South Korea Travel Journal

Insadong; Midsummer Night’s Dream; Seoul Grand Park

Seoul Grand Park is a popular weekend destination, but since it was Monday, I had the park mostly to myself.  The rains washed the skies clear, and the day was absolutely lovely.  My first few days had been lost in a haze of jet-lag, sleep loss and sickness, but when I arrived at the park, everything finally clicked together and I felt so peaceful.  

Korea draws a lot of aesthetic influence from France, and the park was a beautiful combination of the two worlds.  The sky chairs floating over the lake and blossoming trees looked like something out of a fairy tale, and the strange bird calls made the atmosphere feel slightly haunting.  I felt like I was in a world created by Winsor McKay or Hayao Miyazaki, which is something I’ve always dreamed of.  You don’t encounter very many people walking through the park, and many sections of the park are closed.  I could see the tops of the aviaries from a distance, with the dark shapes of birds flying through the air, but due to a recent bird flu epidemic, all the bird exhibits were closed.  

Korean zoos are different from American zoos.  They’re not as well maintained; the animals seem quite unhappy and restless.  The entire day I had the feeling that I had wandered upon some abandoned research lab in the middle of the jungle, where scientists had collected specimens from all over the world and then had to abandon them in the wake of some strange disaster.  I walked past the peacock exhibit, overgrown and wild as a jungle, and though it was closed, I could see the birds lounging just inside the gate; remnants of a luxurious life expired some time ago.

The tiger exhibit was wrapped up in sections of black fabric, but I could hear them as I left the park.  It was the strangest sound, heartbreaking and terrifying at the same time.  It didn’t even sound animal at first, more like the shifting of plates buried deep within the earth.  There are some animals who are always meant to be wild, left free of the careless grasp of humans.