I have only two hard-and-fast appointments during this week off from school: a bar trivia quiz with friends last (Wednesday) night and a follow-up hearing test/doctor visit tomorrow.
Yesterday afternoon around 2:30, I was sick of being in the apartment and convinced myself to leave for Itaewon, even though I'd agreed with my friend Jane to meet her at Phillies Pub by 8:00 to save a table for the 9:00 game. I wanted to walk, I wanted to see things on this first full (very nice) day of spring, and mostly I just wanted to do something. (I'm thinking of a song my mom used to sing to me long ago: "The bear went over the mountain to see what he could see.") In my pack, I had my hash happi coat, patches for the patch lady in Itaewon to sew on it, and books to trade in at What the Book. And I had lots and lots of time.
So I set out on the seven-mile-or-so walk to Itaewon, along the Yangjae Cheon and along the back streets amidn all the kimbap restaurants and convenience stores. After an hour, I'd walked three miles, I was in Gangnam, my knee was starting to twinge, I could already feel the wind off the river I'd need to walk across, and there was the 421 bus to Itaewon, just sitting there with lots of empty seats...
So I got to Itaewon a lot earlier than my ETA, which was already really early. I dropped off my happi and patches and went over to WTB to swap out a Janet Evanovich, a Robert B. Parker, and a Korean for Dummies book, which proved true to its title by teaching no Korean letters whatsoever, for one Dalai Lama.
I wonder as I wander. I was thinking Deep Thoughts and enjoying the sights of Itaewon's back streets and my solitude in the crowd. The sun was lowering in the west but it was still warm enough to have my windbreaker tied around my waist. There is so short a spring here, and an even shorter fall, and they're both beautiful.
Then I started on the half-mile walk to the other great Waegook (foreigner) neighborhood, Haebongchan, home of Phillies Pub, our trivia site. On the way down the main road from Itaewon, you pass the huge, ornate Noksapyeoung subway station...
...walk along the interminable, razor-wire-topped wall of the Yongsan Garrison, turn left at the end of the wall by the big kimchi pots...
...and head straight toward Seoul Tower, whose shifting nighttime colors make it quite the sight, up on Mount Namsan.
But you mustn't get transfixed by the tower, because Haebongchan-daero, the street, is narrow and has neither sidewalks nor shoulders. What it does have, though, is haphazardly parked cars on both sides and a steady stream of traffic, much of which is being driven by drunks or, worse, cabbies. Too fast. At dusk, in this case.
After stopping on the main road for some gourmet basil/tomato pizza and exploring another little neighborhood on the slopes of Namsan, I picked my was along Haebongchan-daero to Phillies, where I arrived at 7:15. Phillies is tiny and if I'd met Jane at 8:00 as planned, we never would have gotten a table.
But despite my incessant prattling here about everything I saw, at its heart this post is about solitude. For many hours, I had nothing in particular to do and nobody to talk to. I wandered and felt alone. I don't know if other people feel as I do, or if it's just me being a loner, but for all my life I've many times where I've sought out solitude in the outdoors. The feeling isn't sadness, but it's not happiness either. It's a kind of satisfied loneliness, if that makes any sense, a sort of solace in separateness.
Hmm... separateness, serenity, satisfaction, solitude. The Sound of Silence. Stephen. And my favorite word in our language, solace.
See Robert Frost's "Acquainted With the Night"
Okay. My fifty minutes are up.
I held down the table at Phillies for quite awhile, quietly growling at anyone who looked as if they might want to steal chairs, till my peeps arrived.