I Remember Grapes….September 1997 in Seoul

It was September 2nd in Korea, and it was over 20 years ago, but I remember it all. It was my first morning in Korea. One of the secretaries from my institute was bringing me to my first class. We had to walk for a few blocks to the ‘bus stop’ in SongPa-Gu, across from where the giant Garak Mall is now, but there was no mall back then. The class was in the next district. I was relieved it was a bus that was going to take as I was used to busses. However, I was absolutely terrified of any subways. My province in Canada had no subway system. Movies I had seen throughout my life always depicted subways as being dirty and full of crime, like robberies.

When Miss Park and I got close to the ‘Karak Market’ subway area, as it was called then, many older women were sitting on the sidewalks, and they had bunches of Korean grapes sitting on the sidewalk beside them for sale. I was told later that grapes were in season in September. The weather was always cool in September in Canada and I didn’t expect it to be a high of 28 degrees Celcius every day. The sun was so bright and hot and was bearing down on everything, even though it was only 8 in the morning.

We were on the 9-lane road called SongPaDae-ro that my building was situated on, so the traffic was overwhelming. Miss Park and other Koreans would never have been able to imagine the difference between Seoul and my province in Canada. No one could have mentally prepared me for the sights and sounds I saw and heard. I was in a constant state of awe while in Korea because of this vast difference. I didn’t resent the differences like the other Canadians at my institute did; I embraced them.

This is where I walked to get the bus to go to Gangnam-Gu for the Votra class. The ‘Karak Market’ subway stop was under one of these tall buildings on SongPaDae-ro. The grassy area on the right is still there today, where the guard I always waved to sat in his booth.

The grapes were dark purple and the heat of the sun made them smell as I walked past all of them. Even though it is winter in Canada as I’m writing this, I’m remembering the smell of the grapes from that first time I walked, with nervousness, with Miss Park showing me the way, to that busy bus stop. Not only the heat was different and striking to me. The fact that many people were selling and displaying vegetables and fruit on the sidewalks was new to me. I had never seen that before and it struck me as so strange and so interesting. I could smell the richness of the Korean grapes in the heat. I heard the sounds of the city with such traffic, and many places had the radio playing. Korea had beautiful singers and quality music. I loved the melodies of the songs but never knew what the lyrics were. As I had to travel through Seoul much of the week, I heard the radio being played everywhere and got to know the melodies. K-Pop was just beginning then. I saw Koreans hurrying, dressed in nice, neat clothing and looking like they all just got out of the shower. Every single one looked like this, and I would see hundreds of people a day.

This is a view of the ‘old downtown’ which was around 15km northeast of where I lived. You can get a sense of the mountains and buildings I looked at every day.

It was hard for me to imagine Canada then, as I hurried and tried not to stare at everyone. In the back of my mind I knew it would be so much quieter in my hometown. I would need a sweater in the morning back home. I looked at the mountains that surrounded my district in Seoul. We had no mountains like that to see in Eastern Canada. I always loved looking at the mountains in Korea. I had always wanted to see mountains and could never see any at home.

Miss Park said I had to get bus #78-3. Some buses said #78, but I had to wait for #78-3 bus. I would be doing this alone afterward every weekday morning. She gave me a note to give the bus driver when I’d be taking the bus alone. It said in Korean, “I want to get off at the ????? Building near ????….” I had to try to not be shy and pass the note to the driver, and I also had to force myself to go into those crowds of Korran strangers every day. After this first day, I decided to be happy walking to the tall buildings in Karak-dong to get the subway, and proudly pass the guard sitting in the government(?) booth on the way, and wave to him. He always waved back. We would smile at eachother. Foreigners like me were not often seen around there.

3 thoughts on “I Remember Grapes….September 1997 in Seoul

  1. You remember so many details! The other day, I took out my journals from Korea and thought for this year of posting once a week with my blog about my journey in Korea. What do you think? By the way, we are almost to the New Year!!2020: wishing you and your husband and your son a wonderful New Year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is such a good idea. I want to read more about your time in Korea. I wish you and your husband and doggies a happy new year!! 🎉🎊🎉🎈 I’m so glad you were able to read my blog. I’ll have to put different kinds of posts now as I thought I had finished the main story…

      Liked by 1 person

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