I am sitting in The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Jongno-gu and watching people hurrying about on a Sunday. It is quite a sight. Young couples, dressed alike in the same shirts or jackets or shoes and holding hands, while others are bundled up as the temperature continues to drop outside. Here, indoors, there have been two arranged dates in the last hour and the men seem enthusiastic, while the women appear ambivalent. I’m not sure if it’s a strategy to not seem overexcited, therefore forcing the man to pull out all stops in the dating game or if they really are thinking about mundane things like doing laundry or what they’ll eat for dinner. I am not an expert in Korean dating behaviors, but it is an interesting process to observe.
You can only order 2 sizes of coffee here. Small or regular and both are smaller than the U.S. equivalent of a tall and a grande, but more expensive per ounce and I am silently grateful that this country doesn’t contribute to the western condition of overindulgence as well as the numerous ailments associated with binging on things that are too strong, too sweet, and too large. I bought the smallest cup possible of the house blend to enjoy the bustling ambience of a coffee shop as I type away on a single table.
I miss this. My master’s thesis was written almost entirely in the coffee shop of the now extinct Border’s in the Ward Warehouse and sitting here, I realize why I’ve missed writing amongst strangers. With all the activity around, I feel like my pecking away at my computer is contributing to the collective busyness. In Hilo, it’s impossible to sit in Starbucks and hammer out a paper. There is always someone working or buying coffee who knows me and as is the small town way, people stop to say hello and talk story. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it, but for me, who must sustain concentrated focus on something without interruption to get anything done, it is the task killer.
With two cats, laundry to be done, and the TV tempting me to watch everything taped on the DVR that I can never be caught up with, writing at home is impossible. Not even at 11:00 pm, after a full day of work and in the dead of night, am I able to write. Slumber inevitably beckons and I’m soon fast asleep, hands still on the keyboard and only dreaming of writing.
But this first full day in Jongno-gu, and for the first time in a very long time, I have written 5 separate pieces. Amidst idle chatter and the occasional steaming of milk, words and ideas are flowing. I wonder, do I need to be anywhere but Hilo to write or do I just need to be in Seoul?
I love South Korea. It’s a country I’ve grown to love over the course of a decade, immersing myself in Korean dramas, infectious autotune K-pop, and addicting TV shows. Mind you, I still don’t understand a single word, but there is something about Korean culture that has infected me with a verve for reinvention and the aesthetically modern.
The first and only time I was in South Korea was 2012, but spent most of the time in Jeju-do, performing at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s World Congress. Although I fell in love with the coziness of Jeju, a small part of me, a girl from the small town of Koloa, yearned to experience the bustle of the city. On the day we were to fly back to Hawai’i we did a quick and hurried day trip through Seoul, but it didn’t quench my thirst to explore those places I’d only experienced through what I saw on TV. I was appreciative, but I wanted to stray off the beaten path.
I traveled a lot when I was a child. It always brought me joy to immerse myself into a culture and to disappear into the fabric of a place and it had been 8 years since I last jumped on a plane and traveled somewhere that wasn’t work or hula-related, so in February, I began doing searches for flights to Seoul. It’s not anything out of the ordinary. I search for flights to either South Korea or Japan every week, but there is always an excuse not to book. What didn’t help was that Expedia commercial on TV of a young woman who’s voiceover mentioned that she always traveled home to see her parents and that she wouldn’t travel anywhere alone, yet the scenes were of her immersing herself into experiencing Japan.
By the end of the month, I made the decision to come during spring break and walk away temporarily from things that would still be there when I returned. Just go. Get out. Do something. But don’t stay and wallow in what was pulling me under and drowning me by the day. I wasn’t running away from my life. On the contrary, I was running to it. I found the cheapest flight on Hawaiian Airlines and a beautiful new and affordable hotel, then click-click-click, I was coming to Seoul, and it was that easy. I’ve not regretted it since and I don’t think I ever will.
If you haven’t already, I hope you listen to what beckons you beyond the familiar. Find your Seoul and pursue it as if your life depended upon it and don’t give it up or shelf it for later. There is no perfect timing and there certainly isn’t a lot of time to deny yourself from experiencing something that stands to affect your life in amazing ways.