Seoul, Korea

Haters-of-the-Word: Photos from Korea! (jk – read on as well!)

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time trying to come up with something interesting to say about my one-week visit to Korea, but aside from making the descriptive lists of things I did and the people I met, I’m not sure if I spent enough time there to fully grasp and articulate the dual feeling of displacement (from New York) and the return back to the country in which I was born (if that makes any sense). In a way, I felt comfortable, and many things, the hospitality and the food especially, were familiar and homey to me. But then there were moments when I felt like an outsider, a confused observer trying to get accustomed to a culture that seemed all but foreign to me. I kept wondering as I rode the subways – will anyone notice that I’m different, that I’m actually American? Of course not – I look just like them. I then held my American book close to my face, hoping it would somehow distinguish me from the Korean crowd.

As I tried the different foods and wandered the different neighborhoods of Seoul, I kept trying to come up with a list of observations that might have made a colorful blog entry, but the entire experience felt too dreamy, a sensory-overload that paralyzed me from thoughtful reflection and limited me to banal games of what-might-this-be-the-New-York-equivalent-of. The photos that I took tell only a fraction of what I actually saw – at times I did not even trust the camera to do a sight or experience any justice. It’s not that anything was extraordinary or for-my-eyes-only, but there was a point when I didn’t want to visually document things anymore and instead, I let things seep into my memory and hoped it would resurface later on, perhaps in deep sleep or a deja vu.

It’s not even that I visited my birthplace or my home town. I stayed in Seoul, where I rarely visited when I was a child. It was, however, the thought that I might have lived through the changes in Korea in the last seventeen years, that I might have studied crazy hard for high school entrance exams, that I might have dated the girls who shopped at Galleria, that I might have gone to the army, and that I might have found Zest or This Plus to be my favorite brands of cigarettes that made me wonder – am I happy where I am now and would I have been happy if I had stayed? A silly thing to ask, perhaps, but seventeen years after my family boarded the United Airlines flight to JFK by way of San Francisco, it was just something that seemed to cross my mind during my week in Seoul.

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