We are all made up of our memories. Good or bad – memories of our experiences are what shape our character and our understanding of the world.
Every day we are given choices to create and extract memories. No matter how we try to negate it, our perspectives affect very much what we want to remember and how we choose to remember it.
So how are curating our memory bank? What if one day we lose the very things that make us?
These were the very questions presented to me as I was sitting on the plane onwards to Seoul. I had just finished watching “Still Alice“, a remarkable film about a renowned linguistics professor who suffers from early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
This particular quote hit me hard:
But for the time being, I’m still alive. I know I’m alive. I have people I love dearly. I have things I want to do with my life. I rail against myself for not being able to remember things – but I still have moments in the day of pure happiness and joy. And please do not think that I am suffering. I am not suffering. I am struggling. Struggling to be part of things, to stay connected to whom I was once. So, ‘live in the moment’ I tell myself. It’s really all I can do, live in the moment. And not beat myself up too much… and not beat myself up too much for mastering the art of losing.”
It was exactly what I needed to hear. I don’t believe in mere coincidence. I believe in fate, and I believe in everything being an answer to my prayers.
This was an answer to one of my prayers that I’d sent out just before I took the flight out.
Y’see, I was in a difficult place right before I’d left. I was grieving from multiple losses and had no clear idea the way forward. I’d nearly cancelled the trip even.The fact that the MERS situation was starting to take a turn for the worse in Seoul seemed like a good enough reason for me to back out and settle with whatever I was facing.
But I knew for all that I’m worth, giving up and taking the back seat is never an option. Everything was (mostly) booked and paid for anyway! (I actually do work very hard and save up my own money for my trips, so cancelling would be equally painful for my pocket!)
Things were hard, but I knew I was being especially hard on myself too. I couldn’t comprehend nor accept what I was going through, and I thought I would have learnt to better manage curveballs by now.
What I then began to slowly realise was that whatever I was going through was necessary – it was a gift of catharsis. I could either allow myself to be defined by the difficult circumstances I was in, or I could take it by the reins and rise above it. When you face head-on the things that are breaking you down, they lose their control over you.
This was a journey I needed to take, and take it, I did. It was a leap of faith I’m glad I’d made.
The 2 weeks trip around South Korea was more powerful than I could have ever foresee. It strengthened my faith in Him once again, reminded me that He is the best keeper of affairs and reaffirmed that all dependence is only to Him and to Him alone.
It also taught me that we have to be willing to fail, to be wrong, to start over again with lessons learnt.
South Korea was a pleasant surprise. I went into the country with little to zero expectations, and with absolutely no clue whatsoever about the Kpop craze. (I’m more of a Bollywood kinda girl. :p)
The two weeks saw me spending time in Seoul, then Jeju, and finally Busan.
As always, I chose to stay in residential areas away, but still close enough, to the city centre(s). It’s partly because I despise crowds and busy streets, but mostly because I prefer to stay in the heart of the local people. I get to people watch as the daily lives around me go on as they do, and I get to recalibrate my state.
I’d opted to stay in Yooginong Guesthouse in Seoul.
A wonderful cosy hostel located a 5-7 minutes walk away from Mangwon train station, it’s right smack in a residential area which fed my natural curiosity. (Side note: I used this Subway app while in Korea! Definitely helpful for navigating the trains in Seoul and Busan.)
It was quite a AHA! moment for me when the moment I stepped into the hostel, I saw that it has the exact same layout I’d like for my future home (bookshelves, wood furniture and natural light!), and the tv was playing a rerun of the SEA Games Opening, right at the section where my kids were performing!
The guesthouse is situated near an elementary school and several tuition centres, so I had the opportunity to see kids doing their thing.
This kid was running late for school!
It was also located near the local market, where I bought much of the produce I was to eat in the following days. We humans really are all the same, no matter geography. 😛 Since I had no idea what to expect and had done minimal research sans some useful Korean phrases, I sought the advice of the guesthouse’s owner on what to first experience in Korea.
I specifically told him I was in no condition to visit any terribly crowded places, and I was inclined to visiting places of cultural significance.
He immediately pointed me towards Changdeokgung Palace.
Located to the east of the larger Gyeongbok palace, Changdeokgung is one of the five grand places built by the Joseon Dynasty. Most people would go to Gyeongbok palace first, namely because it’s probably the most famous royal palace in Seoul, but Changdeokgung is known to be the better preserved and more beautiful one.
Like I said, I had no prior knowledge whatsoever of Korean history and learnt much of it on the go. It’s peculiar actually, because I usually devour the history of a particular place before I travel to it, but circumstances prior to the trip had me up to my neck with other things to manage.
The palace was fairly deserted by the time I arrived, with minimal tourists, so I’d dare say I had quite the rare experience of exploring the grounds and feeling like royalty!
While Changdeokgung was built as a support palace, it ended up being the one which was lived in for the longest period of time, and where the last of the Joseon dynasty died out in the 1960s!
Changdeokgung was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status because its layout was planned to harmonize with its natural surroundings. It’s also well known for its ‘Secret Garden’ in the back, taking up 60% of the palace grounds.
I spent a good two hours in the palace grounds, exploring, people-watching and sitting down to write. It’s fascinating to imagine how life must have been life during its heyday. Officials, kings and royalty walking around in hanboks and on horses, while surrounded by amazing greenery – the history nerd in me went on overdrive!
Ah! I also had the treat of seeing several young women dressed up in hanboks walking through the gardens! Now, that definitely got my imagination running wild!
Exploring the complex also got me pretty pensive.
How will we be remembered when we leave? What legacy are we going to leave behind?
I guess all we can do is to strive to be the best that we can be, and always be of benefit to the world. Then at least that’s a life well-lived.
I strayed about after visiting the palace, not knowing where I was, but not really concerned about getting lost. I had no schedule to follow anyway, and my host had assured me getting around Seoul would be relatively easy via subway.
I quickly found out Changdeokgung is located very near to the Bukchon Hanok village, which is a residential area made up of old Korean-style traditional houses.
I was fascinated by the houses, yes, but I was more fascinated by the people. Everywhere I went, I was met with curious stares but also equally genuine smiles.
The warmth I received from all whom I crossed paths with on the first day was perfectly capped off by a trip to an old Korean tea house where I was the only customer then – but I’ll leave that to the next entry, inshaAllah. 🙂
I’ll end this entry with two beautiful verses I’d read on my first day in Seoul, from Surah Qasas, which starts off with a beautiful story of Prophet Musa a.s.
“I do hope that my Lord will guide me the smooth and straight path.” [28:22]
“My Lord, verily I am in need of whatever good You would send down to me.” [28:24]
Two very strong and powerful verses, rightfully surrendering all affairs to His greatness and mercy. Two verses that helped shape the beginnings of my journey in Korea, for verily I was in dire need of whatever good He would send down to me.
It’s really been a while since I wrote specifically about my travels, but let’s hope I’ll get the engine back up and running.
Lots of love,