I know this is going to sound all annoying and elitist, but I truly think you haven’t experience the best Seoul has to offer (recreationally at least) until you’ve made full use of its river and stream pathways – ideally on a bike, and ideally on a Brompton (but that is being too elitist). Of course, some might argue that the best recreation available in Seoul results in waking-up in Itaewon in a pool of your own vomit while some drunk and stumbling off-duty G.I. treats your section of sidewalk like a latrine. To each, his own.
For me though, outside of the T-Express, there are few surefire ways to put a sustained smile on my face while moving through the Korean landscape for any distance. I took a train to Busan once – that was nice, and I have enjoyed hydroplaning in late-night cabs back to Suwon from time to time, but getting on my bike, which will hereafter be referred to as “Money Well-Spent”, and trekking across the city for 2 hours to a destination to meet good people and have good times makes me really love this city. I am quite confident that anyone who joined me on one of those jaunts across bridges, through side-streets, through bustling busy districts, and along streams would want to move here. When family comes to visit next time, I’m going to cross my fingers for a Brompton rental place.
This weekend, I did a 35km trip from my place way up at Banghak Station, down through the thick of the city to Yeuido to teach my Saturday morning critical reading and writing class from 10 – 12:30. Met the rabbit for reading and nap time down at Han River Park, and stayed to meet friend for the fireworks of the Fall Hi Seoul Festival.
As a side note in case you’ve never been to see the fireworks for this festival: unless you’re right beside Wonhyo Bridge where the launching barge is, you might be underwhelmed with the display if you’re an Everland veteran, such as myself. Still, the show did look like it would have been grand up-close, and the atmosphere was great on the island. My friends and I were charmed senseless by a wee tot who offered us peanuts and then wanted to hug me goodbye at the end of the night. I nearly melted when she offered me her hand, I put the back of it to my cheek, and she covered her mouth in extreme shyness. Getting off of the island afterward though was a complete S#it show. On average, nearly 1 million people make their way to Yeuido Island for the evening festival festivities, so trying to get all of those people back home is quite the job.
Perhaps – just too many people to make it all worthwhile. Despite the porta-potties brought in for the evening, there was a 20 minute line-up for the men's restroom. I shudder to think how long it was for the ladies. With fireworks starting at 8:00, the closest station shuts-down at around 6:00PM due to the simple volume of people trying to walk-by. It was something like the water festival in Phnom Penh – minus the families of 6 or 7 on one scooter, and the clowns looking to steal my wallet. Just masses of humanity, buying ramen, drinking beer, and kicking themselves for doing so when it meant they’d be stuck in line on the wrong side of the washroom when the fireworks began. I remember being invited to this thing in my first year living in Suwon. There’s no way we would have made it back on time.
Anyway, stayed with the rabbit in Dongsan and then decided to head back home on my bike – East along the south side of the Han River, across Banpo Bridge, and north along Jungnagcheon to my place – another 35 km.
When the weather’s right, there’s nothing finer than spending a morning on my bike. I rode past a marathon heading North, stopped to enjoy some new sights, and did the old Davey Brompton challenge: never let another bike past me if it’s going the same way. I’m really not at all into regular exercise, fewer things bore me more, but I’ll push myself on a bike because it feels as though there’s both immediate and delayed reward. I get a kick out of gliding past groups of riders all decked-out in their matching racing gear on their racing bikes when my wheels are less than half the diameter of theirs. Well, okay – the Davey Brompton Challenge isn’t always flawlessly met – if some cat is pushing his 26-speed cruiser to the limit, my little 6-speed Money-Well-Spent won’t stand a chance – but I’ll get to him eventually. It’s all about the chase through relentless Mario Kart training. Victory will be mine.
I wish the weather could stay this way all year. I’d find excuses to go far. Next step – get the rabbit a Brompton, because it would be grand to have her join me and see her city in a new way. I would also encourage you to join me one day – try the Davey Bromptom Challenge on a trip through Seoul. You won’t regret it.