Sunday, October 17, 2010

A sunlightful weekend

One of my students, in his effort to write vivid English, accidentally created the word sunlightful.It's a beautiful word, no less so for its absence from any and all dictionaries. I like it. A lot. I'm using it from now on.

And it has indeed been a sunlightful weekend, with crisp fall weather and an abundance of sunshine. I've used my time.

I started the weekend as grumpy as Lewis Black in Hell. But, like the guy in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who got turned into a newt, "I got better."

It started when I got a glorious Butterfinger Pancakes brunch date canceled out from under me on Saturday morning. My friends, if Heaven has a Denny's, it's Butterfinger Pancakes in Gangnam.  :: sigh ::

I moped about the apartment awhile, spectral pancakes dancing syruptitiously about my head, and finally decided I needed to go somewhere. My somewheres tend to be the same few places: Gangnam, the COEX Mall and Itaewon for books, E-Mart and Costco for everything else. This time I was hoping for a little exercise and something different; I've been dying for a good hike but haven't wanted to interfere with my marathon training (or, for that matter, turn an ankle or fall off a mountain or anything before the big race.) (Afterward would be fine.)

I poked around online and found a listing for Umyeonsan ("Sleeping Cow Mountain"), just one subway stop from our nearest station, Yangjae. So I went there.

This city is full of surprises... just a few minutes' walk from the Nambu Bus Terminal, I started up a steep dirt trail on Umyeonsan. Trails separate, rejoin, and wind around all over the mountain, with few signs, even in Korean. I had a vague idea of heading to Daesongsa, the mountain's Buddhist temple, but no idea how to get there. So I just headed up and up, the noise of the massive city all around receding and the sound of magpies and breeze growing stronger, winding around amidst the pine trees.

After a half hour or so, I came upon a signpost that said "Daesongsa" in hangeul. (Being able to read the writing, even though I don't usually know what the words mean, has proven time and again to be invaluable.)

Daesongsa is the smallest temple I've been to, a single building for worship, surrounded by a fountain, a one-story office suite, and a gift shop: a tiny outbuilding, with bracelets, incense, books, and tapes, that operates, unstaffed, on the honor system.

Click on the above photo twice-- not a double-click-- for a detailed closeup.

 (This is not me.)
 (Nor is this Tug.)

For a Saturday, there were remarkably few people around, on the mountain or on the temple grounds, which added to the serenity I get hiking in the woods and at Buddhist sites. After strolling around for a bit, I looked upward at the lovely Umyeonsan woods with their endless (steep) trails, thought about the badly-needed peace I might find there, thought about the (steep) trails... and headed down the paved road to the city below.

And that was my next surprise... like some cartoon of a shipwrecked man on a supposedly deserted shore who one day discovers a Club Med on the other side of the island, after a short downhill walk I found myself on the grounds of the Seoul Arts Center, with its opera and symphony halls, art museum, and plaza with coffee shops, restaurants, and dancing fountains. It was like stepping forward a thousand years in five minutes. This, for example... a pedestrian bridge just down the block from the Arts Center; it's just a tad more modern than the temple grounds so close by.


Today is one week to the marathon (my five-plus-hour moment of truth), and the Seoul Flyers held their monthly social get-together on the Yongsan Army base, the US military's premier outpost in Korea. I'd never been on an army base before; Yongsan is huge, determinedly American, and mostly rundown (some of the buildings were erected by the Imperial Japanese occupiers 90 years ago.)

Our host Jim led ten or so of us on a "history hash", running around the steep roads and stairs of the base and stopping while he explained its buildings and its history. Our army has put every last building, even the stockade (the tiny prison building the Japanese put up, still with iron bars on the windows) to use and some of the soldiers live in little quonset huts.

The rest of the afternoon brought me:

-veggie dogs (my contribution)
-Boca Burgers (my first in two-plus years!)
-the race kit for Chuncheon-- booklet, timing chip, race bib (I'm Joseph Burchmeier now, as I could only enter the race by buying the number of a Flyer who had to withdraw), and a Chuncheon fleece jacket, which sadly is lavender in color but is otherwise lovely
-my official Seoul Flyers running shirt
-deviled eggs
-apple crumble
-cherry pie
-nice people
-new friends
-an invitation from my brand-new good friend Shawn to join the Southside Hashers running group, which conducts running-and-beer sessions on my side of the river every weekend.

If you know anything about me, you know that very few things in life are worth more to me than new friends... fortunately, free shirts and pie are among those few things.

(Mostly joking here. Mostly.)

So... one week to Chuncheon, confident and a tad nervous... and it's been a very sunlightful weekend indeed.

(Did I mention the pie?)

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