Having seen Simon and Martina’s video (above) before coming to Seoul, I thought they were exaggerating for comedic effect, but no. No. No, dear friend. No.
Let me start by saying the public transportation system in Seoul is absolutely amazing– subway lines and transfer points are clearly marked and color coded in both Korean and English. It’s way more manageable than Japan’s train system (technically, but I have a special fondness for Japan’s trains.) You can get pretty much anywhere using a combination of the subway and bus; the bus and taxi drivers are doing their absolute best to make sure you get there FAST. 빨리 빨리 culture is real. This is not the country to play chicken with cars, especially taxis, okay? You will lose. Think you have the right away because you’re a pedestrian? You’d still better wait 5-10 seconds before crossing the road after the walk signal has come on. Blindly trusting a taxi or a scooter won’t blow through that red light? Your funeral. I always let the locals walk into the road first.
My daily commute to school in 신촌 (Sinchon) takes an hour by bus, with no transfers. Since I take the bus more than any other mode of transportation, let me be the one to tell you: Bus drivers here do not play. They GUN it. If you are not at the bus stop with your toes hanging off the curb when the bus opens its doors–which may or may not be when it comes to a complete stop–then yo tail will get left. You will be eating a face full of exhaust, my friend. People have run along the bus trying to get on and been left behind. Pro tip: If you’re running late, try waving wildly to indicate you would like to board the bus. Once you’re on, adhere yourself to the very first solid thing or you will tumble down the aisle and bust your head open on something or knock over someone.
After climbing to Namsan tower with a friend, I had to take a late bus home from Sinchon. It was fuller than I expected, so I had to sit in a single seat near the far back. I love taking the bus. I always end up staring out the window watching people live their lives; hundreds of lit buildings and complexes pass that I’ll never remember (The world is so much larger than we are.) That day I just happened to notice that everyone on the bus was a couple. They were holding hands and sharing earbuds. One guy was running his hands over his girlfriend’s fall of hair while she slept on his shoulder. The conversation behind me was punctuated by bouts of silence as they stared at each other. I could practically feel the love (infatuation) burning the back of my neck like a hot comb. Couples in Korea like to show that they’re a couple: couple clothing, excessive touching, choruses of “why are you so beautiful/handsome?” I saw a guy put his hand under his girlfriend’s backpack while they were on the escalator so it wouldn’t hurt her shoulders. I saw another one carefully tie his girlfriend’s shoes. A girl completely turned around so she could stare into her boyfriend’s face the whole way up the escalator. (I might’ve been secretly hoping she fell backwards when she got to the top, but whatever). Trying to get through a couple walking and holding hands is like trying to split an atom.
I suppose I should’ve expected this, but a good portion of the conversations in my class revolve somehow around boys. I’m not here looking for a Korean boyfriend, neither do I know what my type is, so I never really know what to say. The more my classmates talk about it or my host family asks, “How are you going to meet guys if you’re always studying?” or worse, “When do you want to get married?” the more I feel like I should be lonely. But either loneliness is so close to me that I can’t see it, or it’s not chasing after me in the first place. I don’t want to look to find out; I’m terrified it’ll be closer than I think. It’s also disconcerting to think that it’s not chasing me at all. Is it okay to be content with what you have? These days I like to think I’m happy being with myself and in this country. I’m happy to come home and talk to my host sister and meet with American friends who are here for a while. I don’t want to worry about what’s not there.
Still, with the people around me flinging around the words loneliness and alone like curses, I’m half-waiting for the loneliness to come at me suddenly in my sleep. Maybe I’ll wake up crying and suddenly want to go home. I’ll want my parents or one of my best friends. I’ll want to hug a body I’m familiar with. Or maybe I won’t want anything at all.