From Seoul to Berlin: In Between Five Autumn Seasons
Sometime in 2015, not so far ago, I vowed to write a book. Far far ago, I vowed not. A while ago, I opened this page, stared at the whiteness before me for a few seconds, and started typing letters. Thank you, Virginia Woolf.
For now, the book will be undergoing a process but let me just tell you a story instead. Or rather dots of stories.
My words become repetitive. My words are spatial, sometimes not of this earth. They fly, and sometimes people only see them from afar, glimpses of a silhouette that struggles to spread intimate truths. I tell myself, a few others too, that I am not a good story teller. But am I not really? Or am I just enveloped in shyness and fear? Do I remain a silhouette? Or do I show up to the world?
Courage, have the courage to be happy. A trip to Seoul opened its vibrant entry sign five years ago. The autumn weather seeped into the skin and the foreign surroundings penetrated into the eyes of three first-timers. More than that, friendship with travelers alike stirred our young souls. The silhouette had seen and had been seen. As we were strolling together the narrow pavements of Itaewon, An Australian guy from the hostel asked for my name and the reason for choosing South Korea as my first venture abroad. My “lightness” got busted in a second. Because really, it wasn’t on my list and I never imagined it to be. I was just there because I wanted to explore places. And we did. We walked around temples in Changdeokgung and Gyeongbokgung and Bukchon Hanok Village, satisfied our adrenaline rush in Lotte World, indulged in caffeine, cosmetics, and kimchi and everything spicy in Myeongdong and Dongdaemun, got enlightened in the borderline tour of North and South Korea, biked blissfully around Nami Island, admired the night view from N Seoul Tower, laughed our hearts out in between subway rides and soju shots, danced our hearts out in Gangnam and Hongdae. But it turned up to be more than mere exploration for it transcended into understanding of all sorts. The things I hold dearly, hesitant on revealing them to others, this guy happened to be a reflection of courage and eased into my being. What I thought was hideous, he brought into spotlight for all, but most especially, for me to see. Such phenomenon led me into acceptance, that it’s all okay, very much okay and lovely to blossom.
All senses awakened in the body and opened in the soul an inexplicable kind of appreciation.
It has this immortal circulation, so it must be true love.
No, it didn’t start with romance. It started with love for oneself, expanding into knowing how to love and understand everything and everyone this mysterious world contains.
After returning from our trip, we invited our Australian friends to visit the Philippines. Wow, so this was what separation anxiety felt like. We just can’t help missing each other’s company and so we kept in touch everyday and exchanged stories of our busy lives away from one another. Finally, plans were made and one of them came through. The four of us headed to Sagada in the Mountain Province. The trip to the mountains peeled away our deepest individualities. Long walks and deep talks were never the same again. As friendship got deeper, my feelings got confused. I climbed to heights that made me intensely desire to chase the Australian guy when he left for Singapore to continue his travels. All I wanted to do was to express face-to-face that I like him. However certain circumstances held my chase back and the confession poured in a Facebook message instead:
I wanted you to be in the zone without distractions. I wanted to stop against all the rush and noise of this world and I wanted you to stop too. I want your stare to penetrate into mine. Those are selfish thoughts, I guess.
This love letter got no response. We tried talking about it. But distance, excuses for distance. And time-zone difference. And even more complications and excuses than we ever needed. There never came a closure.
Sorrow bloomed and happiness bled at the same time. Yet after everything, this trip and this person made me more alive than ever. I was born once more.
If I could marry a European city, it would be Berlin. Its character has a mélange of, in Rilke’s terms, beauty and terror, a body sculpted by experiences with a scar impossible to heal through generations. The resulting mess is never to be messed with. I like its style, how multi.
Simon (travel buddy circa 2013 / circa Seoul travel) and I took advantage of our few days here and went out for a walk despite the threatening storm. We strolled with hands in our pockets braving the drizzle and cold temperature and gusts of wind. It wasn’t much of a walk really; it felt more like surviving an apocalypse as we tried to avoid the pots of plants and wooden signs falling over and trees swaying loudly and on the verge of being uprooted. It was impossible to go on so we searched for a refuge in a café, as usual. Now I couldn’t count anymore how many bars and coffee shops we entered in the course of our European backpacking trip. I think we had hit 50 or so. “This one has a high rating”, Simon said. We went inside a deserted and dimly-lit café and restaurant. Plants decorate the interior, like an indoor garden. We settled around a table and waited for the two cappuccinos to warm us up. While my friend was busy scrolling through his phone, I explored their quirky restroom.
The cappuccinos were ready. Outside, it was getting worse and people were walking briskly. When will this storm pass? So far, we’re safe here. Cozy even. I took a sip from my cup.
My thoughts were disrupted as someone entered the café, perhaps finding also a temporary refuge from the chaos washing the Berlin streets. My head turned around to take a glimpse, then went back to drinking my coffee. In a split of few seconds, my brain snapped and took in that familiar appearance. I turned around to look again. It was the Australian guy. I looked at Simon and he was proudly smiling. So this was “the surprise”! Shifting to my superlative shocked state, weird sounds began emerging out of my throat, super-stunned face and bright eyes, tight hugging this boy I haven’t seen for four years yet also kind of shouting and asking him to get out of the room. I was in a blaze at the apparition of this person and of all places, here in Europe – in the continent of my dreams. This – right here, right now – was unbelievable.
I calmed down after we order a slice of chocolate cake to share. For the rest of the afternoon, the three of us ate and drank and talked until it melted into a beautiful cliché, like Seoul and Sagada happened only yesterday. We braved the winds and found ourselves in the Holocaust Memorial. We walked and told stories about our love lives, asked each other’s views on compromise and about friends we recalled from our Seoul trip, we discovered the roles of dancing and writing and photography in our growth, mostly laid down the matters of the heart. When he spoke about his dream of living longer in Europe, he was speaking about my long-time dream too. I could still say that after everything, that first trip abroad and this person walking beside me served as catalysts for deep healing and expansion. They held some sort of a mirror, so I could see myself, finally.
At nighttime, we parted ways near a train station. It was too short, yet it felt so full. I hugged him tight and when the hug was about to break loose I hugged him again and felt extremely happy, not so much in the sense of romance, but more on the possibilities of a life imagined, as well as unimagined: Yes, you cross paths with that special person one more time (or three or sixty-four times) in the special world of travel.
There are no final answers as the story of our lives, like the films we watch, keep rolling, from season to season.
You will recall a heartbreak which ceased for what felt like centuries ago and an opening of worlds that could collide, parallels and perpendiculars which could intersect. You will smile at the thought of oneness of the past and the present. Perhaps you will be writing about it somewhere, sometime in the future.
Perhaps you will bump into each other again in the next autumn season.