Darting, diverting eyes are my only immediate companion this weekend. As a foreigner in Seoul, I stick out like a walking eclipse, but the Koreans try their best to be polite and not stare. Standing over a group of four women chanting at Samsung Park doesn’t draw any noticeable glares my direction, so I continue to look on. The four Korean women are sitting on a mat under a tree taking turns chanting passages from a book that they seem to have memorized. One of the women passes the book over to the left and I catch a quick glimpse of it. The front cover is engraved with a beautiful golden text that reads simply: The Holy Bible. After hearing Psalm 125 read in Korean, my daily dose of cultural intrigue tempts me into meandering down the park’s wooded paths.
The park has an energy that is unmistakably calming. Dirt paths with light trickling through the leaves above guide me through the twisted tree trunks of the forest. Even though it is surrounded by the colossal steel jungle of Seoul, this park has somehow created an impenetrable sound vacuum that promotes the true serenity of Korea. The foliage in the park is not unlike that of any other temperate climate, but the calmness is unmistakable, almost grave like. Within the park are two tombs that house past kings from the 15th century. In Asia death is glorified, while in the West the end is a destiny met with fear and uncertainty.
The placid forest is a much needed end to my afternoon, especially after the chaos I encountered earlier at Seoul’s famous COEX mall. It is a Saturday and having gotten up early, I decided that a trip to the mall would be a superb idea; however, when I arrived at the mall, I was greeted by about 1,000 school girls all dressed in uniform and ready to take the mall by storm. Before I knew it I was surrounded in a sea of tiny Korean schoolgirls and prompting stares and giggles like I had a giant ‘kick me’ sign on my back. I was in a zoo. The only thing I wasn’t sure of was if they were on exhibit — or me.
Click, click, click. Good picture here. I wasn’t about to let them put me on exhibit.
COEX Mall stands at the base of the Samsung Trade Tower: a massive underground complex that I easily got lost in countless times. Not to mention, the hundreds of girls in uniforms didn’t exactly make good points of reference as walking down every corridor brought about seemingly familiar faces.
Just beyond the chaos of the mall and Samsung station lays a grassy mountain that looms over the southern part of the city. As I walk past the base of the mountain I notice a marking that resembles a Swastika engraved on the side of a Buddhist temple. As my line of sight draws up the mountain, my eyes center on a gray stone Buddha head that is staring, calling to me and the metropolis before him.
Hiking up the side of the mountain makes me recall a basic rule I learned in my Thai Buddhism class in Bangkok last year. Images of Buddha must be placed on an elevated platform so that followers can always look up to him. Ascending this mountain and looking up every so often to get my bearings bears a similar state of mind as I make my way towards the statue.
At the base a single man is bowing towards the statue, but from my vantage point he might as well be an ant. The massive statue is an awe inspiring sight to say the least. I sit down on a marble stone with my back towards the statue and look down the path I have just climbed and towards the city in front of me. I look around at all the Koreans coming around the temples towards the statue to pay respect and notice once again I am the only foreigner in sight – and probably on this entire mountain.
I look back over my shoulder and smile at the Buddha looking down upon Seoul. I mutter with a small smile underneath my breath, “I am in Korea.”