I wish there was a manual wherein you could learn ‘how to make friends’. I’ve always thought it’s an extrovert’s well kept secret. As a child, I’d take comfort hiding under the shadow of an extroverted sister. I’d let her do the talking whilst I’d struggle with the right words to say. And, at every bend of my life — the struggle to make friends persisted.
“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.”
― Muhammad Ali
I spent the early months, in Seoul, reconnecting with familiar faces — all who’d eventually leave. Soon, I was on my own, taking me back to the first day of kindergarten, college, ad-school, and work. This time, it wasn’t just about finding the right words to say. There were so many different words that flew around and I barely understood any of them.
“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?”
― A.A. Milne
I met Isabelle, in November, at my Hanji (traditional Korean paper craft) class. Back then, she was learning Sunmudo — a Korean Buddhist martial art and also teaching yoga, in a hanok, at Bukchon Hanok Village. She invited me for a yoga session to help relieve the pain in my lower back. And, that’s how I met Seoul locals — Jebi and Yeunsu. Sadly, that very day, the pain from Isabelle’s old horse riding accident resurfaced. On our insistence and despite her mild irritation; she had to cancel the class. Post a failed yoga session and a visit to a doctor at a local medical centre — Isabelle decided she wanted to visit another doctor at Gangnam.
“Words are easy, like the wind; Faithful friends are hard to find.”
― William Shakespeare
I decided to stay back with Jebi and Yeunsu. In November, the colours of the leaves were slowly changing and walking down the quaint streets of Samcheong-dong — was a stark contrast — to the grey tones of the district we lived in. Samcheongdong is surrounded by Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung Palaces on two sides and Cheong Wa Dae (the President’s Office) and Insa-dong on the other two. As we walked deeper into the neighbourhood; I learned that Samcheongdong is also quite popular for its art galleries. It’s the perfect blend of Korean heritage and arts.
We visited one of the galleries and heard of a showcase exhibition by Japanese lacquer artist, Kumano Kiyotaka. We were extremely lucky to listen to a soulful performance by Ha Myong Su — a Korean musician living in Japan.
After the performance we looked around and admired the artist’s craftsmanship. I’ve always loved small galleries and crafts that carry tradition forward.
We continued our little exploration. We bonded over the arts, literature, film, and music. And the more we spoke, the more I realised how similar we were. Yeunsu studied architecture and was trying to make her mark as an illustration artist; Jebi studied French Literature, worked in a publishing house and was dabbling in translation. And I, studied physics, worked in advertising, and was a struggling writer. We were all misfits and strangely fit together because of it.
Jebi and Yeunsu knew the narrow roads and graffiti lined streets like their own backyard. Each nook was as alluring as the previous. Often, the local vendors would come out and greet them.
“I don’t feel very much like Pooh today,” said Pooh.
“There there,” said Piglet. “I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.”
― A.A. Milne
Jebi had to go for a prior engagement and I accompanied Yeunsu to an early dinner. We exchanged numbers and they invited me to their book reading sessions. It was the start of a new friendship and the first of our many little explorations in and around Seoul.
Maybe, there isn’t a foolproof manual to making friends. It’s just about finding the right people, at the right time, and keeping an open mind.