16 May 2004

Farewell Seoul, Back to the “City of Light”

So at the unearthly hour of 4:15AM on a Sunday morning, I hailed a cab, leaded my (ever-growing and increasingly heavy) bags and headed off to Yongsan Station to catch the first KTX out of the city for the Honam region. After sitting around somewhat impatiently for a while waiting for the train (I was a little tired, you know) it was finally time to board, and I headed down to the platform to see the long, slender lines of the 300km/h train sitting before me.

On board and poised at the window, it was off to Kwangju (after like five other stops). The most noticeable difference, once you start moving, is the smoothness and quietness of the ride compared to the other trains. This is not a maglev, just a fast train for the regular rail tracks, but the sound and motion dampening systems work well (some may argue too well, as there is a bit of that floating feeling when you finally do get up to speed).

Slicing diagonally across the flooded rice paddies, the train is here and gone, as much an apparition as the mist-shrouded fields and farmhouses. A few farmers walk the dikes between their fields, getting an early start on the day. Wild waterfowl wade and fly in and around the fields. Tractors plow through the mud, as houses and storage buildings sit as virtual islands surrounded by wet fields. On the hillsides, waving rows of green pattern the fields. There is no chance for a second glance as we nearly fly by the fields and forests on raised tracks, cutting through the cloud-like fog. The Land of the Morning Calm is indeed still and peaceful at this hour as we head southward, leaving behind the big-city atmosphere of Seoul and speeding through the rural heartland of Korea.

And now, I sit at my computer in Kwangju, the City of Light, with just two full days to go before returning home and somehow readjusting to “normal” life. But for these last few days, it will be a chance to hop the new Kwangju subway, and to witness and take part in the May 18 memorials, to see the differences in perception and memory these last eight years of reform governments have brought.

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