Its about 15 degrees outside. Fahrenheit, if that matters. I'm in South Korea and I am not ready for this sort of weather.
I had spent most the day at a coffee shop. At a little place called Beans Bins. The square cafe had tall ceilings and round wood tables with their logo emblazoned in the middle. The chairs were simple, yet comfortable. Unremarkable save for the fact I had been sitting in one for nearly six hours and I wasn't sore.
Three of the four walls were floor to ceiling windows. Most, if not all, were narrow and hinged. They looked like they would open, perhaps accordion style. I could imagine, if the weather was warmer, this would be an open air cafe. A light breeze would waft the sounds of the city in, a quiet background to pleasant conversation. Today only the melodic sounds of the Thomas Hardin Trio play over the speaker system. It's music that fades into the background, almost unnoticeable, until I try to put in headphones. When I turn on my own music, the cafe's soundtrack is a little too loud. The amalgamation of songs is disconcerting and distracting.
A small rush of people crowd the space over the lunch hour, but for most of the day only a couple of patrons gather to eat and chat. Beans Bins serves coffee and waffles. The waffles are covered in whipped cream and fruit. The one I order around 1:30pm came drowning in whipped cream and topped with strawberries, blue berries, pineapple, bananas, and kiwi. I'll never look at a waffle the same way again.
In spite of my double socks, my feet are cold. They've been resting on metal and tile for hours. It's time to try to warm them up.
The best way to heat up my feet is to get the blood circulating. I don't like the idea of going outside. But I can't stay here forever. (Probably.)
I pack up my things in my backpack. It's an Anello bag that I bought in Japan a few days prior. I like the style, but the internals are just one giant space—not an ideal way to stow $3000 worth of electronics.
Out on the street I walk briskly. This is "café street" according to my friends and indeed, there are a lot of cafés. It's difficult to tell which ones are open, many seem dark or deserted, despite dinner time being so close around the corner.
Noah's apartment is maybe a half-mile from the cafe. Noah is someone I met at the airport. I'm sleeping on an air mattress in his studio apartment for the week I'm here.
By the time I'm back, I've started to warm up a little bit, but it's five o'clock and the sun is setting quickly. If I want to have done more than sit at Bean Bins all day, I need to go back out.
I leave my backpack and only take my camera for this hike. There's a small park right behind Noah's building and he told me the view is incredible, "just keep turning left."
An inch of snow covers the ground, but the path is clear as day. It's reddish brown against the white surroundings. The path is soft to walk on, a natural carpet of pine needles, and even the dirt feels soft under the soles of my shoes.
Sections of the path are covered with a thick mat made of rope woven together. I assume it's to help provide traction as much as it's to help prevent erosion. I've heard that the Korean's love to hike.
The frigid air gnaws at my face like a dog trying to get every ounce of flavor out of a bone. My ears burn in a futile attempt to tell me to go inside or buy a better hat. It's the sort of cold that makes your eyes water.
The path keeps going up. It diverges and comes together. Weaving around pine trees and over roots like a frozen snake. The smell of pine is lovely. Each time I get to what I thought was the summit, I see the path lead on and upward even more.
To my left I can see the city stretch out behind a thin screen of leafless trees. To my right the woods slopes down to a green wire fence, and then continues downward to what might be hole seven of a golf course.
I pass several people, most of them going down. Some of them have walking sticks.
Finally, I reach the top of the hill and I find two things. There are benches to sit on and rest. I'm hot now, actually sweating a little under my multiple layers, but the thought of sitting on a frozen bench is repulsive. The second thing I see is exercise equipment. Because, like you and me, when the Koreans get done hiking to the top of a hill, the first thing on their mind is working out.
: I met Noah for the first time at the airport, but he's not a complete stranger. I've been friends with his fiancé for years.