A spiritual odyssey in an urban setting

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A spiritual odyssey in an urban setting


The author jogs into the sunset in Namsan Park

I was surprised to find that Seoul could offer so much to my soul as well as my stomach or my fascination with history and politics.
Yet this metropolis, with its 10 million citizens condensed into 605 square kilometers, which makes it smaller than Tokyo or New York, provides more opportunities for spiritual enrichment than both of those cities put together.
Mount Namsan has been my biggest source of inspiration. I am frequently stunned by how tranquil life can be once I step on to one of Namsan leafy paths and begin the ascent to one of its summits, the most notable being the one at the northern corner where the N Seoul Tower looms over the city and where Seoulites love to gather on a warm evening to take photographs of the sun as it sets over the Han River.
Enter the park near the Grand Hyatt and its possible to see how much attention the city wants to devote to the health of its residents. At that gate there is a flower garden which is kept almost constantly in bloom. This has a one hundred meter long “barefoot trail” where visitors can remove their shoes and walk over a variety of surfaces made from pebbles and other small rocks.
The result is an instant foot massage and the perfect preparation for a run.
Turn right from here, heading North, and one encounters the lily pond. Adjacent to this beautiful spot, which betrays no hint of the big city nearby, there is a footpath that ascends sharply. Halfway to its summit there is a natural spring, with delicious water, and an outdoor gym, one of 12 in the park. The gym has weights, parallel bars and sit-up benches. There is no need to spend 500 won ($550) per quarter on health club membership at the Hyatt. Just get into Namsan and have a workout in beautiful surroundings ― on my last visit I was doing situps when a pair of wild pheasants walked past.
From Namsan’s 262-meter peak one can see several dozen churches. One of them, So-mang in Apgujeong(www.somang.co.kr), has been mine for the last year. With a Sunday congregation of around 10,000 and a choir that’s packed full of professional opera singers, this is a good place for saints and sinners alike. The service is offered with a simultaneous English translation and you could find yourself sitting next to Lee Myung-bak, who has attended So-mang for 30 years. I will miss this church, my park, this city. So I say au revoir, not goodbye.
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