Yesterday I went for a walk around Samcheong-dong, Seoul. Samcheong-dong, if you’re not aware, is a popular area in the city for shopping, food, unique cafes and gallery’s. It’s situated directly next to/in Bukchon Village, an area of Seoul full of Hanok style homes. Hanok is the name for traditional Korean wood-built homes. I often like to walk around this area of the city for the historic feel and the variety of cafes and shops. I didn’t anticipate I’d be hiking yesterday, but it seems my body has some sort of gravitational pull to the forest. Maybe this is due to living in Seoul for too long as a native Vermonter. No matter the mysterious cause, I ended up in Samcheong-dong park, outside the busy streets near Mount Bugaksan, a prominent peak in Seoul that overlooks Gyeongbokgung Palace and the current Presidential Blue House.
I walked along in the park and notice trail markers leading up to a boulder lookout. The weather was hot, but it was a nice time for a walk and I felt a peace being in a quiet, forest area. So I decided to follow the markers and make it a hike. It was so humid out that within minutes going up the trail I was beginning to get damp with sweat. The air also was thick and humid. It was difficult to see much in the distance due to the heavy air. Along the way up I passed a few woman chatting and eating box lunches and a man and his friend resting at a lookout sharing rice wine. The path was beautiful, wooden steps and handle bars, with glimpses along the way to the neighboring mountains and the city stretched below.
The top of the climb scaled along the edge of some protruding boulders, offering what would be amazing views of the city. With the hazy air, it was hard to see much. I continued to the top and found a nice little perch to sit on overlooking Bugaksan, through the tree brush. The wind was relatively strong, providing a nice chill against the humid summer air. Birds were chirping and I could hear the activity of some small animals in the woods. I noticed someone coming and turned around. An older man was looking at me. He asked in english “What country are you?”. I said “I’m from America” He smiled in return and approached me and to my surprise began to tell me his story. He said “I’m 82 years old….In the Korean war, I fought for the Americans in Pyeongyang, North Korea” I just looked back at him with interest, silently encouraging more. He continued “I fought with chemical weapons…..you know..Napalm?” I nodded and said yes, I do. He motioned like spraying napalm. Continuing on he told me “America is good. I like American music” and handed me a tape from his portable walkman. It had on it the names of old American pop and rhythm and blues artists, the likes of Dwayne Eddy and The Temptations. He said “I don’t like Korean music, but American is good” and continued asking me what I thought of his country. I replied that I love Korea, especially the mountains and food. He shook my hand in response saying “thank you” repeatedly, with a large smile on his face. We shared names, and I offered to take his picture.
We parted ways, and I sat in silence on the top of the rock, looking out over the foggy air. I felt a peace there, just a sense of quiet and release, listening to the birds. The man’s story was fresh in my mind. He was smiling and so kind, yet carried a sadness in his eyes. I felt calm and quiet inside and after a bottle of water, decided to head back down the hill. Along the way, I bumped into him again and he offered to help me find my bus. I knew where to go, but accepted his invitation to help. He led me to the bus stop and gave me a dollar for the ride. I ran to catch the bus, got on, and from the back seat saw him out the window smiling and waving happily as the bus drove away.