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Monday, November 13, 2006

The Top of the Hill

The best part of moving to a new city, err... continent is getting to explore! I left late morning, map in hand, to find the Suwon fortress. I walked for hours, saw parks overgrown like forests and almost got run over by swerving motorbikes.

The fortress I was looking for: Hwaseong Fortress, is a fortified wall constructed by King Jeongjo who was (unsuccessfully) attempting to make Suwon the nation's capital. The wall was also intended to guard the tomb of his father. We're talking 1796.

Ask any Suwon native and they don't think much of the fortress but it's a tourist trap- maybe the only reason tourists visit "Happy Suwon."

I couldn't find the wall but I had the bright eyes of someone in Paris, anticipating their first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. I pointed to my map and asked for directions but everyone sent me in opposite ways! I kept circling. It was like the twilight zone.

I did see some things that made my heart swell. The streets here are dirty and strewn with garbage, but even the garbage has a story to tell. Beer bottles dropped in foresty areas, grocery bags splitting at the seams with brown vegetables and cans say something about those discarding.

There was one moment in particular that struck me. Korea, as you know, is mountainous. I walked up a steep, narrow road cluttered with houses. My legs ached as I walked. Nearing the top, all I could see was the summit and mountains in the distance. There was an old man on a motorbike, balancing bags on each handlebar. His bike roared over the hump and he was gone.

I walked to the top and someone looked out from his balcony and bowed his head: the Korean hello. I said, "the view is beautiful," but he understood nothing. His wife came out to look.

I kept walking.

I was reluctant to find my way home and prepare for classes!

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