Overseas Community Project; 3 different Summer camps totaling nine separate runs; Dragonboat trainings seven times a week – that was how I spent the bulk of my first ever University summer holiday.
Sure, I felt fulfilled, but more than that, I felt socially exhausted. I knew I needed a break... maybe some alone time. Full of hunger for some solitude, I got on my laptop- Googled for cheap flight- and within minutes, booked myself an air ticket to the city of Seoul, Korea. And just like that, I was ready to embark on my first ever solo trip, and...to a country that didn't speak my language.
The last week of summer saw me get on a plane to the Land of the Morning Calm (as Korea is known as). It was unbearably hot (warmer even than our own country) but I was determined to enjoy myself anyway. I began my Seoul-O journey by visiting Ewha Women’s University, which was a stone’s throw away from the hostel I was staying at.
Architecturally, the university was unlike any we have here in Singapore, with its gorgeous campus actually built six floors underground. With its glass facades and natural greenery incorporated into its sprawling campus, the grounds were also home to a breathtaking collection of several architectural styles from 19th-century gothic to brutalist.
I bought a cup of coffee from the most crowded stall (when in doubt, follow the crowd!) and found myself a spot on the famed steps of the university. I settled in comfortably and sat there for a long time, observing the crowd and interactions between individuals - forming my own impressions and opinions of them. It felt great to finally be able to just sit back and not have anything to do, and simply indulge in my favourite past time of people watching.
Over the next few days, I walked an average of 30,000 steps daily (roughly 22km a day) to explore every nook and cranny of districts of my choice. I was free to go wherever I felt like, with no one's whims to tolerate or preferences to mind. Every corner I turned presented me with a different view, each brimming with its own unique character. Often, it was my stumbling and choosing of paths off the beaten tracks that lead me to the most beautiful places.
The façade of a popular café selling tarts in the Samcheongdong neighbourhood
A quaint ‘flower café’ I chanced upon while walking down the streets of Garuso-gil
Hidden spot - a tranquil rooftop garden sits on top of a boutique store
Hues of yellow brighten up the shop front of Skinfood, a popular Korean cosmetic brand
One of the most aesthetic shops I have come across, retailing glasses, on the streets of Hongdae
On my last day, I spent an entire day in the Samcheongdong vicinity. I actually hadn't planned on visiting the locale; but on recommendation from a trusted friend, I decided to go in the spur of the moment.
It ended up being one of my favourite places in Seoul.
Samcheongdong really is one of the more unique places in the city, harmoniously juxtaposing traditional Korea with the hip and upcoming. The district radiated serenity and character that one would be hard-pressed to find in the shopping malls or other neighborhoods. Surrounded by hilly mountains, this little place in between Gyeongbokgung Palace which lies to its left, and Changdeokgung Palace on its right, is characterized by art galleries, shops, and restaurants.
What appears to be a traditional building is actually home to several modern cafes and restaurants
I was lucky enough to catch a busker singing a soothing summer tune
Trees, equally spaced out along the streets of main street of Samcheongdong, provide shelter on a sunny day
The traditional side of Samcheongdong – The Bukchon Hanok Village
I embarked on this journey with the purpose of finding temporal solitude, but ended up finding a companion in myself. I truly realised the meaning of 'being alone, but not lonely'. For five full days, I travelled alone, ate alone, explored the city alone, and was alone with my own thoughts. Traveling solitary in a foreign land, allowed me to hear myself clearly like I've never been able to before. This coupled with making assertive decisions by and for myself, I felt like there was nothing more addictive and alluring than the feeling of knowing how to belong to oneself.
I can't wait to do this again - and YES! I am already saving up for my next solo adventure! Ideas?