I had to get out of the city. Every day in Seoul started to look the same, sort of a muted blue grey, almost matching the color of the buildings that lined the streets like trees on a path. It got to be like waking up to the same alarm clock sound year after year, and pausing one morning to say, “Why do I always wake up to the same sound? It’s driving me crazy. I’m sick of this sound.” So I headed to the bus terminal on Saturday and hopped on a bus for Jeonju, about three hours away from Seoul. I looked out the window the entire way down but I don’t remember anything I saw.
Jeonju was small and quiet; the streets were mostly empty and there didn’t seem to be much of a reason for me to be there. I met up with my friend Yi and we got coffee. “This is a nice place,” I said, sipping my latte and looking around the coffee shop.
“It’s okay,” Yi said. “I don’t understand why there is a tree inside the coffee shop.”
Actually, there were two trees inside the coffee shop. The floor had openings so the trees could come through. I felt Yi had a valid point. Why were there trees in the coffee shop? Maybe that’s the next wave of indulgence – indoor trees. The trees might not have even been real – the leaves were distinctly fake. It was November and the indoor trees had leaves that were as green as shamrocks. I wondered if the coffee shop realized it was autumn.
We took a cab from the coffee shop to the Hanok Traditional Folk Village. Apparently this and bi-bim-bap are the two things Jeonju is known for. The
day was breaking and, even though it was still light out, the streetlamps were turned on. Yi and I walked up a tall hill so we could see all the houses, with their wooden tile roofs. Swarms of mosquitoes buzzed around us. By the time we got back down to the main streets, it was already quite a bit darker and quite a bit cooler. Yi and I walked past one of those psychic places, where an old lady inside tells you your future, and Yi asked me if I believed in that.
“No,” I said without elaborating.
“I do,” Yi said. We walked through the village and she told me about how a psychic had seen her whole future. She had been told the dates when significant things would happen, and she wasn’t surprised when important things did in fact happen on those dates. She decided, though, not to say anything to the others involved. That’s a big decision one must make after seeing a psychic: when to tell others that you know everything. Or never telling them. It would make life pretty boring if you said anything, I suppose. Every time your friends would call, you’d answer the phone with, “Yeah, I know already.”
We walked around for a long time, just talking. “Will,” Yi said, because she doesn’t like the name Bill and refuses to call me that, “how do you want to die?”
“Gee, um, I don’t know,” I said. “Murdered maybe?”
She laughed at that. It was dark by now and the streetlamps lit the cobblestone roads. This didn’t feel like the Korea I had grown accustomed to, with its neon lights and loud music. I started to think of the movie Blue Velvet, which I’ve seen probably thirty times. In one of my favorite scenes, Jeffrey (Kyle McLaughlin) and Sandy (Laura Dern) walk around their neighborhood at night, talking. They bounce from topic to topic, culminating in Jeffrey showing her the “chicken walk,” an odd joke he remembered from growing up. I’ve always loved that scene because it reminds me so much of my adolescence, living in the suburbs and walking around the empty streets at night. I remember going around and around aimlessly with my friends, walking by the trees painted black by the night and the houses with their porch lights on. It was all so quiet, the adults firmly in their homes and the children in bed. There was just us, me and Richard and Kevin. If we had something better to do, we would’ve done that. But we didn’t. So we walked around the cul-de-sacs and by the neatly trimmed lawns, past the driveways with the basketball hoops that were never used and the fences that kept the dogs in. It was all about boundaries, separation. I didn’t know if I wanted that.
“Look at how the cars are parked,” Yi said. “You never see cars parked on both sides of the street in the Philippines. Do you see that in America?”
“Yeah,” I said. “They all have to face the same way though. Nothing like that.” I pointed to two cars that were both parked on the same side of the road, one facing us and the other pointed in the opposite direction.
“It’s like they’re standing back to back,” Yi said. I laughed, and then I realized
how strange this all was, right as she said that, how I could be across the entire world, at a folk village in Korea, and it seemed just like I was back on Spicewood Lane, walking around and talking about nonsense. The same thing I did when I was fifteen.
There is no separation, I guess. The world mirrors itself in funny ways. We decided to get another cup of coffee, the night repeating the day, and sat outside to drink it, at a table besides a tree that had orange and yellow leaves.