Walking the city: rainy day Seoul stroll

Sunday was rainy so I went for a stroll wearing a classy yellow $2 plastic cape
aiming for a human-scale hill and lo, I found it.
Map of the Gungdongsan Trail was disarmingly simple so off I set to do the smaller loop.

A simple map of Gungdongsan Trail, Seoul
How hard could this be? Enticingly simple map of Gungdongsan Trail, Seoul

Pretty, easy, rough and green, this little hill made me feel at home.
It could have been Mount Victoria, Wellington.

Hilly walkway through forest
No, it’s not Mt Vic. It’s a little hill in Yeonhui, Seoul

Surprise, an outdoor gym. I flick a puddle off the seat and try
a lift-your-own-body-with-your-very-own-arms machine.

A cosy outdoor gym with the lift-your-own-weight machine in front.
A cosy outdoor gym with the lift-your-own-weight machine in front.

I don’t last long because the handles are studded with metal prickles—
my hands have instant henna pattern done in Braille.

Hands indented with pattern from gym equipment handle
Not henna hands for a bride but my painfully indented palm after using a machine for mere seconds. Leather gloves next time.

She’ll be coming round the mountain getting wetter all the while
and she meets a pagoda shelter with fine feng shui
so she does t’ai chi. (She means me.)

Pagoda on Gungdongsan Trail, with mirrors
Pagoda on Gungdongsan Trail, with mirrors

By now I knew that the “map” of the trail was an abstract cartoon, like most.
I was mildly lost and emerged in an unknown part of the city
that turned out to be
very close to home.

This week is The Guardian Walking the City Week. If you’re taking public transport in Seoul then a lot of walking is involved, inside and out of subway stations. So it suits me. I’m at the Seoul Art Space Yeonhui #GuardianWalking

Guardian articles on Walking the City


A Monday in Seoul

ATM machine in Yeonhui, Seoul
An ATM machine is an ATM machine wherever it may be, and this one’s in Yeonhui

Personal independence day:
I managed to work
an ATM machine and a bus

Apartment blocks seen from a train window.
View from the train approaching Baekseok: a row of apartment blocks.

three trains and another money machine
all by myself. I’m Ms Commuter Queen
a functional

Quirky buildings in Baekseok, possibly designed by hobbits.
Quirky buildings in Baekseok, possibly designed by hobbits. Pretty quiet on a Monday lunch time.

Nobody even felt obliged
to help me across the street.

Entering Megabox Baekseok cinema complex.
Megabox Baekseok: cinema complex over a vast shopping store

At Megabox
cinema complex
I joined a full house screening
of My Year With Helen
by Gaylene Preston
in the 10th DMZ Doco Festival.
Film makers politicians and activists
took to heart
this feminist story of our time.
Listen up and hear our sisters:
they could hardly be more clear!

Travel notes and photos by Rachel McAlpine. 


A Saturday in Seoul: go, eat, walk, drink

People waiting to cross the road in Seoul as a green bus departs
Orientation: memorising landmarks so that you get on the right bus at the right bus stop.

What does a beginner tourist do
on a Saturday in Seoul?
Start with orientation practice:
take bus number 7612
and go five stops
to Hongdik Uni station.
Map, signs, card, gates, signs, gate, done.

Big plate of fried chicken with daikon side dish
A better class of fried chicken with daikon on the side

Next a hearty chicken lunch
in Hongdae, fried and fresh for once
which we consume like dainty gluttons.

Stone walls with colourful vertical flower beds.
Stone wall with vertical beds of impatiens (i.e. flowers) inset

Metro homework carries on
take Subway Line 5 this time
(the purple one)
to Gwanghwamun Station
and congregate at Exit 5
for a mini-walking tour
alongside Cheonggye Stream.
Map, signs, card, gates, signs, gate, done.

Korean drummers in their glorious traditional costumes
Korean drummers in their glorious traditional costumes

It rains and so the tour’s cut short
and we catch some young men
drumming while they dance and spin
and women dancing while they drum.


Next we follow our sexy guide
(seventy-six with two crook hips)
to his regular after-work cafe.

There I like the tofu soup
and the mystery of makgeolli
the living drink that’s milky white
rough and ready like a rice home brew
and touted as a health food too.


Back in Hongdae crowds are swarming
and I saw what I never thought I’d see
a punk musician trying hard
to snarl and scream
and looking cute and clean
in a brand new tidy T shirt.

Rachel patting a sanitised sheep indoors
Petting a sheep in the Thanks Nature Cafe, Hongdae

After such a busy  day
we slipped into a sheep cafe
for cup of tea and a gentle sniff
by a couple of bleached and back-combed lambs
who live indoors as fluffy toys.

Then it’s home again
on green bus 7612.
I must remember that.

Travel notes and photos by Rachel McAlpine. Share if you wish.






A capsule travel wardrobe—what to pack for your next trip: less, much less.

Travel wardrobe rail with 3 pants, 3 dresses, 3 tops
Travel wardrobe rail with 3 pants, 3 dresses, 3 jackets—too much!

For twenty-eight days away
two long plane flights
lots of writing
and one or two posh dos
into my little bag I packed
three dresses (nice in the heat)
three pants (one merino for the plane)
three pairs of shoes
three jackets, undies, and three tops.
I only need two of each.

What was I thinking?
I’m seventy-eight
and it’s not too late to learn
the pleasure of wearing the same old thing
day after day after day.
I am fond of that same old thing
and it’s comfortable and clean
so I disremember
the pleasure and the stress
of choosing choosing choosing,
How shall I dress?
What shall I wear today?

Is this maybe perhaps maybe
the way old age should be?

Cat looking forlorn beside a packed suitcase.
Ursula has an opinion. If she took out some clothes she could fit me in that case.

Travel note and photos from Seoul Art Space—Yeonhui, by Rachel McAlpine 

Hurricane Methuselah is on its way: why won’t we prepare for old age?

Soldiers talk to a man swimming in wild surf during Hurricane Ike. In the background a man holds a baby in the surf.
No, don’t swim in a hurricane. No, don’t take your baby into the wild surf.

Robert Meyer asked the question in the Washington Post: Why do people stay put during hurricanes? Howard Gleckman in Forbes Magazine sees exactly the same psychology at work in our refusal to prepare for old age. He’s talking about financial preparation, but the message applies equally to general preparation — staying fit or getting fit, and paying attention to sleep and friendships, for example. (Hey, boot camp for the bonus years, anyone?)

Why, and why? are my favourite questions. I’ve adapted the reasons cited by Meyer and Gleckman for a different audience, those who can see old age approaching but don’t take action to protect their own future needs.

Excessive optimism.  “Sure, I know people get old and frail, but it won’t happen to me.”

Herd thinking: Others you know don’t prepare so neither do you.

Myopia : We don’t plan ahead because it can be expensive or inconvenient. “Let’s  just live for the day, age is just a number…”

Amnesia: Bad memories fade quickly. We forget what it was like when our dad was failing and didn’t have the support he needed.

Inertia and simplification: The amount of information about ageing is overwhelming. People don’t understand it. Faced with so many choices, we freeze, and do nothing.

I suspect there’s one more reason:
Excessive pessimism and fear: 
We anticipate the worst possible old age. We’re afraid of being poor, lonely, in pain, dead. The prospect seems so dreadful that we are paralyzed.

Do you agree? Do you recognise any of these defence mechanisms in yourself? What reasons do you believe are behind this fascinating and very human tendency to ignore the obvious when it comes to matters of ageing and death? I think many readers would like to know about your thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

  1. Why do people stay put in hurricanes? Robert J Meyer in WP
  2. What do frail old age and Hurricane Florence and frail old age have in common? Howard Gleckman in Forbes
  3. Boot camp for the bonus years
  4. Photo public domain from Defense.gov archives

How to experience selective illiteracy on your travels

Two washing machines, one with instructions in Korean, the other in English
Two washing machines with instructions in Korean. Thank goodness one has English translations.

Travellers do it on purpose
travel to places
where we don’t speak a word
except for thank you and goodbye
and we can’t decipher a word
or syllable or logogram
so we can’t use a washing machine
and must depend on the kindness
of literate
articulate strangers.

Kind staff have tagged
a washing machine
with English words
like temperature
dust mite removal
pour detergent here
and twice.

My age cohort was dubbed
The Silent Generation
which makes me laugh
except at times like this.
I welcome
this blindness to words
and deafness to meaning
I choose
this voluntary ignorance.
It strips away the buzz
and flutters up the mind.
While I cannot use or hear
my mother tongue
I float
in a silent retreat
and if and when I meet
a crowd of English speakers
I gush
and gush and gabble
and suddenly
it’s all about me.

Travel note and photo by Rachel McAlpine at the Seoul Art Space—Yeonhui. Please comment or share if you feel that way inclined.  


Finding the best places to eat when travelling

Junghee points to lunch of seafood and sprouts with Korean side dishes.
It’s best if Junghee finds the cafe and advises what to eat. Yummy seafood and sprouts, this time.

Yes, I do eat here in Seoul! Mostly yummy food like the seafood and sprouts in the photograph. But it’s much much better if Junghee or another kind person shows me where to go. This was such a tiny cafe I would never have dared to enter on my own, and without an English menu—that’s living dangerously.

Junghee Han is Deputy Manager of the Seoul Art Space—Yeonhui, where I’m a writer in residence at present. And she knows all the good places to eat in this area of Seoul, which has everything from rather posh to takeaways.

Apologies: two posts in one day! I got in a tangle with photos and sharing to Facebook and a few little computer issues.