Drinking From The Cup of Triumph: Itaewon Edition!
Yesterday was a present wrapped up in a bow. It started out a little shaky, but by the end I was foot-weary and delighted.
When we woke up this morning, it was -4° C in Seoul. As I’ve said before, that may not be anything special for you Northern/Eastern folk, but when I see negative numbers the adventurous spirit just drains right out of me. The last couple days I’ve pushed through, but yesterday I was of the opinion that I had earned a mental health day. Having resigned myself to a day indoors, I read happily for several hours while HCB prepared syllabi and lectures. I know, I know. I’m on an amazing adventure. Be hungry for life, carpe diem, and all that. But sometimes a guy just needs to take the pressure off.
So yeah. Reading and lounging until about 1 PM. Then I stepped outside. I don’t remember why I bothered to rouse myself from my languor, but thank God I did, because it was a BEAUTIFUL day. Ok, maybe not by California standards, but compared to the last week, we might as well have been in Maui. The shock of not-terrible weather hit me like a shot of adrenaline, so I gathered up a guide book, a map and my camera and off I went to Itaewon, the expat neighborhood. Door to door took 35 minutes, but when I emerged from the subway station (I took public transportation all by myself like a big boy!), it had gone from Beautiful Seoul Weather to Plain Ol’ Beautiful Weather. The permanent gloom under which we have been living had burned off and the sun was shining for the first time. Do you know that Ray Bradbury short story, “All Summer in a Day”? It’s about a human colony on Venus. It rains CONSTANTLY, but for one day every seven years the sun comes out:
They ran among the trees, they slipped and fell, they pushed each other, they played hide-and-seek and tag, but most of all they squinted at the sun until the tears ran down their faces; they put their hands up to that yellowness and that amazing blueness and they breathed of the fresh, fresh air and listened and listened to the silence which suspended them in a blessed sea of no sound and no motion. They looked at everything and savored everything. Then, wildly, like animals escaped from their caves, they ran and ran in shouting circles.
I was like that, just on the inside. And nobody locked me in a broom closet! I walked. I took photgraphs. I shopped (new messenger bag!). I ate lunch. It was great.
Itaewon, the neighborhood I was in, has a long history of foreign inclusion. In the early 20th C, it was home to the Japanese who, after the war, were replaced by American G.I.s. Through most of the next 50 years, Itaewon grew to become something of a redlight district catering to the darker impulses of the US Military personnel stationed in Seoul. However, in the last 10 years or so, Itaewon has been domesticated by wave after wave of tourists and civilian expats. Now, although there are strip clubs (it seems that “peeping” is a powerfully compelling stripe club trope in Korea; all the clubs I passed made some reference to secret viewing), it has become safer and more sanitized than it has been in the past.
The wonderful thing about Itaewon is that everyone speaks English. It actually felt a lot like London: lots of different cultures held together by a common language, English. It’s everything a lazy but adventurous American could ask for! I haven’t been in Korea for long, but it was so relieving to walk into a Concierge (Korean Mac store) and have the sales woman greet me in PERFECT English. And the food! I’ve been enjoying Korean food, but to order chicken souvlaki and a greek salad with TOMATOES? Swoon. Sure. None of it was particularly GOOD, but it was familiar and that was worth a lot.
So let’s review:
+ rode the subway without getting lost (twice!)
+ walked in the sunlight
+ located strip clubs
+ bought a super cute messenger bag
+ ate a SALAD!!!
If that isn’t a totally awesome day, I don’t know what is. And where was HCB during all this? Working on class materials at Dunkin’ Donuts. So yeah. We both had a pretty wonderful day.