Monday, May 30, 2011

수원, 나의 수원

I try to get out to Suwon once or twice a month. Suwon is the city about 30 minutes south of Seoul where I lived from 2008 to 2009. Suwon is not, in and of itself, the most exciting place in the world. There are some interesting places in there that make it worth a daytrip from Seoul, even if you don't know anybody who lives here.

I haven't been to the two or three famous places in Suwon, particularly its still-standing city walls that make it, reputedly, the only city in the world that's still a walled city. What I enjoy about Suwon is that it's a little more human than Seoul, even if I don't live there anymore and even if I have spent more time living in Seoul than I ever did living in Seoul.

When I lived in Suwon, I lived in a narrow slice of a neigbourhood that was in many ways the end of civilization as we knew it. The vast expanse of metropolitan Seoul almost literally ends after my tiny little neighbourhood to the south of which were the rural rice paddies of Hwasung. More interesting were the rice paddies directly next to the neighbourhood, a rectangle about a mile long and half a mile wide. On the other side was a quiet highway with a synthetic path I used for running.

In the morning or at dusk, as was the case tonight, the sunset shone off the flooded rice paddies with the squat low-rise buildings of the neighbourhood in the background, with the purple-orange sunset above them. I live in a similarly obscure neighbourhood in Seoul, not far from the centre, but something of a self-enclosed mountain village where time stands still in many ways and an ATM is a big deal.

There has always been something more human about Suwon, if only for its size if not for the fact that I know it so well. It's a tenth the size of Seoul, which is, to its credit and its detriment, a superhuman hyperstimulating ball of light, cars and people. Suwon, I feel, can be understood as a whole, but Seoul sometimes resists that. If you stand on one busy street corner in Seoul such as, say, Jongno, it seems staggering to consider that there are another half-dozen places that are just as busy. Suwon, on the other hand, contends with a half-dozen places so hopelessly obscure that you might not even realize people can or do live there, but it seems less overwhelming.

While Seoul is probably greener than Suwon thanks to its many mountains and its massive waterfront, and you could never get away with saying that Suwon doesn't have traffic jams, when I come to Suwon, I can understand how the suburbs appeal to people. If you can stand outside its controlled chaos, you can see why Seoul might simply be too big for human habitation.

I have my reasons for living in Seoul, which I think is more interesting than any other place in Korea, but I could definitely live again in Suwon.

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