Korea is the kind of place that can make you feel lonely if you’re not careful.
It’s the only place I’d ever been where the concept of a pair wasn’t just a concept; for some places in and around Seoul, it felt like a requirement. Meals were cheaper when you ordered two portions. Some places outright couldn’t serve you if you didn’t order at least two portions. There were couples fares and couples attractions and after awhile, I began to look at them grudgingly like, damn, I get it, I’m not a couple.
I traveled to Korea with friends. We all flew in separately, but hung out a bit while we were there. It was my first time in Korea, but their second and third, so no one realistically had time to bring me up to speed on where to go, what to do, etc. I didn’t have a plan of my own when I was traveling there. I normally do not. I’m not into tourism; I like travel and I like pretending I’m a local. That’s what I did for a year in London, though it was understandably harder for me to do that in Korea for an obvious, obvious reason.
My friends had already been to Namsan Tower in Seoul, but I hadn’t. Even though I’m not into tourism, I really wanted to go there. It just seemed like a really romantic place somehow. I’d seen it in all the dramas and there was something nice about being up so high overlooking the city. So one day while my friends were off doing who-knows-what (I honestly can’t remember), I decided to put on my best shades (partially because of sun and partially because I wanted to feel less anxious when people stared at me) and began my hike towards the tower.
I was staying near Seoul Station, exit 12. I still remember. Oddly enough, I can’t remember what station I got off at for Namsan Tower. I just remember it was hot. Hot as fuck. Everyone had said never travel to Korea in the summer, that you’ll experience heat and humidity like never before. I thought I had experienced heat and I also thought those people were exaggerating. They 100% were not. My friend put it best when she said “it feels like being in the womb”. Warmth and stickiness and humidity and heat. So naturally, hiking up a mountain was the best idea I could come up with.
Namsan Tower is at the top of a hill, so it was only natural that I had to hike upwards to see it. I dragged myself to the base of the hill where you could take an elevator up to the first platform. I was sweating so much that I had to lean against the wall and fan myself with a paper fan given to me by Aritaum. So many shops were giving away paper fans. I ended up buying an electric fan too.
The elevator takes something like 8 people at a time up to the first level. The first level is where you can decide if you want to walk allllllllll the way to the tower or if you want to suck it up and take the sky cable car. The cable car is cool, but not so cool in 40 degree weather with no ventilation or AC. I took it anyway because if I had walked, I’m sure I would’ve fainted. The cable car takes you to the top of the tower where you can see the city, the shops and buildings below it.
Korea was a strange time for me because I was hypervisible and it really pinged my anxiety. I thought I could deal with it, but as the trip went on and my friends went home one by one, it became more and more difficult to do so. When I got off the cable car at Namsan Tower and wandered into the garden by myself, I could feel a smidge of that hypervisibility wash away. I was no longer the main attraction, thankfully. The view was the only thing people were interested in.
I took my time sitting at benches, taking pictures, and listening to music. Groups of travelers passed by me without turning their cameras to me for once, and they took in the scenery as I did. I was left alone and I felt alone (and couple-less!) but not lonely. It was maybe the only time while I was in Korea that I really felt that way.
I pretended to take a million pictures of the view — about a million more than is necessary. Smog covered the horizon in a thick haze and it was hard to really take it in. I went in the daytime. The trees were loud and noisy with cicadas. My friend in Busan told me a funny story about cicadas, but I can’t remember the Korean name for them, so I won’t be able to retell it and do it justice.
In my mind, it feels like I spent so much time there, but in reality, it was probably only 30 minutes. It’s hard to occupy yourself when you’re alone like that. I took the cable car back down, took the elevator to ground level, and took the long trek back to the subway station. I made the mistake of taking off my shades. Couldn’t last without them.