Seoul Tower, S. Korea
We walked up a hill. We walked up a mountain. There was snow on the steps and ice on the road. We touched shoulders with strangers in a cable car, in a ski lift, in a boat-in something. Korean writing on plastic hearts and metal locks. They were for the lovers. Throw away the key and just like that, you’re happily ever after.
My fingertips were freezing and being locked in love didn’t sound that romantic to me. I started imagining my husband-tall, thin, dark, and with black thick-rimmed glasses. What? That’s the only kind of man I’d seen for the past 13 days. Anyways, I imagined him: “Sweetheart, I love you because I have no choice-I’m locked into it.” Maybe I was just cynical because I couldn’t feel my face. Or maybe because I didn’t have a lock on my own love life, which is non-existent, thank you. (But I don’t think that’s it-i think it’s because it was a dumb idea.) But it did serve a purpose, offering visual goodness to tourist like myself.
When we first got to Seoul, a man grabbed my luggage and carried it up 3 flights of stairs for me. He was young and attractive and probably married. Which was fine because he didn’t speak English. I was surprised and grateful and probably a little in love. Which was fine because I didn’t speak Korean. When we reached the top of the stairs, he lit a cigarette and handed me his phone. He had dialed a friend who spoke English. His friend gave me directions. I handed him his phone back and told him he was an angel. I immediately regretted my word choice…”angel”? really christina? I never say that. I pictured myself as a 64 year old aunt with bright pink lipstick about to pinch his cheeks. He didn’t understand me anyways. We smiled and said our goodbyes and will never see each other again.
That night we tried to learn morse code and other important things five girls should know when staying in a hostel. There was a heated discussion about what exactly the letters “SOS” stand for and someone owes someone some cash. Some won, if you will. I wasn’t homesick but I had the thought of drinking sweet tea out of a mason jar more than four times that day.
It’s strange and overwhelming and I still haven’t wrapped my mind around it. The idea that we are in contact-or we have the opportunity to be in contact with so many people every single day. Some of these people will simply walk in and out of our lives in the very same moment. But some of them could be as close as our very own soul the next day or week or month or year. It’s kind of sad to think about all the people you could’ve been closer to but for some reason aren’t a part of your life. But that’s when we get fatalistic and convince ourselves it was only meant to be.
We were up so high and could see the whole city. It felt like an old postal service song. It felt like drinking Fanta in your black navajo on our way to listen to what we thought was ingenious pop music, but now, looking back-well, let’s not look back. We’re here. We’re now. We’re on top of Mt. Namsan.
We’re on Seoul Tower and love still exists.
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
Ephesians 4: 2-3
Gwangju Jeolla-do, S. Korea
One night we slept in the apartment of a boy we’d never met. He had moved back to the states but left all of his things there. This made me feel like he was going to walk in at any minute and demand I put his journal down. This thought was the only thing that kept me from reading every single page.
There were boxers on the floor, a beer bottle on the bathroom counter, and a creepy portrait of Jesus on the wall right as you walk in the apartment. “If Jesus looked like that, I don’t think I would be a Christian.”
In Seoul, we stayed in a hostel. 3 bunk beds. There were 5 of us and we thought it very unlikely a 6th person would join us. We were wrong. A nice woman from Japan was there to greet us. Well, sort of greet us-she didn’t speak English. At all. We didn’t speak Japanese. At all. This didn’t stop her from telling us all about her day. We stared as she made sounds we’d never heard. Then smiled and nodded our heads agreeingly like you do when you don’t understand someone. We never got her name, so we just called her “Japan”. Japan was somewhere between 22 and 54 years old. I really couldn’t tell.
One night i woke to what i thought was someone speaking in tongues and I have never been more confused in my life. It took me a minute, but my brain cleared and I realized that we were not reliving the day of Pentecost. No, it was just Japan talking in her sleep. What was she saying? Was it about us? Does she walk in her sleep too? What if she tries to get in my bed? Does she KILL in her sleep? Did you see that episode of CSI? My neck was sweating. My heart was pounding. I lay wide awake on my left side with my right arm prepared to jab Japan in the eye if she came within 2 feet. I stayed in this position for what felt like forever. But sometime, somehow I finally fell asleep. When I woke the next morning I shot my eyes across the room to see her empty bed. Not sure if anyone else was awake, I said “WHAT HAPPENED LAST NIGHT?” Turns out, they too lied awake that night listening to Japan and wondering if the Apostle Paul was in her bed. After much debating, we concluded that no, the Apostle Paul was not in Japan’s bed.
I once read a book that said “time waits for no one.” Okay, really i read it last week on a calendar in a Korean bookstore. It was cheesy and cliche and I liked it. I didn’t buy it. But I did think about it. “Time waits for no one”. I wished I’d met you sooner. I wished you would have tried harder. And I wished we would’ve stood there longer. But I didn’t. You didn’t. We didn’t. And it was February 7th, 2010. And I was here and you were there.
We took a 4 hour bus ride from Incheon to Gwangju. The curtains were mint green and the seats were cherry red. I watched an Asian man fall asleep reading the newspaper. He was well dressed. They were all really well dressed. Men in suits. Women in heels. This made me want to start dressing like an adult. A real live adult!
(insert smooth transition here)
A lot happened over the past 17 days. I am still processing so much. I am still taken by beautiful scenes and sights. I still stare at strangers. But now, when I get caught, I don’t look away. I look them in the eyes and smile-they almost always smile back. I don’t really know what I mean by that. But I do know that we’re all just people here. I, of course, already knew this. But seeing the world-the one that exists outside of my own always puts things into a perfect perspective.
And I don’t want to hear techno for a long time.
Gwangju Jeolla-do, South Korea
Favorite things about Korea so far:
1. No tipping. Ever. No matter what. AND no tax! Best thing.
2. Walking in the middle of the street.
3. Heated floors.
4. Eating dinner with no shoes.
5. Super Junior. (Sorry Sorry)
6. The boys like us here. It’s weird really.
7. Everyone comes up to us and tries to practice their English.
9. Unknowingly eating silkworms… oh wait, oh wait. Next list.