Yesterday, after arriving early in Seoul, I had the whole day ahead of me. The shuttle bus I had taken at the airport dropped me off in Sinchon (not to be confused with Sincheon, a different district located on the other side of the Han river), which is not completely unfamiliar territory to me. In 2008, during my last visit to Korea, I used to live here. In fact, the place I am staying at now, the Alpha Guesthouse, is just around the corner from the cozy motel that was my residence back then.
When strolling about the quarter, it feels like walking through a landscape where memories and reality intermingle. I have been here before, crossing the heavily trafficked roundabout (Sinchon Rotary), descending into the subway station to buy a creamcheese bagel and a newspaper to go, walking up the rising road that leads to Sogang University (the place where I will spent most of my mornings, beginning in June), sitting in front of a Family Mart with a cup of Nescafé or a can of beer, respectively. Overall: trying not to get lost in the small alleys that make a labyrinth of restaurants, motels and boardinghouses.
I walk through the same streets—but things are different. I notice it only little by little. Most obviously, my old motel: Furniture and mattresses are standing on the street, people coming and going, throwing things into a parked car (according to this web forum, the owner is still in search of computers, LED-lighting and five refrigerators for the remodeling). The place where I had spent nights trying to find some sleep in-between the humid air of the monsoon season of early September and the rapping air condition, seems in the course of being taken apart, possibly to be turned into just another luxurious nest for lovebirds with neon lights spelling “Good Time” or “Santa Fe”. And it was not the first thing that had to go.
Time is flying faster in Korea. Gloomy snack bars have turned into coffeeshops, run-down restaurants became cell phone stores, the stairs leading down to the subway are now moving, and the cars, buses and motorcycles that circled the Rotary line up rectangularly these days. I even spot some people riding bicycles, which seems suicidal in Seoul. Maybe I will try it some sunny day.
The scenery of this haunted stage has changed, but some of the actors remain the same. Although I miss the girls from the French Kiss, the shady waffle bakery below the ground, I recognize a familiar face. Even more surprisingly, the manager of my favorite Family Mart recognizes me, too. I take a rest at one of the plastic tables out in front where I regularly stopped on the way home to mellowing down after a busy day, with a cup of ramyon-bokki and a cooled Cass. It was here that I recorded most of my memos after unsettling theater performances into a black-and-blue notebook (now stacked away under my bed in Berlin). That was a mere 18 month ago.
Now the wind is blowing and the sun sets, another day. Seems like yesterday. Like One of the Family.
— 2 May 2010 (土)