I fell for fall.
I really did. It was already the tail-end of fall, and the temperatures in South Korea were dropping significantly by the day. The day I arrived it was 9 degrees. The next day it was 6. Two days after, it had dropped to zero, and before you know it, I was walking around Seoul in 4 layers of clothes in negative 3 temperature.
I have always been an island girl. I love the feeling of sun on my skin; I enjoy the humidity of tropical winds. And though I love traveling too, I honestly never thought about South Korea that much. Much more falling in love with it.
But that’s the thing about life and travel—you never know where you’re going or what you’ll find. And that’s what makes it so damn exciting.
The thing is, I didn’t know a thing about Korean pop culture. I haven’t seen any of those popular K-dramas, I don’t know K-pop music, and I could care less about Korean skincare. I was obviously the wrong person to be sent to this travel assignment. But, sometimes, in life, you don’t find things. They find you. And that’s what South Korea did. It found me.
Whether you admit it or not, we are all carrying something we ought to let go of. Whether it’s a bad habit, an old grudge we can’t seem to let go of, or ~sigh~ a heart break, all of us are just humble travelers carrying our own piece/s of baggage. And I had mine.
But I guess there really is a lesson to be learned in The Fall. And without further ado, here are 6 of mine, gracefully taught to me by a wonderful fall trip to South Korea.
5. History is important, but it doesn’t mean we still need it in the present.
The past is in the past for a reason, and it doesn’t mean what once happened was beautiful, it needs to be relived. Memories are nice to look back at, yes, but only to remember the things we should learn how not to do again, or be better at.
I had these ruminations in Gyeongbokgung Palace, the main and biggest of the five royal palaces scattered in Seoul. Here, we learned about the realities and less-than-glamorous lives of the kings and queens of South Korea, and the poignant end to a monarch. “It is a hard job,” Lim, our guide, told us. “No one wants to be king.”
Take history as it is—a teacher. And then let it go.
4. Believe in the good, but remember that people and moments are not yours to keep forever.
Locks of Love, Namsan Park, Seoul
However poetic and quite romantic, I don’t quite agree with the whole premise of the Namsan Park Love Locks. You know, like those ones in Paris. You write your love message on a lock, seal it on the deck’s railings, and throw away the keys, with the hopes that your love (for or with someone) lasts as long as those locks remain.
So contrary to the whole “forever” theme here, what I learned is this—people come and go, as do moments and feelings. And that’s okay. Let them. Nothing is really ever ours. Live out the good days to the fullest, but when it comes to the end of the line, as they sometimes do, get that key, open that lock, and set them free.
3. Sometimes, a fresh perspective is all you need.
Petit France, Gapyeong Province
In Petit France, a little French-themed park, I saw South Korea in a whole new light. Located in Gapyeong province one hour away from the capital, seeing a sprawling scenery of mountains, trees, and nature hit like a refresh button on my soul. Seeing such a majestic view can make you feel so small—in a positive way. You realize how small your attachments and insecurities are compared to the grand scheme of things, which ultimately brings you to acceptance—that whatever happens, just know that bigger things are in the works for you. You just can’t see it yet.
2. Drop expectations; allow yourself to experience life as it unfolds.
Myeongdong Shopping District, Seoul
As a certified island girl, I’ll take sunny, tropical weather over gloomy, cold climates any day. I really love good days under the sun. But, somehow, under the freezing temperatures of Seoul, I found myself completely spellbound by it all—the tall buildings, the bright lights, and the late night strolls in busy districts like Myeongdong despite the cold. The way your your breath fogs when you talk, or laugh, or sigh under the wondrous disbelief of this incredible city.
I wasn’t expecting to be so awfully charmed by South Korea, and yet there I was.
1. There is beauty in letting dead things fall away.
How lucky are they, I thought, all these people who get to experience all four seasons each year. That at every end of the year they go through fall, a season that holds so much poetry. That like the falling leaves all around them, they, too, can let the dead things fall. The things they no longer need to carry.
I thought about all these as I was strolling the tranquil paths of famous Nami Island. Leaves would fall all around us, and watching them, I thought about all the things in my life I have been gripping on to, quite unnecessarily, and realized that perhaps there is redemption to be found in letting go—these trees will bloom again in the spring, after all. We all always bloom again.
At a late night chicken wings and beer run in a 24-hour Kyochon, my friends and I couldn’t help it. We all learned so much from this city, after all. And so with starry eyes and full bellies, we raised our glasses to fall, healing, and to many more trips back to lovely South Korea.
All photos in this post were taken by Manuel Chua for WhenInManila.com
Have you been to South Korea? What did you learn most from your trip? Share your stories in the comments. <3