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.”

“OK.”

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.”

Umbrella Dealer

Mother has at least a dozen umbrellas in the closet. Only two people live here for the majority of the year. Mother goes to various banks quite often.

I can only conclude that Mother is dealing in the underground umbrella trade.

“사고 팔고, 사고 팔고…” I teased her with today. Buy and sell and buy and sell.

“No, no, it’s [Sister]! She never listens when I say to bring an umbrella.”

“Ummhmmm. I know your secret,” I stage whispered.

“Oh my God, oh my goodness!” Mother said, laughing.

***

Today Mother and I went out with a friend of hers for lunch. A three-hour long lunch where I was peppered with questions such as:

  • Why did you decide to marry Good Man?
  • Will you be like a Korean mother or an American mother?
  • What is the biggest difference between Korea and America?
  • What is Good Man’s best trait?

The questions continued on for three hours.

Afterward, I took a nap; my head hurt.

Museum Day with Paul

On Monday I met Paul for our own little Museum Day. Unfortunately, we did not consider that the majority of museums (and palaces) are closed on Mondays. You’d think I’d remember this since I discovered the same thing the first day of my parent’s trip here back in 2007.

Frog-Sized Dead Cicada

Paul had two neat little books full of museums in Seoul. I’m hoping I can find a copy of those books muself at a tourism office. The only problem is that the entries were entirely in English with English names—which weren’t the Korean names in English. So when we needed to ask for directions, we had to try and descibe the place. Romanization of the Korean names, or Korean itself, would have been a great help. Still, we found three that were open and looked interesting and headed off.

At Tapdol (Pagoda) Park

First, we went to the Choonwondang Museum of Korean Medicine. Paul knew the woman who worked there, so we got a very personal tour. She gave it entirely in Korean and I was able to follow most of it, although there’s something about mercury I still don’t understand. Also, you can smoke traditional Chinese medicine using a bong waterpipe. Learn something new every day.

She showed us where practitioners make medicine and we got to sample some. It was old meets new to see men in lab coats and huge steel drums that encased clay pots and a heating element. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos.

We wandered through the city, had some lunch, and then headed off to the Museum of Korean Embroidery. We were running short on time, so we caught a cab. We had the driver call the museum to find out where it was located. He hung up, looked at us and said, “Dentist!”

Paul looked at me. I looked at him. Huh?

Turns out the museum was in the same building as a dentist’s office, and on the same floor. The museum was small, full of interesting books, and full of employees who didn’t even greet us or send us off with a goodbye. Stitch me unimpressed.

Reflections

Finally, we went to The Paper Museum (which I think is run by a glue/paper/sticker company). I was really impressed by this place. On the first floor there was some modern art and it appeared to be done by the same person (the labels didn’t list the artist). I asked the guard if we could take photos, as long as we didn’t use a flash. His eyes grew large and he said, “Yes, yes!”

Whenever I ask permission to take photos, even (as was the case here) when there’s a sign saying not to, I am granted permission. This is why it ticks me off so much when other bloggers talk about “sneaking” photos. Either ask for permission or mind the signs.

After we were done with the first floor, the guard told us to go up to the third floor. In the stairwell there were examples of various paper folding and cutting methods, mostly don’t by students. On the third floor we found a lot of different paper products turned into art. It was very neat, and Paul and I spent quite a bit of time up there.

We also poked around on the fourth floor and found a stationary store that had far less cute plastic junk and far more hanji (traditional Korean paper) than the average stationary store.

I highly recommend visiting the museum. I’m hoping to take Mother and Sister there before I leave. It’s right off of Dongdaeipgu station, so it’s easy to get to, as well.

Getting to Know Good Man from 7,000 Miles Away

I came to Korea alone to become closer to my mother- and sister-in-law. (So far, that seems to be working.) What I didn’t anticipate was how much more I’d learn about Good Man just by being here.

I’m staying in Good Man’s old bedroom. It’s been converted to an office, but it still has traces of him. I wake up and see three copies of a Rails web development book (why three of the same title, Good Man?). Thick English dictionary sit on the shelves, as well as President Obama’s book.

Mother reaches into the shoe cabinet, pulls out Good Man’s shoes, and says, “Amanda! These shoes are expensive. Bring them back home with you!”

One rainy day, Mother pulls out all of Good Man’s old school journals and we flip through them. First grade drawings, in heavy crayon. I search for birthday entries to see what he did. “Hooray, hooray, hooray! One more year has passed! It’s my birthday!” I find notes about attending English hogwons and learning computer programming.

I put something in a drawer, dig around, and find two of Good Man’s dojang (name stamps). I’m chatting on the phone with him. I pick something up and read, “02—” He stops midsentence and finishes the number for me. He’s just rattled off his military ID number, because I’ve found the dog tags.

Sister and I flip through old yearbooks together. I search for him, pick him out of group photos. Sister shows me one of the girls she knows Good Man had a crush on in high school.

Mother and I go for a walk and she shows me two of the schools Good Man attended, the field where he went ice skating and caught frogs and dragonflies. She points out the corner store where he used to play video games, hunching her shoulders over, mimicking him.

I’ve heard some of these stories from Good Man, but always through his filter. Now I’m learning about him through his mother and sister’s filters. I’m learning more about him by the things he’s left behind. It’s an odd experience, being surrounded by bits of him when he’s 7,000 miles away, in the home we’ve created together.

Moments with Mother

I met Master’s family again last week. I watched some testing at the studio, we had a late lunch, and we played some Go-Stop together. (I kicked butt once but lost the other four times or so we played.) I came home, slipped off my shoes, and greeted Mother and Sister.

“How much soju did you drink?” Mother asked.

“None. We didn’t drink any alcohol.” Mother looked at me suspiciously, so I exhaled heavily, indicating she could smell my breath if she wanted to.

“Good.”

***

Mother took me to a samgyetang restaurant near her house for lunch. The waitress brought me a fork, which I promptly ignored. Halfway through the meal I said, “Mother, how do you eat samgyetang gracefully?”

“You don’t. You eat steak gracefully with a knife and a fork. You just eat samgyetang.”

***

Mother, her best friend, Sister and I were eating pho together. Mother told me when Good Man was younger, the family was eating a pizza together. Good Man really liked the pizza and spit on Sister’s piece so she wouldn’t eat it.

“My brother, too!” I said. I explained, using words and pantomiming, that when we were younger my brother and I were sharing a piece of cake. He cut it, so I got to choose the piece, but he cut them very unevenly. Before I could choose the much larger piece, he spit on it.

The four of us laughed about how both brothers behaved in the same way. Later, I called Good Man on it. “Well,” he said, “it was just a moment with [Sister].”

“You and my brother are both nasty boys!”

***

On Saturday, Sister and I wandered around Olympic Park and COEX together. We walked about 15K, and Sunday night I was really hungry. Mother asked me what I wanted for dinner and I said a sandwich.

I started to prepare my sandwich and Mother told me I couldn’t have two slices of bread because the bread has too many calories.

“Amanda! You should eat an ear of corn.”

I had already tasted some of the corn, and it was rather tasteless, like eating a brick of starch. “Mother, I really want a sandwich.”

“Corn and ice cream! You can eat ice cream, too.”

I looked at her, confused. “If I’m fat, why are you giving me ice cream?”

“It’s organic!”

As far as I know, organic ice cream still has calories in it. The day before, Mother lectured me on how corn is really stachy and I shouldn’t eat it because I’m fat. Mother’s Logic is…astounding. Instead I said, “Mother! Please understand me! I am so hungry, I really need two pieces of bread.”

Mother tsked me and finally gave me another piece of bread, both of us laughing.

Organic Ice Cream and Tasteless Corn: A Mother-Approved Diet. It’s the newest fad!