So I’ve landed – more or less on my feet – in Seoul in the midst of a hot, wet and humid summer, and the busy university vacation season. I’ve had almost three weeks now of living and working here and while I’m far from ‘settled’ in this oft unsettling land, I’m having a great time and everything has turned out better than expected.
I’ve been working my arse off – holidays means academies and private schools get an influx of university students looking to brush up on their English – but I’m finding plenty of time to catch up with old friends, and make a few new ones too. By far the best thing about coming here is experiencing the kindness of my Korean friends and former students. It’s a wonderful reminder that kindness is always repaid and remembered, and it warms my heart immensely.
Sightseeing has been great too. I’ve already walked the fortress walls of Suwon, strolled up Bukhaksan (san means mountain) quite by accident, and spent many a wandering hour among the twisting brown-brick alleyways of Hyewha and Jongno, and the old neighbourhood of Bukchon, with its traditional stone and wood hanok (houses). Once I get a camera I’ll write in more detail about the places I visit. Already I feel I could fill a bloody journal.
Seoul is an ugly place at first glance; an overpopulated concrete expanse stretching forever in every direction. But this city rewards the one who digs deep, with their eyes fixed on the wonder of the everyday. Beneath the uniformity of identical apartment blocks, pushing crowds and horrendous, Seoul is layered with pockets of an ancient past and a traditional life that is so different to its bristling neon coat you’ll wonder how the two are ever reconciled. But reconciled they are, daily; the slow, ancient heartbeat pulsing beneath the wired, wild and rushing body. The glistening silver man with his feet in the old brown earth.
The point of this blog is to dig beneath that sliver surface and get under Korea’s skin. To find what fires the hearts of this people, what historical ghosts and heroes linger in the lifeblood of the present, and hopefully work out what manner of beast Seoul really is. Maybe it will make sense, probably it never will, and that’s part of the joy and frustration. For now I’m sitting on the margins, a foreign guest worker whose chief talent is being able to speak his (admittedly useful) mother tongue fluently. I hope my time here will be useful, and I can learn as much – and hopefully more – than I can teach. That’s the challenge I’ve set myself, and it begins here.