Saturday, December 11, 2010

Tainan, Seoul and Me

Won Woo Chung

The window is what separates you and the world. However, the window shows both you and the world. You see yourself reflected in the window, thinking who you are and what you are. Yet, you see the world through the window, understanding what part you take in this world. Out the window, you see these two worlds, trying to grasp the connection between you and the world around.

XuLou and the Columbarium

Through this window, you glance over at what lies beyond the horizon. The horizon divides the world into two: the sky and the ground. As your eyes roll downward, you see a Taoist temple in the far end. At the 11-3 market near the nunnery, people, busily moving around to stall their goodies, open up their stores and wait for another day to start. Now as your eyes roll upward, you see the sunrise and the endless blue sky stretching beyond the horizon. The ground is where you stay when you live. The sky is where you go when you are no longer of this world. This is a columbarium.
“My address number in the tower is 32.”
XuLuo, an old woman speaks as she points at what appears at a glance to be mere tile.  The room is filled with these rectangular shapes that fill up the entire wall surrounding. It is due to their innumerable amount that these rectangles seem only merely as tiles. Yet, every one of these tiles is the most essential; for they are where one will live in the afterlife.
The “tile,” a storage space for a cemetery urn, is important for XuLou as she now awaits another life after this one. She has even paid twice the average price just to be next to her already departed sons. XuLou now lives in the Shan Hua Shih nunnery, passing her time praying even though her knees don’t let her kneel down. She writes sutras which she wishes to be cremated with during her funeral.
Wandering around the columbarium, Xi Longxion, son of XuLou Huangzhong, thinks of how time has changed. People used to be buried in these “too big!” grave sites. Thinking of how people continue to meet their deaths, these grave sites will one day “overflow, explode.” Regarding this matter, the columbaria are meeting the demand for the new generation, rising higher and higher as time passes, reaching further and further toward the sky where millions expect to go in the next life.

"Matchboxes" of Seoul

“Look at all these match boxes filling up the entire city of Seoul.”
Through my window, as I stray upon the scenery of Seoul from my room, I notice all these “match boxes” covering up the streets, the riversides, the mountains everywhere. As time passes, these “match boxes” become taller and taller, reaching further and further into the sky. I see people going in and out of these “match boxes.” This is Seoul, this is the apartment.
These rectangular shaped building stacked in rows and columns, to a foreigner must have truly looked like piles of “match boxes.” People no longer live in those traditional Korean houses that comprehend the beauty of Korean culture but in these mere rectangular shaped constructions. This is the reality of Seoul. People, when born until death, need a space to make their lives meaningful. Yet, where can you find space in Seoul? It’s like finding “Waldo” in those crowds of people. The city is overflowed, on the verge of explosion. There is no more space to expand sideward but there is space to expand upward.
Today, these apartments are no long mere “match boxes”, as they are becoming pieces of art. The buildings get taller every day reaching the sky. The surroundings are formed into parks, acting as places for relaxation. The “going higher and higher” phenomenon has become trend for human beings. The very instinct to reach the zenith of something, to reach the top, to reach the sky has always existed beneath our very own souls. That is what Seoul is. These apartments, these “match boxes,” these “pieces of art” are the soul of Seoul.

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