We left for the airport in the middle of Winter. This was the first time I travelled with my boyfriend and I was excited to just spend more than a day with him. Our first trip together.
Seoul was hot and humid. Our clothes would stick to our skin as soon as we set foot outside the comfort of our air conditioned room. We explored temples and shrines and palaces, learning and absorbing the history and culture of Korea. My shoes gave up on me within the first few days and I walked with sore feet, my torn soles flapping wildly on the pavement. At the end of the day, I would jump onto bed and lay spread-eagle underneath the air conditioning, airing my red feet and counting how many more blisters I had created on my soles.
I had a photoshoot with a French model from Tokyo in the quiet alleyways of Bukchon Hanok Village. We chatted and laughed and I can still remember her reaction when I guessed her hometown correctly (a small town where I had spent my 21st birthday the previous year). It's always great to go back to my roots and shoot with just a model and I. No makeup artist. No stylist. Just me and Laura, creating pretty pictures.
One day we went on a tour to the DMZ, the buffer zone between North and South Korea. There was a feeling I can't quite find the words for as we drove past the two eerily quiet villages on either side of the demarcation line. The division between North and South Korea was apparent to see as the two rival national flags flew high up on their gigantic flagpoles (the North Korean flagpole was much taller than the South's). The whole experience was a reminder of the tragedy of war and the separation of the people caused by a divided nation and I left feeling more enlightened with education but sadder knowing that the tension between the two Korea's is ongoing.
A few years ago, I became friends with Lucy from South Korea while she was studying in Australia and I'm so grateful to have met her and to have formed this wonderful friendship. On Sunday, Lucy's boyfriend hired a mini van and drove us around the city. We travelled north to south, east to west, exploring temples high on mountains and eating shaved ice to cool us in the sweltering heat. One evening, we went down to the Han River and everyone rode bikes along the path. I sat on the grass and watched with a friend who also had a fear of cycling after falling off a bike. He had put his arms out to block his fall and ended up breaking it. I didn't and ended up face planting the gravel road. We showed our scars and shared our stories as the sun slowly crept under the blanket of the horizon.
One night we walked all the way up Namsan Mountain and enjoyed the view of the twinkling city from high up the tower. The grounds were swamped with couples in matching outfits and the railings on the tower were covered with locks declaring their love. I have never seen so many selfie sticks in the one spot before in my life.
We went swimming in an outdoor pool by the river one time before dinner. The water instantly cooled our bodies as we splashed around while large dragonflies dashed above our heads. We ended the day sharing plates of food with each other at dinner. Dinner was always so good in the company of friends.
The nights were spent wandering through markets. Some were big and filled with flashy neon lights and big screens showing K-Pop music videos. Others were smaller and packed with stalls selling snapback caps and big framed glasses and urban clothes.
One time, on our way down the quiet alleyway to our accommodation from a fun night out, we walked passed a home dry cleaning business. There was an elderly couple standing out the front under a small tube light. They were hunched over a small table, cleaning and wrapping suits while the rest of city was sleeping and it hit me how much they reminded me of my own parents.
Soon it was time to leave and I found myself on a plane heading towards Japan. I am so thankful for meeting Lucy. Seoul would not have been as magical as it was without her and her family.