Tuesday, July 12, 2011

남산 위에 저 소나무

From the first time I went there, I've loved Namsan as well as the neighbourhood around it. Namsan is technically a mountain in Seoul, though it's only about 250 metres tall. There are actually a few buildings in Seoul that are taller.

The first time I went there, all I saw and heard was torrential rain and leafy green trees, which reminded me quite a bit of the path that circles Hong Kong's Victoria Peak, but quieter. Of course, in retrospect, most of Victoria Peak is far more remote than Namsan, but I didn't know that at the time.

As time went on, Namsan has become one of my favourite parts of Seoul and a place that I try and visit regularly. Most people, I think, unfortunately know Namsan as nothing but a small mountain with a tower at the top, which is just as well, because it keeps the rest of the area relatively quiet.

Namsan has a fantastic loop for running, about 7.5 km if you start at the top by the tower, run east towards the national theatre building and then follow the green path until its end. From there, follow the road left past the library and go up where you see the buses coming down. This is, of course, only a suggestion, as Namsan has a variety of paths and a variety of layers.

As interesting as Namsan itself is the neighbourhood. To the north is Myeongdong, to the south is Itaewon, to the west is Seoul station and to the east is a quiet, unassuming collection of neighbourhoods that would be a great place to live. Roads climbing up to Namsan can be absurdly steep, but steeper still are the endless staircases that can turn the climb up into a heart-stopping workout for the people I see staggering up to the top drenched in sweat.

The neighbourhood to the south of Namsan, taking up the space between Itaewon, is especially interesting. It's by no means a wealthy neighbourhood even though it occupies fantastic real estate with amazing views of the city as well as proximity to Namsan. It's just a winding, messy neighbourhood with stores that have tarps for roofs and restaurants where the backdoor hasn't been used in so long that it's rendered useless by the grass that has grown there.

Above all, Namsan gives a sense of being in the middle of nowhere in the core of the city, something that's exceptional for a city like Seoul. Yes, there are other places like this in Seoul, but none so middle-class this close to the centre. Much of the slopes of Namsan have mercifully been spared by the homogenizing touch of developers, and hopefully it continues.

For a taste of the best of Namsan, literally, go to the Yongsan library opposite the much larger and grander Namsan library. The spartan Yongsan library has its fifth floor on level with the Namsan ring road and its first floor on level with the neighbourhood below. From the first floor, walk across the street and get something to eat at this tiny restaurant, followed by coffee and/or waffles down the street at the Good News Cafe.

If it's late enough, the library and its elevator will be closed, so haul yourself up the stairs adjacent to the library to get back to the bus stop (buses run to and from Myeongdong, Itaewon and Seoul station). While you wait, admire the view of Seoul and the noticeably cooler weather on Namsan. Or, if you'd like, challenge yourself to make it out of the maze of streets, no prizes given to those who live in the area.

1 comment:

Junga said...

As one of Namsan lovers myself, I love this article! and amazingly you found that restaurant picture. Good job. And thank you for sharing this blog.