In this big city, loneliness is somehow inevitable, as you walk amongst a sea of black hair and incessant clicking heels. Sometimes though, as I walk past each person, I feel I get a half a second glimpse into their world as our realities are intertwined, if even for just that fleeting moment. The strong scent of aftershave follows the gentleman dressed like Ron Burgundy and lingers for a few more steps. I have a feeling he just came from that love motel but it is anyone's guess. As my ipod provides the soundtrack, in my head are a million different stories about that man and how he came to be at that very place, at that very moment, intersecting paths with this foreigner.
My favorite part of the day is my walk home from school, about 25 minutes which takes me through an huge apartment complex area and a bustling market street with fish, vegetable, fruit and fermented food vendors. It is a walk that fills my senses with sights, smells and bizarre scenes I can hardly believe I am used to now.
As I begin my journey home I walk out the school yard to a chorus of "Ellie Teacha! Hi! Bye!" following me as I wave to the kids still running around the playground. The houses around my school are numerous and close together, with adjummas sitting on the stoops gossiping. I pass my favorite ATM (it continuously plays Third Eye Blind's "Semi-Charmed Life" and I think it is HILARIOUS! Why? Because, Korea) on my way up the hill to the massive apartment buildings all of which are at least 30 stories high. It is an astounding feeling to look up at them all and feel so small and insignificant. Over another slight hill I come to a street that is the best 5 minutes of the walk. Cars are a rare occurrence on this street and on the typical day there are 50+ grand mothers and fathers, young mothers, children and babies walking, rollerblading, playing, (and sledding during the winter) talking and laughing after a long day at school. Most days my new friend Mr. Lee (An elderly gentleman whom introduced himself to me and told me his whole life story in perfect English, he used to travel and work with Korean Air) and I have a little chat about life and his health. As simple as this is, it is something I cherish and look forward to on my walk, I don't get to talk to many older people in such a relaxed manner, and he has a sweet soul. This part of my day is really a side of the culture you can't read about in a book or see at a tourist spot. This street is the reason I moved to Korea.
I walk past countless more homes stacking up to the sky into the commercial area where these people go to fill their homes with fresh fruit and vegetables, socks with cartoon characters and other various oddities that are sold there which change daily.
Just as I leave the towering apartments behind I walk past a little shop selling fruit where several 아줌마 gather around a small TV, waiting for some customers, and as I stroll past they look up with excitement in their eyes, waving with both hands while I bow politely and also wave. One day when I cut my hand (on a can of dog food I was feeding to the stray puppies near my school, I have a problem) I wandered down the hill with blood running down my hand and into their shop hoping for something to stop the bleeding. They cleaned it and fixed me up with a band-aide and sent me on my way. The next day I brought them a candy bar and made instant new friends:)
Continuing on, the market street is busy with afternoon shoppers and getting through the market can be a struggle, weaving in and out of old ladies carting around their goods, salesmen yelling deals on meat and the in season fruit, and frail old women sitting with piles of roots and unknown greens surrounding them. Everyday I walk down this street everyday and pick up fresh mushrooms and peppers (for a great price!) to make a yummy soup, one of my favorite parts about living in a city, super fresh food! Its almost natural now to meet Eric and pick up some groceries together from the best vendor at the end of the street.
A few more back alley shortcuts and I am home to my tiny little slice of Seoul I can call my own. Even in this city of millions the people you meet, the places you go and the things you see, they change you. You are never the same person as the day before when everything is always changing. These small instances that seemed insignificant at home now have seem to grown to epic proportions, every interaction and face, becoming part of my psyche, part of who I am.