If there is one thing I would warn everyone about Seoul, it is that there are two kinds of plans: the plans you make, and the plans Seoul has for you. And in my four-month experience, I have found it is better to simply let the city take control. You won’t be disappointed.
My favorite example of having plans constantly hijacked happened a few weeks before I left Seoul. That Saturday, I was supposed to attend two events: a picnic at the Han River, and an end-of-the-semester get together for Ewha Womans’ University exchange students at a bar in Hongdae called Ride ‘em Cowboy. A very simple, straight forward plan that would soon unravel at the seams.
The Han, one of my favorite places in Seoul, is that somewhere in a bustling metropolis of concrete and neon one can go to have a break and just enjoy the day without the constant reminder of being in the city. The river cuts right through Seoul east to west and has a number of attractions. It was the main location for the film, The Host (there is a statue of the monster from the film at the river as well). There are a number of parks and areas for people to camp, relax, and play sports (it is a very popular biking area), and there are even cruises that go up and down the Han. Those cruises usually end at Banpo Bridge, which is popular itself for its water fountains along the length of the bridge (the largest bridge water fountain in the world!). That is actually where the day started, at Banpo Bridge Park. Florence (who I’ve mentioned before, my friend and an exchange student from London) and I were RSVP’d and ready to go to this picnic. Food had been bought, we made it all the way to the park, and just as we arrived, the sky began to rumble rather violently. A passing thunderstorm arrived just as we did, probably headed to the same picnic itself, and started to pour all over the park. Lightning, thunder, rain—all the best things for a day outside.
At that point, we were a bit annoyed. It was a 40-minute subway ride to get there, we had brought snacks, and we were ready to lay out and relax. So, instead of getting flustered, we sat down and enjoyed the view of the Han that we were able to have, which was still a nice one, of course.
After a while of sitting, chatting, selfies, and eating, the rain passed and we started to ponder what to do with wet grass and a cancelled picnic. Was it worth trying to find our group? Should we just go back? Stay and explore? After some quick deliberation, we decided on the latter option of exploring the Han, and thus manifests the first deviation from our plan of the day.
The second deviation and probably the most important was a spontaneous change when it was time to catch the bus home. It was humid, we were a bit tired, and we just wanted to rest a bit before heading to Ride ‘em Cowboy. After a long wait, the bus finally pulled up, packed to the brim with no room for Florence and I to get on. We sat back down on the curb in despair.
“What do we do now?” Florence asked.
“We could wait for the next one and see or…” I trailed off.
“Or, we could get on the one going the opposite way and just ride it all the way in a circle?”
“Are you crazy?”
We kept waiting for the next bus to arrive, even more worn down at the sight of that full bus when it did come. Twenty minutes later, yet another bus arrived and I could see from afar that it, too, was packed.
“What?” Florence asked.
“The bus is full again. I vote we take the other bus.”
“Let’s just…” Florence looked in the direction of the bus on its way to the stop on the opposite side of the street, then back to the full bus on our side of the road, and finally conceded. “Let’s just take the other one!”
Score: 2, Seoul. Our plans, 0.
We darted across the street to the other bus stop and hopped onto a bus headed who-knows-where. As we rode, we looked to see if we could recognize signs and buildings to figure out where we were headed and discovered we were in the complete and utter opposite direction of where we had planned on going. The bus was going farther south of the Han, toward Gangnam. Sitting on the bus, I scrolled on my phone, browsing events going on that night when one in particular caught my eye: Seoul Pride’s Afterparty at the venue .
I looked at Florence, who looked at my phone then back at me.
“But there is the Ewha thing!”
“Okay, okay, how about this, I’ll send Naquan a message and see if they’re going.”
Of all the people we met in Seoul, I would say hands down Naquan and Lindsay were two of my favorites. When we had first met them at Cakeshop a month or so prior, Naquan had mentioned Cakeshop would host an event like this, so naturally I had to ask if he would be there.
I sent the message while we were still riding this bus to, who knows, then received his reply:
“Hey! We’ll be out there tonight, did you already sign up for the guestlist?”
I quickly respond that no I hadn’t and ask where I can find it.
“I already put you down with a plus one for Florence! Get there before 11 and you only need to pay 10,000 won.”
With the usual cover charge of 20,000 won (about $18 U.S.) now down to 10,000, with people we know having put us on their guestlist, Seoul moves her King piece in for the kill on our plans for the day. Florence and I decide that we actually have to go to Cakeshop. I mean, would you pass up going somewhere you’ve been guestlisted? And a chance to get in on Seoul’s LGBT scene at it’s most exciting?
So we finally got off the bus to nowhere at SMTown at COEX Mall. Completely geographically opposite to where we live, it’s a theme building of sorts owned by the K-pop company S.M. Entertainment and houses K-pop gift shops, makeover studios, and an in-house auditorium.
After a good amount of time enjoying everything SMTown has to offer (in the form of large cut-outs of music group members and overpriced merchandise), we ate a quick Pho for dinner and hopped on the subway. We had a party to go to in a few hours.
Once at home, Florence and I split up to change clothes and prepared for what was about to go down. Then we grabbed a taxi to Itaewon, all the while blabbering to each other about how much of a great night this could turn out to be, and about how honest-to-god nice people are in Seoul. I mean, think about it: would you go out of your way to put some people you barely know on the guestlist for a party among your good and close friends? It still baffles me the situations we got into where people were just all so darn nice.
I think it’s better I show rather than try and explain the rest of what entailed:
One of the DJs uploaded her set as well, so you can hear the party better than I could ever explain it:
My purpose in telling you this story is to try and convey the importance of—and I know I’m going to sound like a millennial hippy—just going with the flow. For a long time, I was one of those people who needed to have everything planned out in front of me. There is a comfort in having a plan and knowing what is meant to happen, but living abroad in big city has taught me to stay on my toes and to, above all else, enjoy the ride.