445: the sun in your eyes makes all of the lies worth believing

I feel like this December hasn’t really been here for me. Or maybe I haven’t really been here this December. The days after the exams passed in a whirl, and I haven’t actually gone on a holiday in December itself for a few years. (Well, technically two years ago I was in London, but…) This year the Christmas festivity seems a bit lacking. I haven’t feasted much, I escaped from the Christmas games this year to go buy coffee, I feel like I went to Korea and came back, and suddenly it’s Christmas. Not to mention everything in between…

In any case, like I posted earlier somewhere else, Seoul is a bit underwhelming. I suppose I went primarily to visit my friends, but I didn’t get to see much of them either. It was not unbearably cold, and I sort of missed the frozen toes (somewhat). Part of me rejoices in being cold, though the dry skin was a bit unpleasant. I missed the little things — hot soup and steaming tea and cold hands, sniffly noses (just my sinus), huddling up in a cafe looking down at the streets, people watching, exploring neighbourhoods. I mean, I’d explore neighbourhoods any time of the year, but I suppose I like winter just because I don’t get it here. In any case, I felt a bit displaced. Like I didn’t really belong anywhere, and I didn’t know what to do. It was the first time I’d felt this way, probably because at times I felt completely helpless. In Western countries you’re clearly a foreigner, and everyone automatically switches on foreigner-mode with you. They reply you in English because it’s the most likely language you (and they) will speak. I can survive in most other Asian countries, because I can read most of the signs. In Seoul, I was neither here nor there, a foreigner and yet not. A foreigner was not like me — she didn’t have black eyes and black hair, nor was it so patently un-obvious that she did not speak Korean. But I couldn’t understand most of it, and I couldn’t read all of it. When I tried to go shopping I was at a loss as to which language to begin speaking. English? Chinese? Japanese? Most of the time I zoomed through restaurant menus figuring out the katakana, only to realise the owner spoke Chinese. English, my first weapon of choice, was virtually useless. I felt vaguely handicapped. Imagine my sigh of relief when, at Hongdae one night looking for a club to go to, I finally heard an American accent drifting in my direction. It sounds a bit warped to me now.

But other than that, some places were pretty nice, and seemed like it merited more exploring. Apgujeong, even though I had no money. But there were cool cafes and little bookstores with planners in all shapes and sizes, random postcards and stickers (the Shimokita kind of neighbourhood, except five times more expensive). Hongdae, with its art-school vibe and pulsating clubs and quirky indie shops in the afternoon. I’m sure there’s more hiding somewhere, underneath the grey concrete that lines the Han river. I know, I sound so unenthusiastic. It really wasn’t that bad. But I think somehow I’ve lost my travelogue writing urge. Or rather, the spirit is willing (but the body is weak). What words? There are few words these days that come to me. Hmmmm.

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