Gab and I visited South Korea for the first time in April 2012 (I know we’re just talking about a few years, but it already seems a lifetime ago). A few months later, Gab and I got married on a sunny, warm June afternoon. Thinking back to that experience, I came to realize that our South Korean adventure was much more than just one of our travels around the globe: it was a honeymoon in advance and, as time passed by, it became something that completely turned our lives upside-down –in an extraordinarily good way!
We landed in Seoul, Incheon Airport, on a rainy day, at dawn. A grey city surrounded by a grey sky. Twelve hours spent on tiny Economy Class seats, eager to get some sleep back and a hotel room that, as we found out in complete horror, wouldn’t have been ready earlier than in the early afternoon. Gab has this super power to turn into a curious creature when sleep-deprived: he stared at me for a few moments without saying a word, than finally let a sentence out in the wild: “Where exactly did you take me to?”.
Going to Seoul was my own wish: a travel that I had dreamt about by myself and arranged by myself. Gab and I just can’t be separated for more than a couple of hours, so it was obvious that we had to go together. I was petrified. Did I really choose the wrong place?
Flash-forward. A couple of days later. This is a picture that Gab and I took together, while wandering for the busy streets of the Myeongdong district: we’re full of energy, we see everything in pink…the world has become a wonderful place to be!
So, what exactly happened? Well…we fell in love. I mean, Gab and I were already in love –we’ve always been. It’s Seoul: like a lover, she made us hers. Completely. No escape from her embrace –and no will to do so whatsoever.
We kept wondering what happened to us.
Was it because of Korean people? So noisy, smiling and welcoming…(in this regard, I still remember the policeman that, to thank us for returning a credit card that we had found on the street, opened his arm and shouted with a huge smile: “Welcome to Korea!”).
Was it because of soju? The fermented rice liquor that we drank abundantly while grilling tender chunks of meet in overcrowded and smoky BBQ restaurants, sitting on tiny plastic stools along the roadside?
Was it because of that mixture of old and new? The ancient wooden houses and the skyscrapers, the luxurious department stores and the traditional markets overflowing with life?
Was it because of the spicy (extra spicy!) food that we used to eat everywhere and at any time, thanks to restaurants and small stalls open h24? Or maybe just the fact that everything in Korea is open h24, so that if you feel this uncontrollable urge to go shopping in the middle of the night (because of jet lag or just because you’re sleepless in Seoul), all you have to do is go outside and start spending your money.
And since we’re talking about shopping –oh, shopping! What an experience! Dresses, coats, jackets, neckties, t-shirts, sweaters, shirts, belts, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, cell phone covers, socks, stuffed dolls, pens, notebooks, hats, air bands, bags, pouches, backpacks…everything is so adorable and shockingly cheap.
And cosmetics. A LOT of cosmetics and skincare products. You’re overwhelmed by hundreds, thousands of colorful packages with unintelligible names (and not just because you don’t speak Korean), that refer to mysterious daily beauty routines that are hard for you to just imagine. And you start buying everything, you want to try them all…You want to find out what these cleansers are and how they’re supposed to be followed by skin refreshers, essences, serums, ampoules, lotions and emulsions…
Gab and I were in complete ecstasy. We’ve always been a close-knit couple, doing everything together and living one for the other. And we’ve always loved travelling, exploring new realities and getting to know new people. But this is the first time we both feel at home.
I’ve usually been the Asian side of the two (having lived in Japan when I was younger and speaking Japanese, that was quite a normal place for me to be), while Gab used to dream about South America. At least when it came to geographical interests, it seemed like our desire wouldn’t go in the same direction.
And then Korea came in the picture. And with it, a sudden enlightenment, a project that rises, a new, unexplored road that unfolds before your eyes.
And you realize that you don’t want to leave that place. Ever. You need the energy that overflows from those people, from those streets, to stay within you as long as possible. Maybe forever? But you need to go back, because your life is (yet) somewhere else. So you go. But then you come back. And again you go. And once more you come back.
You take an unpaid leave from work and start attending a Korean language course in a well-known university in Seoul. And the funny part is that Gab, who is your beloved husband now and who doesn’t like learning languages like you do, follows you and start learning Korean with you. All for love. Because he loves you. And because he has a lover, that he doesn’t want to be separated from: Seoul.
And while your classmates are a little more than 20 years old (and when they ask you in Korean “How old are you?” and you reply “Thirty”, they think you’ve mispronounced the word for “Twenty” and ask you again), you start thinking how funny and unexpected life is, to make you want to revolutionize your life when the path seemed to be already laid down for you, and that nothing could change anymore.
But life changes. For both of us. And starts taking the shape of a dream called “Han River”, a virtual place that is all yours, where you can tell stories about the country you love and that deserves to be known, even by those who still didn’t get where it is (Oh, Seoul in China you mean? Ah, but that’s a poor place, right? Isn’t that where that dictator lives?).
Our dream is finally here. You’re going through its pages right now. And it’s your to take part to, if you wish to do so. It could be because you already know something about South Korea: you watch k-dramas, you listen to k-pop, you adore Korean skincare. Or it could be because you’re just a curious one and you want to learn something new.
Whatever your reasons are, get your virtual luggage ready and board with us. Just, don’t pack to much –the risk is that you travel back with some excess baggage fee to pay : )