The old saying goes there are eight million stories in the naked city. Whomever coined that phrase likely grossly undercounted Seoul.
Day three here and I already have dozens of stories. The couple from Minnesota that saw my Royals jacket and said Twins fans were happy we won the World Series – while standing in the middle of the city center square that 18 hours before had held a protest against the Korean President.
The Yankees hat wearing owner of Gusto Taco in Sangsu who used to manage a hedge fund in New York. He and his wife were having problems conceiving a child, even trying in vitro fertilization, only to find the best in vitro doctor in Seoul. So he moved here and started a Taco place. “For fun, mostly” on the second floor of a building. Brett ate a bacon cheese burger and I had one of the best carnitas tacos of my life. In Seoul. From a Yankees fan.
Then there are the poor people who were subjected to any one of the three Korean phrases I’ve learned so far. Hello, How are you? Have a nice day. Many of those poor folks this morning were gritting their teeth as I was saying How are you? while leaving a store. These poor, poor people. Haven’t the suffered enough? No. Just wait until the stories about Karaoke night. Actually, I’ll probably not write about Karaoke night. Some things are best left private.
And then there is Lonnie.
Lonnie is an army brat. Born in Germany. He has stamps on his passport that you can’t believe. A passionate Royals fan, he came to Korea to teach English as a Second Language to school children and is now a general classroom teacher for elementary school kids. His smile is as wide as the country itself. We had lunch with Lonnie on Monday in that Tex-Mex restaurant and the stories he told about joining a band, then wanting to leave the country but the band got successful. Then how he met his wife, Seung Ju, through a chance encounter seeking help finding a bus only to find that she spoke perfect English and he spoke pretty strong Korean. These are the stories that will stick with me long after this trip is over.
(Watching Seung Ju tear through a box of Russell Stovers marshmallow eggs is a story of it’s own. But I digress.)
This trip was far beyond my comfort zone, I think it’s safe to admit that now. While I was excited to experience something new, you get these concerns about the language, or uncontrollable diarrhea from the water, or North Korea shooting missiles over your head (that part kind of happened yesterday.) And I never thought of myself as a world traveler in any sense.
But now I get it. It’s not about the language or the maze of streets and back alleys that make up the dozens of markets in these towns. It’s about the people and the stories that you get out of it. It’s about seeing that there are eight million stories in every block of every naked city.
It’s about the Yankees fan, the Twins fan, and Lonnie.
Tomorrow – A city on the edge.