Seoul, South Korea
October 29 – 30, 2014
The fine autumn afternoon was made glorious by maidenhair trees that turned Namsan Park on the hilly side of Seoul golden. My squad and I ended up in this quiet edge of the park by chance. We shared the tranquility only with a couple sitting on a bench behind the trees. Then seemingly out of thin air, a squad of schoolchildren came rushing in file. Perhaps they came from a nearby public library or there must have been a school in the area. We were familiar with the rigid schedule of Korean students. They would spend after-school hours studying again in tutorial or review classes in private academies. This must have been their in-between break and the only permissible time they could unleash their pent-up youthful energy.
A few moments before, we stumbled into the statue of Jeong Yakyong near Namsan Public Library in Huam-dong. Perhaps the droves of students should have been unsurprising. He was a Confucian-turned-Catholic scholar from Chosun Dynasty who symbolized learning in modern Korea. An educational facility was, most likely, within the vicinity. Jeong upheld the belief that education should be more practical than philosophical. If only Korean students applied this concept to language learning, my squad – Melds and Cindy, both ESL teachers – would have had more success with their Korean students back home.
In that short window of time, the hyperactive kids were able to squeeze in a game of tag. They darted zigzagging around trees with wild abandon. One bespectacled boy, though, got his kicks solving a Rubik’s Cube in lightning speed. Cindy interviewed him as his fingers adeptly matched the colors of the cube; I could almost see his frantic brain activity with each twist and turn. Within seconds, Kim Son Un completed the cube as his fangirls were giggling at their playground crush.
Then, as quickly as they had come, the kids retreated to where they emerged and left no trace of their presence in the park. Squad game over. Time to hit the books again, we supposed.
The next day, we ended up at Dongdaemun History & Culture Park unexpectedly, as usual. The pedestrian space was also the outdoor cultural exhibition of Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) dotted by installation art showcasing both traditional and modern pieces. The collection included foreign inventions.
One display that surprised us was a jeepney. It felt quite surreal to see the ubiquitous Philippine mode of transportation parked in a foreign city. The Koreans called it a “fancy bus” and a “para po car,” para po being the expression used by passengers upon getting off. Apparently, it was such an important Tagalog phrase for Koreans that it stuck as the vehicle’s name. It was worth a chuckle.
This time, there was no squad of schoolchildren hijacking the place and making a ruckus. This cultural playground was located deep in the downtown. Only a lone boy got on the jeepney while we were taking selfies inside. I forgot his name, but he found the vehicle a novelty enough to hang out in it. We asked his guardian if we could take his photo.
I almost always steered clear of children in my travels. First off, I was never fond of kids. But more importantly, it was an ethical issue I could not be hassled with. Kim Son Un and this cute commuter were the rare exceptions. Even then, I planned to post their images years after the fact when they would’ve grown considerably from the time I met them.
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