Sunday, 7 February 2010

A getaway to get back

I willingly left Seoul this weekend. This has never happened before, in the five months that I've been here. Sure, I've ventured outside the city for workshops and orientations, but those things were scheduled for me, and I couldn't opt out.

The Taebaek train station.

I'm not certain why it took me this long to board the KTX and head to Taebaek to visit T and her friends. But, in any case, I finally made it through the mountains this weekend. There were a few reasons I chose this time in particular. First of all, it's because T will be leaving the ROK and headed back to Toronto in a month, and this might've been the last chance I had to see her before I took off on my vacation (more on that soon).

Secondly, I was getting restless in Seoul. Can you believe that? It might have been a blend of cabin-fever and the fact that I had way too many thoughts floating through my mind, on way too many topics. Writers always do better with a change of scenery, don't they?

And finally, I wanted to go somewhere on my own. Mind you, I had friends waiting for me at the destination, but the idea of journeying by myself was exciting.

It was pretty cheap, so I went ahead and purchased a seat in the first-class compartment on the KTX. On my way out of Seoul, I was accompanied by numerous ajoshis (backpacks and hiking gear in tow), who were absolutely sober when we pulled out of the station. I guess their plans for the weekend included hiking up Taebaeksan... but if the soju coma they fell into held any indication of their state, I'm not certain they even made it out of the train. For three out of the four-hour journey I was lulled into a trance by the symphony of snores coming from men passed out around me. A definite first, I'll admit.

Generally, it was refreshing to be away from Seoul. Literally, I didn't realize I hadn't inhaled fresh air in such a long time. I didn't even know it, because I have become so used to the thick and smoggy Seoul air. I lucked out with sunshine over the weekend as well, and it wasn't as cold out in Taebaek as I feared it would be. Walking around the streets was comfortable... and I didn't have angry drivers trying to run me down. Then again, they didn't have stoplights either, so crossing the street at random was not only OK, it was encouraged.

It was nice to see the place that T has been talking about for almost two years now. Everything from her apartment to her favourite haunts was finally all in front of me.

Hwangji pond in a little park in Taebaek.

And yes, Seoul does have mole hills compared to Taebaek's mountains. While I was out there, I actually felt a little sad that I wasn't placed in a smaller town for work, rather than in Seoul. I always say that Seoul is exactly like Toronto... except with a massive language barrier and triple the amount of flashing neon lights.

I imagined myself there for a long time, getting used to the little quirks that make up the beauty of small towns. Little moments over the weekend made me long to get away from the big city and simply take in the entire experience from this perspective. I was even thoughtful when I woke up this morning and prepared to take the train back to Seoul.

As I headed back to familiar territory, still feeling pensive about what I'd just experienced, I found myself getting anxious (a not-so-fun feeling). But then something happened. As the train turned the final bend in its journey to the city, my face brightened, sending an instant smile to my lips for the first time in hours.

I watched the mountains disappear, being replaced with tall high-rises and the majestic Hangang river. I saw cars and trucks race each other on the freeway, in an urgency I'd put on pause during the weekend. There were cosmopolitan crowds of people hovering over booths in makeshift marketplaces that lined the train-tracks in various pockets throughout the city.

Seoul - calm chaos, February 2010

And I realized how much this all made sense to me. Seoul, in all its calm, chaotic confusion, is currently my home. And although I didn't ask to be here, I am here. I've lived in cities my entire life and it's where I feel most like myself. I treasure trips, vacations and getaways every now and then to help refresh, but at the end of the day, I'm part of the chaos and the chaos is part of me. We work well together. And that's what keeps me smiling today.


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