Thursday, 10 December 2009

A Walk In Seoul's Autumn

My alarm clock goes off!

As punctual as Seoul’s subway trains, it never misses to wake me up at 8 every morning. But on this occasion, on this chilly morning, the wake-up call did not serve its purpose. No need to get up for work; it is the weekend!

Hurray! I don’t have to separate myself from my blanket and from my bed yet. Who doesn’t want to sleep some more?

After a hot summer, when I survived the scorching heat in the city, the new season is a welcome blessing. And today, in one of the last weekends of October, where autumn in Seoul is on schedule, busy changing the colors of the surroundings, and my attitude towards waking up in the morning, is considered a treasured gift. The cooler temperatures, the late sun rises and the longer nights have all endeared the season to everyone, including myself. What a season!

Now, half-awake but with eyes still closed, I feel sunlight starting to peep through my window, gradually filling the chilly room with its brightness as if to announce that I am no longer the only occupant in my home. The sun has finally joined the autumn weekend.

I gather some courage to kick away the sleepiness and the blanket. And as I open my heavy eyes, I rise from my bed and listen. No noise, but silence. Hush…I think my neighborhood is still asleep.

I make my way to the window, dragging both feet and a drowsy head. And with little energy, I open the window to look out and breathe my first autumn air for the weekend. Still, my neighborhood, in the hilly Hannam-dong in the Yongsan district, sits quietly, as if all of them have decided to stay in bed to also enjoy the chilly morning in their warm beds.

I suddenly feel a cool breeze on my face like an aerial invitation encouraging me to leave my concrete shelter and enjoy the autumn day outdoors.

I look up to the brightening skies and decide to accept the invitation.

* * * * *

After the usual morning ceremony of preparing myself every morning, all in slow motion, of course, I finally decide to leave my apartment and see what the weekend has in store for me. I prepare my camera, check its batteries and tidy up my home before stepping out into the chilly outdoors. I surely need to have my camera with me! As autumn is all about the changing leaves of the foliage around the city, the best way to capture the sceneries is to…take photos! Lots of it!

Making my way through the neighborhood, I see children with their parents already enjoying the cool weather, girls walking their dogs, and a few mothers carrying grocery bags. My! Everyone seems to have also decided to be out in the autumn atmosphere!

I pass through the Gingko trees lining the Hannam-dong main street, their golden coin-shaped leaves fall down and adorn the otherwise grey concrete road and sidewalk with yellow confetti as if a celebration of an autumn parade has just passed by.

I arrive at the main intersection and direct my eyes to my right, where I see Namsan, that mountain hosting the N Seoul Tower. From where I stand, the whole south-eastern side of the mountain, that side facing my neighborhood, is painted with an array of fall colors, from orange, to red, to brown, and a few yellow dots, much like an impressionist painting of a French maestro. I cannot just stand there admiring the colorful view; I have to go there! I decide. I suddenly get excited to see it up close.

* * * * *
After walking for maybe a kilometer from the main Hannam-dong intersection, strolling through the main road and letting the traffic guide me, I finally reach the site of the National Theater of Korea, where paths that meander around the mountain start. I then remember the two routes: one that leads up to the top of the mountain where the Tower holds court, while the other traces around the lower gird, to the northern side which ends up at the side facing Myeong-dong, a shoppers’ paradise. I take the latter, although I know that either path can always give me a comfortable journey around and up the mountain.

As I continue my stroll, the cool breezes, carrying with them the scent of the foliage of the mountain invigorate me with much-needed energy as I have travelled on foot for almost an hour, momentarily forgetting that just a couple of hours ago, I was still in slumber, on my comfortable bed, thinking that the chilly autumn weekend, would have just come and gone without me even seeing the outdoors.

And the sun, now taking its position upon the blue skies as if assuming the role of the guardian, watching over Seoul and its citizens and creating an atmosphere of a fun autumn day, provides clear blue skies and brightness all over, helping the season display its colors for everybody to enjoy.

Making my way through the chosen path, I am among the many, who, today, are the visitors of the mountain: a group of Korean elders exercising, several women exchanging laughs along the route, a few bikers pedaling through, parents educating their kids about nature and the environment, a couple of photographers, just like myself, studying the colors and the lightning by which to frame their pictures, toddlers playing with the fallen leaves and throwing handfuls at each other along with their giggles and endearing laughter, people walking their dogs, and of course, couples holding hands and seemingly lost within themselves, and as if declaring their devotion to each other as they walk through this mountain path painted here and there with the color of their love.

Yes, a lot of reds, the universal color of love, and even fiery reds. There were also oranges, burgundies, browns, yellows, pinks, yellow-greens, and purples from these maple trees, acacia, acorn, pines and other trees and plants whose names I don’t know. This feast of colors provided by nature comes only once a year, and only lasts a week or two, but how lucky, I am, I realize, to be here and be able to enjoy the cool autumn breeze and the season’s gift of colors.

I have forgotten how far I have been walking, oblivious to the distance but not to the surroundings. Through this concrete path zigzagging its way around the mountain, with the view of the Tower from a different side and angle, I come to appreciate the way the city has preserved nature within itself. Respecting the environment and finding ways to preserve it, Seoul has created another way by which Seoulites, like me, are able to enjoy life in the city. And today, seeing those other hikers, bikers, parents, kids, couples – Seoulites all, having fun under the autumn skies in Nam-san, I admire the efforts of the city government, with the help of its citizens, to make sure all-year round, be it spring, summer, winter, or fall, everyone can enjoy the outdoors.

I now reach the end of the stroller’s path, at the intersection which leads to Myeong-dong. I opt to turn left and walk up the flight of stairs leading to the Nam-san Park. On reaching the top, while catching my breath, I see N Seoul Tower, sitting at the peak of the mountain which is blanketed by the same collage of the colors I just saw along the way. And I was not surprised to see a lot of people in the park, all of whom are also discovering the best way to enjoy the season.

I try to find a place to rest my tired legs. I sit on one of the benches around the park’s fountain. I then declare that this was a fitting place for me to end my autumn walk. As I sit there, sharing the cold bench with an elderly couple having snacks, I face the mountain as if to pay homage and give thanks for the colorful welcome and the enjoyable stroll it allowed me to endeavor.

What a fun autumn day, I remind myself. Experiencing the sights and colors, savoring the scent of the autumn foliage and letting the autumn sun sprinkle its rays unto my face make it all a soulful experience in Seoul. I may never pass this way again, so to speak. But having done so, I will always look forward to autumn as a season to enjoy and experience.

* * * * *

I am now back at home and very happy with my photographs. Each time I look at them – from photos I took when I started, to the ones I took while traversing the mountain path, up to the ones I took of the N Seoul Tower, they all remind me of what it was like out there, outdoors, out in the autumn season. I wish I could be able to share this experience with everyone else. But through my story of this memorable autumn day in Seoul, I wish everyone was there, capturing the sceneries and scents with cameras and memory, and enjoying this walk in autumn.

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