My Brilliant Korea

I heart Seoul

Blogging | May 29, 2011

I looked up from the book I was reading and peered at my friend Sarah, who was lounging on the bed of her Seoul apartment.

“New York seems wonderful,” I said.

Sarah sighed, wistfully.

“Oh, it is,” she said.

“It’s the most wonderful place in the entire world.

“Even the sidewalk sparkles.

“But there are two things you need to remember. The first: If a creepy guy is staring at you, you should immediately pick your nose. The second: If someone tries to rape you, you should pee yourself. Then the rapist will look at you, look at the pee, and probably say “errrr…. Never mind”.

Sarah has been in a long-term love affair with New York since the first time she visited as a wide-eyed teen from Ohio.

The romance has grown all the more passionate since she was recently accepted for post-graduate study at Columbia University.

From the moment the ‘yes email’ from Columbia landed in her inbox, Sarah started buying and reading every piece of New York literature she could find in Seoul- including the collection of essays I had in my hand at that very moment.

The collection was the brainchild of New York Magazine, whose reporters had interviewed dozens of New York personalities about their earliest memories of the Big Apple.

And while the city did sound like the most wonderful place on the planet, I suspected many of the book’s subjects had been wandering the streets of their own memories wearing large, rose-coloured glasses.

“I’m sure you could make our arrival in Seoul sound just as romantic as New York sounds here,” I said.

“No way,” Sarah said.

“Way,” I replied.

The following blog post is my attempt to do just that.

*******************

It was August 2009 when my cowboy boots and I first arrived in Seoul.

It was the end of summer and the city was in a sweat.

Drips ran down my forehead and collected on my neck as I walked the steamy streets.

Women waved small paper fans in front of their faces in a futile attempt to cool down, while elderly men grouped outside small convenience stores to knock back cold beer after cold beer.

Subway carriages would offer some relief, and I would tilt my head towards the air-conditioning vents that would blow cool air from the ceiling.

It was most certainly sandal weather, but I wore my boots everywhere.

They made me feel tough.

And in Seoul, a city of more than 10 million people, I needed to feel invincible.

It was by far the biggest city I had even been to, and not only that, I was an ethnic minority.

It was easy to attract attention- some good, some bad.

Young men and women would attempt to cover their surprise as they looked from my cowboy boots, to my legs, to my dress, their eyes finally settling on my white-skinned, green-eyed face.

Elderly women and men were less subtle- often gasping at my strange appearance amongst a sea of Koreans.

One old man was so offended by the sight of me that he whacked me several times with his umbrella as I stood waiting for the subway.

I never did find out why.

But the good of Seoul certainly outweighed the bad.

Shop freezers would be full to the brim with ice creams, some costing as little as 50 cents.

I would monitor the selection carefully, but would often choose the lime-green stick of melon (70 cents), as the colour perfectly matched several of my dresses.

It felt like just the right summer accessory.

My foreign male friends seemed to be dating a different Korean woman each night, while my foreign girlfriends were contemplating offers of dinner and drinks with Korean men.

The foreign men, particularly those unused to such high levels of interest, often found themselves in sticky situations.

“She’s outside my door,” one male friend whispered to me on the phone one night.

It was a girl whose calls he had failed to return.

The girl (and possibly her knife) disappeared before the police arrived.

Couples fell in and out of love every second week, and in and out of bars every second night.

One stylish young Korean man approached me at a bar and asked me to be his “amazing hair model”.

I was flattered, so I accepted.

He hacked my hair into an asymmetrical mess.

“This is not what we discussed, Min-Su,” I said.

“But it is my vision,” he replied.

Surprisingly, I allowed him to hack my hair again.

The shops were filled with beautiful and inexpensive dresses, and I quickly filled the wardrobe in my shoebox apartment.

The wardrobe rack strained under the weight of the new clothes, so I found innovative places to store the growing collection (in my kitchen cupboard, on top of the heater, in the bathroom cabinet).

Korean barbeque became my new favourite meal, and I loved the ritual of cutting, frying and sharing the meat we had cooked at the table.

It was possible to eat until you were full, drink until you were drunk, and walk out of a barbeque restaurant for $20.

I danced with new friends until the clock struck 6am.

Then, like the other all-night clubbers, I would board the morning’s first train home.

My train would speed through tunnels and across the Hann River, and I would marvel at the beauty of the early-morning city through my sleepy eyes.

It was the summer of lust, the summer of possibilities, the summer of over-heated feet in cowboy boots.

It felt like it would last forever.


Comments

1. Sala on May 29, 2011

When you come to nyc you'll see.

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About Blythe Seinor

When Blythe was a journalism student at the Queensland University of Technology she interviewed the former Indonesian president, Abdurrahman Wahid.
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