Getting lost is my favorite method of exploration. Last weekend we wandered in a general direction, picking the shadiest path to escape the pre-monsoon heat and detouring at the slightest hint of interesting. Hungry and hot we climbed up a set of steep stairs in full sun, just to see what there was to see. Turns out it’s guitars, cellos and saxophones in this shopping mall for everything music. Amps squealed, tunes were picked out on the pianos that filled any spare space, guitars were tuned, yet it was surprisingly quiet. And beautiful, unexpected, inspiring and best of all, cool.
Seoul is criss-crossed by streams. Cheonggyecheon is the most famous of them, but they’re in many neighbourhoods. Meticulously clean landscaped exercise areas hidden underneath, or next to, busy roads. In the early mornings a group of old ladies do aerobics under a bridge near my house, stretching and jumping to pop music while checking themselves out in a strategically placed mirror. Kids race their bikes on the way to school, old men hide in the cool shade, smoking and talking. It’s easy to forget you’re in such a big city when ducks are swimming in the creek.
No pictures today but imagine a re-hash of Valentines day: white stuffed bears with red hearts, boxed chocolates, single roses in gaudy paper cones. Valentines day isn’t a such a big deal in Australia, or at least it wasn’t when I was a kid. So imagine my surprise when this ‘holiday’ (usually marked by watching high-heeled ladies with oversized boxes of flowers and other mushy gifts struggle to carry them home), is actually three holidays here in South Korea.
First, Valentines day is where women give men chocolate.
Exactly one month later comes White day, where the men pay the women back by giving them candy, lollipops and the afore mentioned toys and flowers. Convenience stores and supermarkets across the country hip-hip-hooray one extra time.
Finally, Black day. On April 14th those who received no gifts on the previous two months observances go and eat jjajangmyeon (black noodles) together to mourn their singledom. Chinese restaurants rejoice.
Yesterday I was given more chupachups than if I were at a rave. Students shyly slipped me single chocolates and wrapped lollies on their way out of the room. Yes, I could ramble on about capitalism and hallmark holidays but why bother? This is just how it is here. People enjoy the celebration, expectations aren’t too outrageous and advertising appears limited (to my foreign and thus partly removed self). Plus, I do have a bag of lollipops to show for it.