Reporter: Tamy Vu
I spent my first year of college at Yonsei International Campus in Songdo. Even though it was compulsory to live there, I grew to love the city for its simplicity and peacefulness. I moved to Seoul for the very first time after my freshman year. I was unlucky enough to not get into Sinchon campus dorms due to their limited space, yet lucky enough to end up where I live now.
During the short weekend trips I was able to sneak into my freshmen’s schedule, Seoul was always overflowing with bright lights, music, and colors. Shopping streets and skyscrapers covered the entire city, alongside people with modern mannerisms and style. I have always known Seoul to be a harmony of the past and the present, yet the old palaces and Hanok houses hardly seem like the past to me. People flood into these places to reminiscent about the past, yet unconsciously bring all the lights, noises, and colors of the present with them, making “the past” just another one of Seoul’s commercialized attractions. However, Seoulites I meet still carry lots of old values with them, which seem out of place in such an urban setting. If these old values exist within the people, they have to exist somewhere within the city too. I relentlessly searched for this hidden place during my brief trips to Seoul, but my efforts were fruitless. Has Seoul become too small that the fast-paced present is all that it can accommodate?
I had reservations about moving to Seoul. I was afraid of being an outsider in the bustling city as I had grown so used to the peaceful and quiet Songdo. I prepared myself for culture shock, yet I was pleasantly surprised to find that the neighborhood I moved into was even more peaceful than Songdo. It was old and forgotten, and it seemed almost out of place in Seoul. There were no skyscrapers or shops, not even a convenience store within walking distance. A quiet atmosphere lingered throughout the day—completely different from the hustle and bustle of the Seoul I knew.
At first, I did not like having all my prior knowledge of Seoul falsified. But after I settled down, I stopped to really take a look at the neighborhood for the first time, and realized that it was actually the Seoul I had been looking for. Time stood still in this place—it did not race with the pace of pedestrians in the streets. Instead, it lounged around to savor the endless conversations of old neighbors as they sit in front of their uniformly brown houses. Whenever I look out my window, I feel like I am watching a scene from a Korean drama set in the 80s or 90s unfold. It is quite strange at times, but it fills me with a tranquil sense of escape.
Does this neighborhood refuse to let go of Seoul’s past, to tell its story to those who are willing to listen? Or is it Seoul that refuses to let go of this neighborhood, that persistently carries memories of its past? Although I am an outsider, it feels wonderful to encounter this hidden part of the city and listen to its story. I am glad to know that a sliver of the past still exists in the modern city of Seoul.