This past weekend I was treated to a whirlwind trip into the vibrant, fast paced city that is Seoul.
My journey began on Friday afternoon with my usual commute across the province from Anmyeon Island to Aneesa’s place in Asan. This journey begins with a 20minute walk from my place, to the bus terminal on the island. From there I take a two and a half hour bus ride, passing Taean, Seosan and many other cities to finally reach Cheonan terminal. At this point, exhausted and starving, I have to dash to another bus stop, to catch the Sun Moon University shuttle bus. This is a twenty minute trip that takes me to the Sun Moon University. From here is a further 8-10 minute walk to Aneesa’s apartment. After this long and arduous journey, I am however greeted with a beautiful smile and a delicious home cooked meal. I guess the romantic in me would consider it as a worthwhile journey across land and sea (over a few bridges) to gaze upon the woman I love.
Safely at Aneesa’s at around 9:30pm, I was treated to some dhall with basmati rice, showered and lay down to watch “Dead Poets Society”. Half way through, it was time to call it a night because I found myself exhausted after my long day of work, and commuting.
I awoke early on Saturday, ready to take on the challenges that awaited me. After a breakfast of dhall and rice (it was that good), we watched a little more of our movie before getting ready to embark on our adventure.
Immediately we were faced with our first surprise, there were no cabs to take us to the train station. What were we to do? Being in a much better physical condition because of my island life, I suggested we walk. I thought it would be a little adventure before we made our way to Seoul. Boy was I mistaken. Firstly, the station was a lot further that we anticipated, so it turned out to be a 45 minute hike. This would lead me to my next point. Aneesa HATES hiking!
Despite our efforts at practically power walking the entire way, we missed our train by mere minutes. Understandably, Aneesa was not a happy camper since KTX tickets are quite expensive. She did get a small refund on the tickets we missed and then got tickets for the next available train. On the train, Aneesa nursed her tired calves, and we ate our pre packed sandwiches that Aneesa made.
The 40 minute trip went by quite quickly, and before I knew it, I had Aneesa pointing out the window, showing me points of interest, and then giving me fun facts about the different areas we were passing. In her voice I heard some excitement, mixed with a little apprehension. I was soon to find out why.
Immediately as you exit the train you realize that you are no longer on the peaceful island, nor are you in the “rural” Asan. The sheer number of people moving from place to place is astonishing. Luckily, I have lived in Johannesburg, a city that is known for its fast pace and busy lifestyle or else I would have been completely overwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, they are in no ways comparable, it is merely the familiarity of being among a fast moving crowd that I was prepared for. What surprised me even more than this was the efficiency with which Aneesa moved through this maze of subways and transport nodes- knowing exactly which direction stores were in, which was the best station exit to take and transferring between subway lines. All the while keeping me in sight, advising, and teaching me how to navigate this monster that is the Seoul Metro rail system.
Impressive as being underground was, stepping out into the city was quite the experience for me. I had seen pictures of the city so I knew that it was not one of the most beautiful. I was prepared to see just another generic city with the same buildings, same neon signage and complete lack of design. I was pleasantly surprised to find that although some areas were mundane and dreary, some areas were filled with many corporate buildings and skyscrapers that the architect in me found quite interesting. It was a welcome sight to see buildings that tested the boundaries of aesthetic appeal, to see landscaping and street art that had been designed to beautify and pique the interests of photographers, artist and architects alike.
Obviously I had to process and enjoy all these things on the go since we had a ridiculously busy schedule, so off we went, from place to place, systematically ticking things off our to do list. I won’t go into details about our errands (saving that for another blog post) but it required a whirlwind of trains, markets and expensive prices. Thereafter we met our friends, Kerissa and Jolene, and made our way to the first part of our lantern festival experience.
We started off at Bongeunsa Temple, which happened to be in the middle of the city. The traditional architecture of the place offered me much to appreciate since the lanterns on display at the temple were not as impressive as we expected. For photographers (or architects), Bongeunsa Temple is a best of Seoul place to shoot the contrast of elegant lines of Buddhist architecture against a skyscraper-studded backdrop. At the temple I enjoyed taking photos of the lanterns, the women and the architecture. I also saw my first standing Buddha statue. It was mighty and immaculate, no doubt crafted by sculpting masters.
Our adventure in Seoul continued but I will let Aneesa be the one to finish it off for you… this is mainly because I am very interested to hear her conflicting thoughts and interesting descriptions of Seoul. I leave you with more pictures of the temple and lanterns.