The inside and outside patio area at Café DaVinci in Seoul
It's about 9:30 p.m. on a Thursday night and I'm sitting at Café DaVinci with S, for our weekly writing date.
I've come to look forward to these hours of simply... being. There's truly no other way of putting it. Every week, S and I sit here for an hour or two and just do what we love. As she puts it, "Sometimes we write, sometimes we read and sometimes we Google." It's a break from the fast paced hustle and bustle that's normal to Seoul and our jobs as ESL teachers.
We're both not teachers by trade. She used to work at a magazine in Chicago before deciding to venture out here to test the waters and, really, to test herself as well. We bonded instantly, and now, we're at a place where the silence is not only normal, it's required.
We frequent a few different coffee shops between her neighbourhood and mine, but for the past few visits, we've found ourselves at Café DaVinci. Maybe I'm jumping the gun, but I think this location might end up becoming our regular spot. She orders a latté and I go wild and order a vanilla latté. I try to change it up every time, but after a few minutes of staring at the board behind the counter, I always settle for the comfort of an old friend.
We're sitting here, at a table that looks out onto the street. Fall is just about to end its big show and the last of the leaves are hanging off the branches, just waiting for a gust of wind to blow them swiftly to the ground. The colours are magnificent... shades of reds and oranges that I've never seen before. Surprisingly, there's a lot of maple trees here as well... but the leaves are twice the size of those in Canada.
I think I was drawn to Café DaVinci because of its rustic ambiance. For those of you who know me, you'll know that my city-chick heart just begs for country couture when it comes to comfort and peace. And I think I've found it here. What are the odds that it would just happen to be at the coffee house that exists directly outside my window? Fate works its beautiful hand again.
S is sitting across from me, working on her novel. She's pretty dedicated to it, but makes a point to only write when she's inspired -- a few pages here and there... and, once in a while, she'll let me look at parts of it. It's pretty neat stuff.
I feed my habit of people-watching while I sit at this table as well. Even now, though its nighttime, there's many Korea University students walking up and down the streets, hand-in-hand. Oh, did I fail to mention that I'm in a country where being part of a couple is the norm? Singles (or solos, as they say here) may as well be second-class citizens.
At any given moment, there may be about a handful of different couples marching down the street to their favourite haunts... in matching couple sweaters... with matching couple bags and matching couple lattés. I'm often asked by older Korean men and women why I'm not sad being "solo".
"You need to find someone, fast," Mrs. K says, almost weekly. "You're getting old."
Clichéd, I know, but SO real. In fact, not being coupled up is the number one cause for suicides and depression here. Well, that, and the pressure of achieving high grades at school. Can you imagine being a student and not being part of a couple? Yikes!
Anyway, here's my point in all this...
Being in Seoul has been a life-altering experience so far. I've never been in a situation like this... ever! This city tests me on a daily basis, and I fight my battles, one coffee and one issue at a time. There's no other way of dealing with them.
But the gems I experience make all the fights so worth it.
Even now, as I sit here and type this, there's two men sitting to my right, chatting and laughing away. What's so cool about it is that one's a Caucasian, and the other is Korean... and they're not speaking in either English or Korean. It's not only visually fascinating, but also entertaining to the ear.
My senses are so alert right now. It's refreshing.
My mother always told me that I never took the same route as my friends or family. Ever since I was a child, I always marched to the beat of my own drum and loudly followed my own rules... much to her chagrin. But as I sit here at Café DaVinci, I can't help but glance down to the floor and grin. I stare at Robert Frost's poem The Road Not Taken, neatly printed on the floor in glazed charcoal, and, as usual, the last verse sends shivers up my spine and goosebumps along my skin...
The floor in Café DaVinci, with Robert Frost's famous poem scribbled on the tile
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
And that has made all the difference."
Thanks, Mum. You've always been right.