Seoul Sonnet

How do I love Seoul? Let me count the ways.
I love the smell, the sight, the touch, the sound,
Of subways and shopping malls kept underground;
A fun way to spend time during commute delays.

Up above ground, under a clear blue sky,
I love the city parks in which to play,
Where Seoulites can relax and spend the day
In nature, away from traffic nearby.

A love the combination of old and new,
Aged palaces and temples sharing space
With modern high rises in the same place.
And I love the Han River flowing though.

I love the parties in the streets of Seoul,
The many festivals and fun celebrations
That unite people from different nations.
It's these occasions that make a city whole.

There's so much more that can't be counted in lists,
Like the joy in finding new places to explore,
Or the change in oneself that can't be ignored.
But perhaps what's most important is this:
No matter what I do or where I roam,
I love how this city always feels like home.

My Good Fortune at Sensoji

I arrived in the land of the rising sun after the sun had set, so I had to wait until morning before I could take a look at the city sights.

scaffolding at Sensoji

scaffolding at Sensoji

My first stop was Sensoji, a famous temple that happened to be a short walk from my hostel. Right away I could see that Japanese temples are much different from those in Korea. The main gate was mostly a red colour, unlike the colourful mix of reds, yellows, greens, blues, yellows and pinks in Korea. Through the gate, the main temple seemed to have been replaced with an arena; it was covered in big, white sheets, making it look like a new hockey rink instead of an ancient place of worship. I went inside anyways, just to make sure that there was, in fact, a temple underneath it all.

Inside was a slow-moving crowd of people, some were peering into a kind of prayer room behind a sheet of glass. I wondered if always looked like that, or if the Buddha statue and prayer area was being protected from construction. After bowing towards the Buddha, visitors tossed coins into a grate placed in front of the screen. I had never seen a grate system quite like this one before. Was it there to prevent theft, or just because the sound of clinging coins falling through the grate and into the waiting treasure box below was just so exciting and fun?


To the left was a stack of thin wooden drawers. I watched as a few people opened a drawer, took out a sheet of paper, and walked away reading it. Overhearing a family say something about a "fortune," I realized that the papers must, in fact, be fortunes.

Even though I had never been interested in fortune-telling, I decided to give it a try anyways. I watched some more visitors. Put a coin in the slot and shake the silver cylindrical container. And then, okay, so a stick comes out of the container after you shake it. Open a drawer and take a paper. Money, shake, stick, fortune. Got it.But wait---what drawer? I decided I'd better ask someone.

I approached a family who I overheard speaking English.

"Excuse me, can you help me? How do I---"

"Put one hundred yen in here," the woman said, "shake, and a stick will come out. Choose a drawer."

"Any drawer?"

"No, the one that matches the stick."

I went to pay my hundred yen, but the woman stopped me. "No, pray first," she said. "Pray first."

So I prayed. "Dear God," I said. "I am very curious to get a fortune. I don't really like praying with my hands together or anything because this is a Buddhist place and it would feel wrong. I just want you to know that I'm curious about this. Please let me get a fortune."

Then I shook and got my stick. I saw there wasn't a number, but a Japanese character. Matching the characters on the stick and drawer was easier than I thought and soon I found my drawer. As I opened it, the woman came over again to inspect my work.

"Nineteen," she said. Oh, so they are numbers, I thought.

I showed her the drawer and she said it was right, then turned and left me alone with my fortune.


Good start, I thought.

So many troubles and problems invade your family business, everything does not go so smoothly. A tiger demonstrates his spirit too much, then you should be more modest defending its dashing, then you will be safe.

Do believe in gods earnestly, do your best, then everything will be fine in the end.

Getting wealth and happiness, you may remain with them.

*Your hopes and desire turn our to be real by half. *Take long time to recover from sickness, but life will be safe. *Most of your lost articles will not be found. *Take long time to show around the man you wait for. *Building and moving your home will be good by half. *There is no problem of travelling. *Marriage will be good by half. *There is no worry about employment.

There were some concerns---my marriage, home, and hopes and desires will be real and good "by half"? What does that mean?---but I decided to focus on the positive predictions. Steady employment is always good. Remaining in wealth and happiness sounds excellent. And problem-less travelling is a plus for a wanderer like myself. I was especially pleased to see my travel/life motto was even represented with a solid "everything will be fine in the end."

With my fortune safe in my pocket, I left the scaffolding-clad temple and hopped on the subway to explore more of the city.

Finding My Way in Tokyo
Saying a Prayer at Meiji Jingu Shrine 
Geeking Out in Tokyo

Gyeongbok Palace

With a weekday off during the Chuseok long weekend, I decided to take some time for myself and do some touristy sightseeing of the city I now call home. I rode the subway to Gyeongbok Palace (the “Palace of Shining Happiness”) in the Jongno-Gu area of Seoul. The only palaces I'd been to before were those in Europe, usually involving the British Royal family. How would they compare to their older, Asian equivalents?

Just outside the Palace gates, I spotted some friends of mine who apparently had the same idea. We bought our tickets and some audio tour guides (a personal favourite) and headed inside. Unfortunately the audio tours weren’t as interesting or as informative as I had hoped. I often left it playing quietly, earphones dangling around my neck, while I chatted with my friends. Instead, we just walked around and I let my imagination roam.

According to my guidebooks, this palace was built in 1394 by King Taejo during the Joseon Dynasty, and it’s rumoured it contained about 500 buildings at that time. During the Japanese invasions, Gyeongbuk Palace was burnt down by palace slaves upset about their working conditions, instead of the Japanese army as one might have imagined. Heungseon Daewongun started rebuilding it in 1865 after resting in ruins for almost 300 years. Modern restoration didn’t begin until the 1990s, well after any Japanese invasions and slave uprisings. Even though restorations are still in progress, the remaining buildings hint at its past grandeur.

It was the colours that impressed me the most. There were bright reds, blues, greens, yellows, and oranges everywhere. Intricate patterns were produced on the undersides of the roofs. I hadn’t experienced any roofs like the ones I saw at the palace. Sure, I knew what a traditional Asian roof looked like, but there aren’t too many around the city anymore. Their tiled tops and colourful bottoms are truly beautiful.

The various palace buildings were amply isolated from each other with expansive stone walkways. There was a beautiful fish pond with a small pavilion in the middle, connected with a bridge that was closed to visitors.

The sun was hot, so we stopped into the National Folk Museum, which is connected to the palace, for a drink. I noticed some traditional hanbok costumes were available to play dress-up and take pictures in... How could I refuse? I convinced my friends to join me and we modelled the colourful attire in celebration of the national holidays. I, of course, wore the queen’s outfit. In their temples and their clothes, Koreans certainly were never (and still aren’t) afraid of colour.

The only appropriate thing to do after a very traditional day is to exit into the urban streets and enjoy a very modern evening under the city lights.


Riding a Boat Down the Han River
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