I have lived in Korea for just about 7 years. Feels longer sometimes. Feels shorter others. Ironically, I haven’t lived in Seoul for much of that. The name of my blog is what it is so my friends and family at home would have something to recognize. They all wanted to know about Seoul, not the rest of it. I tried to live in Seoul, I did. I ended up back in the small town where I started.
Iksan, South Korea is a small (ish) city about two hours southwest of Seoul. I still remember my first day here. I remember being dropped off by bus from the massively impressive Incheon International Airport. Dropped off in front of a petrol station in the middle of nowhere.
It was 5:30 in the morning. I sat on my hockey bag converted suitcase (I know, very Canadian of me) in front of the station trying to figure out what to do next. An old man saw me and offered me his phone. When he realized I had no idea what to do with it he called my boss for me.
Years later it all sounds ridiculous. Iksan isn’t the countryside town I originally thought it was. I saw something recently on Facebook saying it would be like the 12th biggest city in Canada.
Perception, I suppose.
I really did try to live in Seoul. The thriving metropolis really is something. I love it for what it is. I would say it is my favorite big city in the world. I love that it is always moving and always alive.
It isn’t a place for the faint of heart. It is survival. Visiting there I never really noticed. Trying to live there I certainly did. As a foreigner, I don’t really “get” it. I don’t get the societal pressures. How would I? I live here rent free without a real worry to be had.
People survive, though. Korean people are among the toughest I’ve met. They figure out how to swim in the current of the city. They become sharks.
Or else get eaten by them.
Not for the faint of heart.
People often comment about the blank stares in my photos. It is what it is. It is what I see.
Someone recently wrote me an email telling me that my Korea (or at least the one in my photographs) wasn’t at all what he found when he came. He was upset by the fact that he couldn’t see it this way. I told him simply that I didn’t always see it this way.
Nor do I always see it this way now. I love Korea. I love this place.
I went back to Canada, tried to live and home. I wanted to be back here nearly right away. Didn’t feel right.
Now, almost 7 years into my life here I am back in Iksan. I am back riding the train to Seoul near every weekend. I sometimes drive. Sometimes take the bus.
People in Iksan often ask me why I go every weekend. I don’t really know? It is a routine that I enjoy. The differences between the places aren’t as great as they used to be. Things change fast in both. Things disappear. Seoul strives to be a more international city. Restaurants like the one above are disappearing in favour of coffee shops and cosmetic chains. Old Korea is dwindling.
Ironically most people I talk to are quite happy about this. Proud of the fact that life is getting “better” and more convenient.
The train from Iksan to Seoul used to feel different. Arriving in Iksan felt like arriving in a different world. In fact, it still does considering the area around Iksan train station went from being the hottest spot in town to a ghost town in a matter of years. A ten minute ride to nearby Youngdeung-dong shows how things have changed. As modern as nearly any street in Seoul it feels very little like being in the “countryside”..
Seoul is trying to be more international and Iksan is trying to be more like Seoul. I’m writing this in Iksan, at a café that looks as though it wouldn’t be out of place in Manhattan. The people around me don’t look like they would be out of place there either.
I think it is me that’s holding on.
Summer is coming. I never actually ever liked summer much. Weirdly though, I love summer in Korea. Like the feeling of walking in the summer. Maybe I’ll spend more time in Iksan this summer.
Maybe I won’t. The routine is too strongly embedded now. Somehow I think it is the trip I enjoy. Going to Seoul feels more an event living away from the city.
My Iksan friends say I go to Seoul so often I should live there. My Seoul friends say I should stay in Iksan more if I enjoy it here so much.
I think I’m happy as things are. I’m happy living most of the time somewhere between.
Between Iksan and Seoul.
On a side note, a video recently came out featuring myself and a couple of friends during the 24 hour project in Seoul. It is going to be part of a series of videos with this sort of being the first trial of sorts. If you want to check it out you can find it here:
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/169064201″>24hrs in Seoul</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/afterstroyfilm”>After Story Film</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>