Seoul, South Korea / Tokyo, Japan / Guangzhou, China
October 31, 2014 / January 29, 2017 / September 8, 2017
With a little help from a friend, I snagged a photo op with the 236-meter tall Namsan Tower in Seoul. I mounted a ledge for maximum exposure. And raised both arms to be sure. Cindy clicked the camera.
She did get the entire tower within the frame. I was not as lucky. At least I could spot my forehead!
Our visit to Namsan Tower was the day’s final stop. The evening brought on jacket weather. It was a chilly walk up to the base of the tower. The promenade at the dappled shadows of trees was brimming with romantic possibilities, promptly banished in the company of friends and our host family, the Yoons.
The late hour, or perhaps the steep admission price, kept us at N Plaza at the base of the tower which did not lack in things of interest. The terrace with a panoramic view of Seoul revealed the Korean fondness with all things French (en route to Namsan we passed several bakeries and cafes with French names), even in the brand of romance.
Love locks – padlocks bearing names and professions of eternal love – bedecked the terrace fence, conjuring up similarly littered Seine bridges in Paris. But while they were considered vandalism in France, the love messages seemed encouraged in Namsan Tower. Flowerbeds were heart-shaped, after all.
Fast forward three years, I knew better how to fit all of 634 meters of Tokyo Skytree plus my entire head. An occasion for a groufie presented itself when Mariah and Takuya, my former students, flanked me. I was overwhelmed by their welcome. Both lived in nearby prefectures, but they took time and several train rides to see me in Asakusa where I was staying.
Walking from the opposite side of Sumida River that cut through Tokyo, we beheld the oddly-shaped golden Asahi Flame lying sideways atop Asahi Beer Hall. I exclaimed, “It looks like…” Mariah interrupted me mid-sentence, “I know what you’re thinking, A.J. Don’t say it.” My former student knew me well enough.
Perhaps I had more pocket money for this trip; we made it to the top, no question. A video wall was showing a kabuki dance to rock music. Thumping beats and images of ashen faces and eccentric costumes were arresting to the senses against the dark, silent night sky. The show was Tembo Kabuki by kabuki company Heisei-Nakamura-Za. Credit the Japanese for merging technology and tradition without contradiction.
The observatories 350 meters up offered a 360-degree view of metropolitan Tokyo and beyond. At nightfall, buildings and traffic glittered below us like specks of diamond strewn all over the landscape. I was awed at the brilliant breadth of this megacity. In a stroke of genius, an artist’s rendition of the same view hundred of years ago was put up. It offered an explicit point of comparison on how the cityscape had changed from the Edo Era. On a fair day and at daytime, Mt. Fuji could be seen in the distance as evidenced by the drawing. For shock value, a glass-covered skywalk gave visitors the feeling of walking on air with a vertigo-inducing view of the street hundreds of meters below.
Tokyo Skytree had snatched the honor of being the world’s tallest tower from Guangzhou’s Canton Tower, 604 meters tall (30 meters short of Skytree). I never imagined I would also see it in less than a year.
Guangzhou was merely a point of entry on my trip to Guilin. My dear friend and hospitable host, also a former student, Quinn chose just one stop in the city before I took my flight out in the evening. It had to be iconic, and that was Canton Tower, hands down. I had no time to go up. No matter, the view of the tower’s curvy form was impressive from the base. In another stroke of genius, we came across a statue of a horned animal on the ground floor. Quinn explained that the ram – he came up with the word after considering goat at first – was the traditional symbol of Guangzhou. How apropos that I would find it at the shadow of the city’s modern icon.
I had never put any thought to such towers, and if I did, I considered them to be nothing more than tourist traps. I was partly mistaken. Namsan Tower, Tokyo Skytree, and Canton Tower offered a glimpse of the cities they towered over. Perhaps not intimately as at street level, but a more comprehensive perspective than I had imagined. More significantly, they came to be towering tokens of my gracious hosts. The Yoon family, Mariah and Takuya, and Quinn – all stood tall as my personal icons of the welcoming warmth of their respective cities.