The reluctant tourist

I might go to China this year.

I was really excited about the idea up until today when I decided to plan my trip beyond "Great wall and shopping!"

I was checking out places to visit in Nanjing, Beijing and Shanghai and I see an endless list. I was instantly transported back to the time when I ever so briefly lived in Korea. I wasn't touring the country, I was living in Seoul - at Gangnam. I was working there. I was cooking there. I was there without being a tourist.

I have been to many countries as a tourist. I enjoyed Malaysia, Hong Kong, and recently Australia even. I was satisfied just checking out the popular attractions, and possibly a tad bit more - but nothing else. However, today I saw the endless list of gorgeous temples and parks, and I was - in my head - back in Korea.

I had plans then. I had a list till the day I reached there. Once I did however, that list was quickly replaced by a map. I did that something I've always wanted to do; Just open a map, find a place to go to, and tick it off the list. That map was beloved and travelled with me everywhere. I was used to the point of becoming tattered and having to be stuck together with tape. It was used to the point of me remembering many parts of it by heart. My yellow map of Seoul, where the first cross was on "Gangnam Metro Station, Exit 7"

I remember one weekend where I decided to just get off at the fifth stop from where I got on. I didn't have a clue about where it was or what was there. I got off there, wandered the streets, chanced upon a fish market where dried fish and fish still swimming were sold. I bought a fight shaped snack (made of dough) and ate it as I walked along. I picked up a notebook from a street side vendor. I wandered till I found a park and wandered some more to find street performers performing there. I watched the best rendition, till date, of "Moves like a Jagger" there. I sat and clapped and enjoyed the show with the locals.

Another weekend, I woke up a bit too early, so walked around the locality where I stayed and found a cinema. I discovered that day that in Korea, unlike in Chennai, shows at different times of the day had different pricing. The early morning ones were the cheapest. I bought a ticket and watched a movie with just two other (very oblivious to the rest of the world) teenagers, trying to guess the story based on facial expressions and little Korean I knew.

I had gone for a recruitment drive with the team, I struck up a conversation with a girl who had come to attend the interview there. She didn't get into the company, but I made a fast friend! We went out to dinner the week after, and a Buddhist temple. She told that she'd been in Seoul all her life, but that was her first time in that temple. She also told me a lot about how common Plastic Surgeries were in Korea, and were popular graduation gifts! We also went some sprawling tomb sites right in the middle of the city. To this day she's my friend on facebook and Instagram.

I've gone to team dinners. That's common all over the world. A second round of drinks - I'm sure many will identify with that act as well. And then the third round, with snacks because it's a good three hours since that dinner we had. And wobbled back home, singing happily with a few colleagues in the wee hours of the morning - now that's a memory.

I made amazing Russian friends there. Who helped me discover that when it comes to girls and gossip, nationality knows no bounds.

Ah, those were such amazing days. What I've recounted here is hardly a fraction of everything that happened. And that's how you see the world.

Going to China and packing in three cities that seem dipped in culture within ten days is definitely a great start. And something I should continue to be very excited about. I will probably get there again. Right now though, I'm going to indulge in some wistful nostalgia and wonder when I'll get to live in another exotic country again. Even if just briefly :)


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