Wednesday, September 9, 2009


I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Arrow and the Song

(Note: Every picture can be clicked to reveal its full size)

I think it's been hard for me to adjust solely (seoul-ly) based on the fact that I don't live in the best area. My apartment is crowded and small, the alley just outside my window varies in smells throughout the day and night, and the entrance isn't pretty, what with garbage piled high and old men leering as I come and go. Resisting assimilation has been easy when you dread coming home.
But today I think I may have made peace; I may have found something that can help me to ignore the faults of my 'Castle' and to appreciate the world outside this fortresses' walls. This is a place called Boramae Park, and it is a mere walk down the street and a left passed the curry house.
I've found myself wandering a lot lately, but at the end of my walks I often find that I have neither found anything to have merited the walk or something, anything to make me want to make the walk back. It's a deep feeling in my gut that I cannot explain other than to say that I'm sitting on my bed/chair/office/entertainment center while typing this. It's a mutual feeling of distaste we have for each other, this room and me. But, walking in Boramae Park, I found my mind clearing and my thoughts turning from displeasure to relaxation -- a first in several weeks.

I knew I had found something special when, as I walked passed street vendors and anonymous office buildings, I began to sense the man-made, flattened earth disappearing, and even melding at times with nature. I passed a parking lot that was cement, I swore, only to see that it was green and gray together -- a fertile mix of pavement and growing grass. In many parts of the world this would seem unkempt, lazy even. But here it was an amlgamation of man's wills.

Then, much to my dismay, I began to hear music -- something I had feared would happen, because you see, I have been losing my mind recently. I noticed small speakers attached to light posts, and my fears melted away. They were playing soothing music at the entrance to this park.

They -- and I mean the designers -- obviously understand the frustration and anxiety associated with living in Seoul. But it's something I've come to expect, this mix of autonomous dialogue with architecture intermingled with sheer artistic merit and serenity. You find secret gardens in the strangest, dullest of places. If it weren't for these I fear the entire city would go insane.

Several hundred people walked in the park, and yet I never once felt crowded. Old men played what amounted to the Korean version of horseshoes, young mothers pushed their children in strollers along the path, and businessmen of all ages walked the road from one end of the park to the other, no doubt on their way home, but they too were sharing with me the release that Boramae provided. A small aircraft exhibit caught my eye and I noticed that, despite their almost by today's standards archaic appearance and technological sterility, they appeared as if they had sprouted out of the ground and belonged there. Perhaps the monoliths that are office buildings and hotels in the distance helped to persuade me that they were every part as much of nature as the grass itself.

I strolled under a canopy lined with ripening melons hanging like heavy balloons, and looped around a patch of tall, water-logged grass. A man played the saxaphone under a gazebo, and there was no collection plate anywhere nearby. Everyone here was here to let go; to feel the burden of Seoul lift from their shoulders, if only for an hour or two on this night. Maybe they'll be back tomorrow, but surely they'll return when the world is crushing down on them. I may make this my weekly habit.

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