Oof, that was hard. So many present themselves for a post about being in Seoul, but for once in my life I will refrain and let you think of all the possibilities yourselves. I won’t even mention that I could have gone with something to reflect the sense of being in slightly homesick in an exciting new city, like ‘Heart and Seoul’, or maybe something even more appropriate to wandering around this new city, like ‘Seoul Searching’. Or you could even go a little more funky, and get a little Aretha Franklin, and go for something like ‘Queen of Seoul’. So many options – don’t you appreciate my restraint?
So, I am in Seoul, and it’s great to be here. As you may have sensed from my rather truncated previous post (I decided I had to just stop writing it and post it, or else I would never get it up there), Daegu was no party by the end. It was just getting a little monotonous, without much to do or many new things to see, and so my focus became job and nothing else. And, as you may have sensed from numerous previous posts, boredom and boring yet stressful admin tasks lead to an unhappy Anika. And, as I suspected, Seoul has been much better.
I have always liked the country, and nature, and would hesitate to call myself a ‘city person’ for fear of calling to mind that image of a stiletto-clad tiny-apartment-dweller for whom the only thing more frightening than the closure of a favorite local delivery place is the prospect of coming face to face with an actual living wild animal or outhouse (an image that is unfair anyway, as I know many city dwellers, none of them actually like this), but the truth is, I am a city person. There is an invariable energy in a big city, something that I never realize I need until I feel that rush from just looking at the neon and the traffic and the big loudness of a place full of people who have all come to one place in order to rush off to somewhere else. I love the idea that there are a million things to see and do in this one place, and, it sounds bizarre, but there’s no greater meditation then wandering aimlessly among so much stimulation. And Seoul certainly has a lot going on. Divided into diverse neighbourhoods, split in two by a river, and cursed with some of the world’s worst traffic (and drivers), it can get overwhelming, even for me (alas, the kicker in Asian cities is that the energy of a big city is coupled with the complete lack of the concept of ‘personal space’). But it also seems to have maintained a delicate balance between Western modernization (my street, which seems to be the main business street) has a Starbucks every two blocks, and a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf every street in between) and Korean culture. Seoul has the additional oddness of having a large American army base smack dab in its center, and a neighbourhood nearby that has become a sort of ‘little America town’ (although, one might ask, isn’t most of the world a little America town these days?). Often these elements exist on their own – there is the Western street, and then a Korean BBQ one, etc., but sometimes they mix in the strangest ways. For instance, last Monday I was walking with Susanna, one of the local company managers who lived in New York for a few years. We were walking around Insadong, a neighbourhood filled with traditional Korean arts and crafts stores and little hipster artsy shops. “Look,” she said, pointing to a store across the way with green Korean letters on its front, “you can tell we’re in a traditional Korean part of town because Starbucks is written in Hangul’.