In the distance, Namsan tower pierces the cloudless skies,
sentinelled against the misty skyline, overlooking
the quintessential Hanok village rooftops
snaking in an organized fashion –
a postcard-perfect juxtaposition of the old and new,
while the streets of Myeongdong and Dongdaemun
are choked with a flood of university students in procession,
stall sellers ready to jump at the next wandering customer,
and a steady stream of goggle-eyed tourists
bargaining in a foreign tongue they embrace like their own.
I weave through the crowd, looking up to the sight of tangled power lines
redolent of dreams half-chased, hanging on to a future
gleaned from resilient yesterdays, my gaze then interrupted by
a genial man in his thirties who speaks in an accented Malay
as he eagerly chirps an Assalamualaikum, apa khabar?
when he sees me sauntering past his pushcart in hijab,
and I smile, as he pulls me to witness an impressive show
of his gloved hands kneading and unspooling a fascinating
lump of doughy, chalky sweet, once enjoyed only by royalty
now commonplace, delicacies so accessible like language,
when one makes the effort to learn, unlocking doors of another’s home.
There are stares, mostly out of unfamiliarity than contempt,
with lingering smiles and annyeongs and cafes
punctuating every corner, and conversations lasting for hours
strung in a clumsy syntax of laughter and gestures.
I observe the ahjumma with a youthful bob cut at the subway
talking on her cellphone, her lilting tone at every “yes” and “no”
as I listen to her voice like strange music to my ears,
their Ls and Rs roll into one while landscapes dissolve,
rapidly blurring in a timelapse from time immemorial,
while I stand privy to the secrets carried in signals
through travel lines stretching miles into the night
that envelopes the looming tower, the august silhouette of a mountain
and lights in distant buildings flickering like stars in the cold summer wind,
the city wafting its soul through fields stripped off
its cosmetic beauty, remaining a prized antique,
a souvenir in my mind.