I decided to write about a city that looks so distant now, but that once ago it sheltered me with new flavors and odors. It gave me the opportunity to meet people who are still present although we are scattered all over the map. Seoul is the city that I will always want to return.
I’ve written a bit of it here, but I have not written everything. I try to be faithful to my memories and the city itself. I arrived in late August 2011, loaded with suitcases and images of what could be that semester there (which ultimately was extended to two). To begin with I must say that my idea of South Korea when it was mentioned was an inhospitable place. They said South Korea and I could only listen “Korea” and I thought in a country full of conflicts and dusty. It wasn’t a popular country back then, and least in Mexico. But as it was almost the only one left with what the curriculum offered me and what I wanted, I decided to not dismiss it entirely and investigate more. When I saw the monster Seoul city is full of lights, huge buildings, that South Korea was not anything like I imagined, that it was actually a very safe country, my smile returned and that day there, sitting in the university computers with the screen full of pictures of this stunning new city I was convince, and months later I took the plane to South Korea.
Only the airport there struck me and it was the preamble to what the country would be. Full of technology, movement, of getting lost and always find someone to help me, and to leave my bags without watching them every 15 seconds with a supernatural paranoia. From there, we went to Suwon, 40 minutes from Seoul, where I stayed for a couple of nights with a friend. In that city, everything is calmer than the Korean capital but is a good shade to what I expected. Buildings, one after another, illuminated signs everywhere in a language I did not recognized, restaurants, people, people and more people.
My first food was a cold soup with pieces of ice that when I saw it I stood there in a “What is this?” face. Nothing delicious. On the streets there were too many cars and lots of people, but there was so much order in the disorder. There was a sign that indicated if the bus was coming in how long, and it always arrived at the time it was given, so did the subway. And that was great. People knew the word respect and they exercised it. Some businesses let some merchandise out of the store despite having closed and they did not fear that the next day they came it will no longer be there because it is very safe. It is one of the things I miss the most. I remember every time I went to the bathroom and I was in a restaurant or coffee shop I left my bag on the seat and I forgot about it completely. In Mexico if I do not bring it with me, I tell the person I am with, “I’m going to the bathroom, take care my bag” and it have now this tic of checking my wallet every fifteen minutes to make sure it is with me.
I think it’s amazing how different a country can be to another. One of the things that cost me a lot of work at first was the food. I rather eat at McDonalds. What a mistake! Gradually, the more I penetrated to the Korean culture, the more I liked their food. Today, I even miss it. Still, something I thought it was super cool wasa that in all the restaurants there was always water, for free. So, without you ask them, they served you water jugs. I had to go to Korea to learn to take only water at meals. Also, most ironically, it was in Korea where I was accustomed to spicy food. In Mexico I never ate food with chili, Korean food is a bit spicy and I got used to that special flavour now in Mexico, and I put some chili or hot sauce to my food. But I learned that there, across the world.