Just Another Ordinary Day in Seoul

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Seoul doesn’t feature on many travellers’ bucket-list. Honestly, it didn’t feature on mine either. It doesn’t have the glitz of Shanghai or Tokyo’s breakneck pace. The city is austere; a lot of its cultural/heritage sites were destroyed or damaged during colonial rule. And the effect of its bitter past is hard to shake off. A lot of its past struggle is amply evident on local subway communication systems or the weathered lines of the elderly. Someone — looking for a love-at-first-sight feel — will be sorely disappointed. And yet, it’s beauty lies in its understated style, hidden local markets, smiling ajummas, and hazy mountains in the far distance. When I visited Seoul, for the first time, last August, I felt it was a city that I could possibly live in. It was laid-back enough for me to feel comfortable and not overwhelmed by cultural rigidity.

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Collectively, over a period of a year (interspersed with trips back home), I’ve spent four months in Seoul.  If you count the time starting from our current relocation (this July), we’ve completed over a month. This past month hasn’t exactly been an easy ride. And when things go wrong, they have a way of dragging everything else into a downward spiral. I never thought setting an apartment or subscribing to basic services would be such a task — with language proving to be the biggest barrier. The climate changed drastically, with a heat wave, that spiked humidity levels and set temperatures soaring. Back home, my mum’s health look a downturn with a tooth extraction gone wrong. And as I said, when you’re stuck in the pit, it’s hard to find a way out. Those silver linings aren’t easy to find.

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Sometimes, its the simple things which bother me the most. Integration into a foreign culture doesn’t as much. Maybe, because I know, that being foreign will always be challenging and no matter how long you stay in a place away from home — it will never truly be home. But then, as a traveller,  I’ve often asked myself the question, where is home?

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After a while, it’s easier to accept life as is. To let go of things. And walk. Explore. Breathe. Live. Soon enough, the thoughts will fade away, and that’s probably what helped me readjust to Seoul. If there’s any city that beckons putting those feet to good use — it would have to be Seoul. And only when you walk, will you realise hidden shortcuts, gigantic exhibits of art (in plain sight), and how normal life can be here.

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Basil and I often meet over lunch. There’s a small park/recreational spot near his work place and it’s a hotspot for office-goers and elderly people. In the afternoon, the sound of water fountains and children squealing, when the drops of water hits them, can brighten anyone’s gloomy day.

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For as much as I like to walk around, I dislike having to play the dancing game at signals. There have been times, when the heat was intolerable and my legs would refuse to move, when I’m 5 minutes away from the crossing, and the light turns green. It’s a tick-tock from thereon. Panting and running have become a part of most of my walks.

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My favourite part of any walk — is the possibility — of finding a lengthy patch of green. A new project, has converted old railway lines, in our locality, into a walking space which connects neighbouring subway stations; occasionally interrupted by arterial roads. It’s my favourite spot in the evening. Even on a warm day, there will be a gentle breeze to cool you down and the trees shield the fading rays of the sun.

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In summer, the cicadas spend their last days, perfecting their pitch, and preparing to welcome the next of kin. I’m amazed by these invisible beings adding life to Seoul city. Their life span is rather short (7 years) and they spend most of it underground, only to emerge and end it on a high note. I wonder, if humans are the only species to need specific goals in life, moments of glory, and names to be etched on wooden plaques. Why can’t we more like our counterparts in the animal kingdom and be content on ‘living’ rather than achieving? Sometimes, while I walk, my thoughts seem to drown out even the loudest of them all. And that’s when, I know, that I probably need to get out more often and find someone who can speak the same language.

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September is a few weeks away. And I’m looking forward to it. I’m hoping for some respite from this heat and for the colours to turn. Early as it is, some leaves are already showing signs of change. At this moment, change is exactly what I need.

 

27 responses to “Just Another Ordinary Day in Seoul

  1. I quite like the street art and the colourful pieces ! I’m sure there are plenty of then hidden in the city and you will probably discover more during your future explorations 🙂

    I love hearing the cicadas, it’s so relaxing 🙂

    • I have a feeling you would really like Seoul, Gin. There’s street art to be found everywhere. I’m not used to taking snaps and get very concious if someone looks at me. 🙂 You’re right! There are so many quaint alleys with a lot of soul left in them. The cicadas remind me of Michael Crichton’s book, ‘Prey’. Swarms of insects which cannot be seen, only heard. 🙂 Not a very comforting sound for me. I prefer crickets or frogs.

  2. What a lovely talk to us. Yes, through your post I felt like you were talking to me and it was great. I understand you so much how difficult it is to leave in the country where people speak the other language and do everything in the other way. However, you managed to overcome this feeling and found something interesting for yourself. It is good to share it with people! We can learn a lot!

    • Thanks, Ann. It’s not easy. I’m hoping things will flow smoothly eventually. I will improve my Korean and be able to speak more fluently. 🙂 I’m optimistic. I also realised these walks of exploration are so soothing. And there’s so much I can learn. Once again, thanks for stopping by and have a great week ahead! 🙂

  3. First of all, I also very much enjoyed getting to know Seoul on foot on my recent two visits. It is an easy-going city and in spite of the steep language barrier, I also thought I might be able to live there. Secondly, I am also struggling to adapt to a new city and totally understand the low points of such a transition. My solution was to get a new job, which I start next week, so we’ll see if that helps! Here’s hoping fall will bring fresh air and fresh starts to both of us!

    • I’m so glad you did! Once you truly explore Seoul, it’s hard not to fall in love with it. The language barrier is something I’m desperately trying to break. My online lessons are helping me communicate, but I do know I will eventually have to enrol in a language class. Currently, my visa type doesn’t allow me to work. So, that’s not an option for me. But, I have started attending classes at the cultural centre and joined meet-up groups. It’s fun and you get to meet visitors from different parts of the globe. All the best with your new beginning! I’m sure it will help! Thanks so much for sharing your story. I’m overwhelmed by all the support I receive from the blogging community! 🙂

  4. I suspect another advantage to living in Seoul is you find all these little vignettes you’ve shared today – probably spots the average tourist would miss.

    • Couldn’t agree more, Dave! There’s so much to explore — away from tourist zones. The pace of transformation is fantastic. So, there will always be something new to discover. Take for example, the old railway line, the entire stretch was completed in less than 3 months! I’m waiting for the temperatures to dip, before, I can post a write-up on that stretch. 🙂

  5. May be ordinary day but pictures aren’t! They’re beautifully shot and composed. The person who shot them Seems to have eye for detail and ability to look beyond normal. lovely post. before I forget it’s beautifully written too!

    • Haha! So that person would be me. They’re shot on my phone, trying to quickly capture what I see, before a local stares at what I’m doing. Not may foreigners here. And clicking pictures would look touristy. Thanks so much! 🙂

      • I agree cheryl! sometimes it looks funny when you
        re capturing picture when no one else is! Out here in Jaipur, it’s perfectly okay because we have many tourists here. So people are used to it. So many times, when I venture out for exploration, I also dress up like a tourist just to blend in! It’s better that way. Imagine walking around with a camera in your hand and you’re dressed for work…contrast this with a tourist looking for some cool shots! I’m sure you got that! 🙂

  6. Sometimes the ordinary days are best because you don’t have to go anywhere special – just enjoy the small pleasures that have become familiar to you. A number of places have felt like home for me once I get to know the place and the people. In these places, I feel I most enjoy the ordinary days. I have just spent a couple of months of busy, but ordinary days and have found that it is a good time to recharge my battery.

    • I know what you mean. As much as I love travelling, days like these bring a rare sense of calm. I’ve never been a solo traveller and yet, I cherish these moments of solitude — with so much beauty around me. 🙂

  7. I heard that the heatwave this summer is intense. I must admit that I’m not sorry I missed it!! Back in a few weeks, and I sincerely hope it’ll have passed by then. You will love fall in Korea – it is glorious! 🙂

    • Temperatures are predicted to dip this week. I’m desperately hoping for it! I can’t wait for fall. Missed it last year. We seem to be having some ESP thing working cos I just thought of you today! 🙂

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