Seoul: My love affair with snow

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Catching my breath in Gyeongbokgung Palace here with Ray. Photos taken by Tere Trip to Seoul, December 2013.

Note: I wrote the intro to this post in my handy Moleskin app as I indian-sat down on the floor of the South Korean metro heading toward Seoul from Nami Island on December 29, 2013.

Yesterday in the bathroom while seated down on the toilet seat, I looked down on my shoes like I assume one always does. A peculiar trace of white specks of seemingly dust lined up the edge of my boots. First thought was that I had scratched the precious leather exterior of my adorable boots. It was just the second time I wore it – seemed like I had broken my all-time record of new shoe destruction in just a week, give or take a few days.

But I looked on and wondered more about the broken white line, more from boredom than curiosity really, and realized that it was snow! Specks of snow that managed to cling to my boots as we took a “heat break” in the dainty little cafe. For a second in that warm bathroom (thank God!), I had forgotten I was in Korea for the first time. The trip was also my first winter and due to careful and calculated planning – my first snow. I paused for a second and really felt whatever it was I was feeling, my first snow at twenty one. It felt like pride, having flown to this country purely and directly from hard work (and moral support haha), and on the other hand, it felt like this simple peaceful joy; that familiar feeling I get whenever I travel.

I have long known that travelling is one of my greatest passions (if not the greatest) even before I embarked on my first adventure. I have my encyclopedias and the Olsen twins to blame for that. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had this burning feeling that there was so much more to be known, to be felt and to be experienced – and travelling may not give you all the answers, admittedly, but it will give you rich and interesting stories – and what is our life but a story we choose to write? (Says the 21-year old life expert slash drama queen. Haha.)

Snow has always been one of the non-negotiables in my bucketlist. If I never have the balls to do base jumping or the moolah to see the Northern Lights, I must at least have touched snow. Snow, for first-timer tropical citizens like me, is more than an awesome display of the phases of matter or an inconvenient roadblock, it was a mystery and whole new adventure in itself. Yesterday was just a little taste of this snow experience. The snow had already fallen and, to some shade of disappointment, most had melted in the Gyeongbokgung Palace. Today, I had travelled to the outskirts of the country in search for an island we knew would be covered by snow. Social media and the genius use of hashtags encouraged me to expect that snowflakes would be picturesquely falling down from the sky in Naminara. When we finally saw the snow on the ground and the naked treetops as our boat docked – we knew that the perfect Instagram moment was long gone and somehow the wonder that has so far filled me vanished.

As we were passing through the lines of tall trees, however, we saw this open field covered with snow. There were a bunch of toddlers playing in the snow quite a distance from us. It wasn’t overwhelmingly big but it was big enough for me and my 2 travel buddies, Ray and Tere. I bravely cupped a fistful of snow for the first time in my already freezing palms and I smiled my big smile – and just like that, the wonder came back. As I held that small imperfect ball of snow, a mystery was unlocked and an adventure ticked off my list – it was all I could ever ask for in any day. Snow could always remain unfamiliar to me but now I can say I’ve known it even just for a while.

It was a great day – after spending a disproportionately large amount of time in this small field of snow, we spent the day walking around the island, Ray even ran after cute little animals, had our breaths taken away by beautiful sights a bunch of times, almost froze to death yet bravely removed our gloves to be able to take photos from our phones! Kids these days, haha. What an awesome winter day away from our lives in the workforce.

And just when I thought the day could not get better, the universe conspired to get what I have always wanted from this trip in true Paulo Coelho fashion. I wasn’t sure at first though. I spent that long train ride seated down narrating my love affair with snow on my phone, those tiny specks of white that were falling from the sky as we unloaded the train  could very well have been my extremely creative imagination. My travel buddies just laughed at the thought as we rushed to catch our transfer. As we left this short train ride, though, snowflakes were falling fast in the next station. Snowflakes for real this time and I wasn’t the only one seeing them. Tere and I giggled, all giddy and no shame. I made a full stop in the station with the rest of the locals just rushing to get out of the station. This was my moment. I felt like crying but I was too happy. I think I have then just found a new space of happiness in between laugh-out-loud happiness and tears of joy happiness. I spent a good minute just standing there and looking up at those snowflakes. I put my hand out to catch some things, it wasn’t cold or fluffy as I thought, probably because there were so little but no worries. It was my moment  and it was great. Awesome. Blissful. I love snow. I love travel. I love moments like this – a moment that was was gift-wrapped by the universe and hand-delivered to me. It could very well have come with a reminder that despite the tougher challenges I was facing, life was good – never forget.

It was the last time we ever saw snowflakes falling from the sky during our 4 and a half day trip but Lord knows how thankful I was for that brief moment, it becomes more meaningful when seen as a reminder. Message received. Time to find my bliss or be found by it. Either way, I couldn’t be more excited.

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Trip details: We stayed in Morning Sky Residence Hotel, a new hostel just outside the Dongdaemun Station. It was clean and nice and cheap! The people were really nice though had a little trouble communicating in english but it was alright. We booked our tours  from the hostel. Night 0 we spent walking around to look for malls and restaurants in Dongdaemun- our first foray into winter. We were freezing like crazy so we paid a cab extra money just so he can take us back to our hostel! Good times. We spent half of Day 1 for the DMZ tour (we missed the full day tour where we can go to the neutral zone – you have to book ahead of time for this!). Second half was spent in Gyeongbokgung Palace. Day 2 we went to Nami Island during the day and then Seoul Tower at night. Day 3 we spent in Vivaldi Ski Park in the morning where we rode down snow sleds with children haha and then spent the night in Myeongdong for shopping! We packed as many activities as we can during our stay, it was exhausting! The cold also slowed us down quite a bit because we had to pause inside convenience stores or cafes just to keep warm. It was really that cold. I did miss a few places on my list like Gangnam and ice skating in Grand Hyatt but it’s alright. Maybe next time around when I finally get a handle on winter! It was a tiring but an awesome trip nevertheless. Thank you Seoul, I hope to see you again soon.

“Home is behind us. The world is ahead.”

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Hi, I'm Timmy. I believe in writing as a therapy, global warming and true love.

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