Stepping out of the subway in Seoul is like entering another world. The subway system is modern, fast, overcrowded, one of the largest in the world and comparable to any major city, except for the abundance of military. After a few mishaps we learn how to spot them – hair four inches above the ears = step aside. Good in small doses, a group of them remind me of a Canadian hockey team. Nearby the US military base, Itaewon is like a massive shopping mall. All the western chains (McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Burger King) are omnipresent. Suffering from some kind of culture shock, I say, ‘Kamsahamnida’ and receive a ‘You’re Welcome’ in response. We drop our packs at the place we’re staying, hit the club, dance until the sun comes up and stumble into a taxi.
Just when we think we’ve left, we’re reminded that we are still in Korea… The next morning I wake up early to grab breakfast supplies. After walking in every direction, getting nowhere and no closer – I call and wake up Nix. Laughing, she asks, ‘How did you get lost?’ In her attempt to rescue me, after many wrong turns she admits she’s lost too. We declare defeat and Nadine saves the day. Now, you may think we’re feeling the effects of the night before, but it’s a little more complicated. In Korea, an ‘address’ exists in name only. One does not look for street signs because most streets don’t have names. Houses do have numbers posted outside but, are assigned when the house is built, so No 8 could be next to No 204.
We’re off to Jogyesa Temple to take part in the Lotus Latern Festival to celebrate Buddha’s Birthday next. At the festival, we chat with two travellers from Montreal, sitting on the ground surrounded by arts & crafts materials. Never adept at arts & crafts, I appear to look confused because this lovely Korean woman decides to sit down with me. Without a word of English, simply smiles and hand gestures, we manage to make a beautiful lantern. Nix, Nadine, Kore and I join 30,000 people parading from Dongdaemun Stadium to Jonggak carrying colorful lotus lanterns creating an incredible stream of light.
Peace & love.