"What a fabulous day!" I thought as I laced up my hiking boots and walked out my door and onto the busy city street. "It's warm, not a cloud in the sky, and I got off work at 1:00. Life is good!"
I took off up the road outside my apartment, briskly walking past the sites of a city in motion. The sound of construction work got louder and louder until the noise of pounding jackhammers shook my teeth and vibrated the ground beneath my feet like an earthquake's aftershock. Construction ajushis (older men) yelled angrily at each other. I couldn't understand them so I put my own words in their mouths. "You stupid idiot! You're supposed to hammer the other sidewalk, not this one! How can you be so dense." Other city scenes filled my senses as I sped ever upward toward my mountain sanctuary.
The wonderful smell of toasting waffles filled my nostrils as I passed the waffle ajuma (older woman). This aroma, however, was quickly overpowered by the acrid smell of dead fish as I passed the fish monger next door. The dry cleaner donned nothing but a gray wife beater as he pressed his clothes, puffs of steam billowing up around him. I took note of the young man in a crane basket adjusting the phone wires above the street. Ajumas tending their convenience stores eyed me as I sped up the street and wound my way around the ajushis sitting in plastic chairs in the middle of the sidewalk outside these convenience stores. They loudly discussed matters of apparent great importance as they enjoyed their soju and squid flavored chips. "Prune juice! It does wonders! It's cut my toilet time down to only 15 minutes! I swear by it!" "No, that's for Westerners. Ginseng is still the cure-all magic root."
Children ran free. Taxis honked their horns. The watermelon man sold his melons out of the bed of his truck parked next to the sidewalk. "Watermelons! 10,000 won!" Fellow hikers coming off the mountain raised their eyebrows as they passed by me, sniffing at my lack of equipment. "Sorry, but I don't need gloves, a metal pole, a mesh shirt and a backpack just to hike. Boots, shorts, a T-shirt and maybe a water bottle if I remember, but I prefer to travel light."
All this I passed as I quickly made my way up the gently sloping street. The sights and sounds of the city slowly faded away as I came to the entrance of Bukhan Mountain National Park, against which the city of Seoul rests. The sound of some rather chatty hikers filled my ears but even this quickly died away as I zipped past them. A minute later and I was finally off the pavement on the mountain trail. Onwards and upwards I climbed. And then...not the excitement of babbling humans but the relaxation of a babbling mountain stream. Not thundering jackhammers but singing birds. Not dead fish, but a fresh breeze across my face. Not steel and concrete buildings, but beautiful green trees and mountain flowers.
Then I stopped and glanced at my watch- 15 minutes since I had left home. I stood still and listened. I closed my eyes and absorbed the peaceful quiet around me. Not a trace of Seoul did I perceive. In this city of over 10 million souls, one of the most crowded on Earth, I had found my getaway.