Look

At this point I was feeling a burn. I considered turning around, but wanted to see the fortress. So I made it to the ridge and then took the hiking path that runs along the road to the fortress. I had no idea how far the fortress was and was feeling really wiped out. I stopped a man going in the opposite direction and he told me it was about 10 minutes away.

A couple was coming up behind me and he said, “Follow them.”


This couple—like nearly every other Korean there—was decked out in full hiking gear, complete with hiking poles. Koreans love hiking. They asked me where I was from. “Washington, DC,” I replied.

“No, I mean where did you hike from?”

“The subway station.”

“Ahh! That is very hard. Where do you live?”

“Washington, DC.” They looked at each other. Then they looked at me. I was not surprised by their reaction; I knew they expected me to be an English teacher. “I am on vacation,” I said.

The husband laughed. “Where did you learn Korean?”

“I lived here,” I said, “and I have a Korean husband. Now I am living with my mother-in-law for five weeks. She doesn’t speak English, and we need to understand each other. If my husband is here, I speak English to him. So now I am practicing my Korean.”

“Where is your husband?”

“My husband is very busy, working in America.”

The wife replied, “She must be very happy that you speak Korean. Do you have any babies?”

I laughed, “No, not yet.”

“We mother-in-laws, we want our daughter-in-laws to have babies!” I grinned and agreed. She certainly didn’t need to remind me!

The couple stuck with me up to the fortress wall, and showed me the holes in the wall that soldiers could hide behind and shoot from. They tried to get me to climb to the peak of 청량산, but I knew I didn’t have it in me. I didn’t want to decline, but I hqad to protect myself since I was hiking alone. “I’m sorry,” I said, “It is very hard, and if I die, my mother-in-law will be very angry.” They both chuckled, agreed it was tough, and wished me luck.

Fortress Wall

I explored the immediate area and grabbed a peach drink. When I stopped for a moment, my legs were shaking. I realized I had put myself in a potentially bad situation.

Koreans don’t seem to know what switchbacks are. They essentially go straight up the mountain, and install stairs (often very deep stairs that make you feel like you’re doing deep-knee bends) at the steepest points. Koreans are great at going straight up the mountains. I am not. My legs were shaking, and I couldn’t remember the last time they were that weak. I needed to get back down. I had water, very poor cell reception, and a snack—which was good. But I was wearing a cotton top and sweating buckets—not good.

I considered taking a different path down but decided that going the most populated way, which was the way I was familiar with, was a better decision. That way if I keeled over, someone would help. Hopefully.

Before I headed back down, I found a pair of glasses in front of a stall selling food, drinks, and handkerchiefs. I handed the man working the stall the glasses and bought a handkerchief with a map of the area on it. He asked where I was from and why I was here. He offered me some boiled silkworms. I wanted to be polite, but I was afraid I’d gag and I was already very tired and possibly vomiting seemed like a bad idea. I declined and he asked to see my hand.

I held out my palm and he grabbed my fingertips and started examining my hand. “You will live a long life,” he said. “You have good ideas and you have a kind heart.”

This was the fourth time someone in Korea has read my face or palm and he didn’t tell me to watch out for buses like two of the other readers told me. The third reader told me I have no child line and I would not have children.

“Will I have children?” I asked, grinning.

He looked at my hand and triumphantly, happily said, “No!” He must have read the expression on my face.

I headed back down the mountain, my legs still shaking. I knew I had to keep my momentum going, but the path was so steep that descending was difficult.

I finally made it home, exhausted. Mother took one look at me and said, “Ahhhh! Amanda! Take a shower! I will turn on the AC! What do you want for dinner?”

“Sweet and sour pork.”

“No, no, you just hiked…how much?”

I unclipped my pedometer and looked at it, “17,690 steps.”

“Yes! You just hiked 17,690 steps and now you will be skinny. You should not eat sweet and sour pork.”

I shrugged. “Then how come you asked what I wanted for dinner?” Mother clucked her tongue and I offered, “Fruit, I want lots of fruit.”