Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Quietest Place on Earth

Springtime is slowly bringing green into Seoul. Blossoms are softening the stark cityscape of dull cement, plastic and glass. I am told that outside of Seoul is the place to be this time of year, but powers beyond our control keep us here for the time being, and so we must make do with the nature around us.

Nature around us? Upon arrival we wouldn't have believed it, but having been here for three months we recognize more and more nature everyday. A sprig of grass in the median, a tree wedged in between two tall buildings, birds twittering about and hopping from gutter to tree branch to retaining wall: each reminding us that we are still a part of the greater universe.

As in Portland, warmer weather and pretty, springtime natural attractions bring out the population en mass. I appreciate this about Portland. Springtime offers the opportunity to stretch out those rainy-day-cramped muscles and to catch up with the neighbors you only caught glimpses of all winter. It's as if the rebirth of a year brings the rebirth of a city. And in Seoul, I imagine it is the same--the markets are bigger every weekend, with more vendors and more customers. The narrow streets are narrower and the smells are becoming more pungent.

My concern, however, is that the coming of spring and the increase in folks who are out on the town only makes the city's some 44,000 people per square mile feel, well, closer. (Note evening subway entrance to the left.)

The tighter the city feels to me, the more I seek a respite. And as you can imagine, the city parks and hiking trails are teaming with people on the weekends. Koreans enjoy the outdoors and they use their city-sponsored spaces well. I've found that when I just need to get away, there is only one place to do it: the roof.
My office is on the tenth (and top) floor of a building near Gangnam Station and access to the roof is always available. I'm not sure why this is, other than to allow smokers a legal place to get their fix, but I've taken advantage of the space during lunch time on several occasions simply to be alone. It only became apparent to me last week that this elevated veranda, complete with evergreens and grasses in a raised bed, will become a place of solace to a foreigner who sometimes wants to feel alone.

The truth is, the smokers only go up there to smoke, and the roof is quite large enough for all of us to have our needs met. The textures of Seoul are so great that they can be quite overwhelming to the newcomer. It's nice to have a quiet place to be, if only for a short lunch-time moment.

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