I’m writing this under the tracks at Ttukseom Hangang Park, where I sit, alone, nursing a drink and soaking in the cold from the river breeze. Around me, students, friends, couples, families are eating, biking, kissing under the park trees, basically enjoying a Saturday night.
I am the only person on my own.
I found this place because of BTS. Guidebooks to Hangang Park will direct you to Banpo, of the rainbow fountain bridge and night market, or Yeoido, which blooms with cherry blossoms in the Spring. Ttukseom was a resort long before it became part of Hangang Park, but this is not the season for going to resorts: the river is too cold for watersports, for anything but walking, biking, eating, or sitting still, which is what the locals do. It’s mostly locals here, and not a lot of them, even on a busy Saturday night.
Which is to say that Ttukseom does not seem to be a major tourist destination, and maybe that’s why Kim Namjoon used to come here, before the crowds knew his face. He would sit under the trains, a beer in hand, and watch the couples and families and students pass by. Just him and a friend, Fear.
(For all those wondering: this isn’t fanfic. He literally says everything I just wrote in his solo song Reflection, which famously ends with the refrain, “I wish I could love myself.”)
I followed the lyrics of that song to Ttukseom two days ago, when I was looking for a place by the Han River to record for my long-delayed second EP. Like Kim Namjoon, I sat under the train tracks and listened to them rumble past. It was morning then, on a weekday. There were not a lot of people then: a few people renting bikes, ahjussis jogging for fitness, park staff cleaning up.
When I was younger, I used to constantly be asked if being an only child meant I was lonely. I always answered no, because back then, between my books, TV shows, and active imagination, I never lacked in imaginary friends for playmates. I could spend days on my own, making up my own games, lost in my own thoughts, running through streets as the hero of a story in my own head. Real people were hard to understand, prone to getting upset, deciding they didn’t like you, or deciding they did one moment and the next no longer wanting to play. That was lonely. Alone wasn’t.
Alone, I was at peace.
I’m older now. I’d like to think I’m better at people, better at reading what they want or need, at picking the right people to be with. But I still feel most like myself when I am alone. Instead of imaginary friends, I have Spotify and my thoughts.
RM was right: in the cold and dark of Ttukseom, my anxiety and fear, the things that have weighed me down these past few days I’ve been in Seoul, feel almost like friends, like the skittish, fluffy cats that run back and forth through this park, keeping their distance but keeping me company all the same. Divorced from any identifiable triggers or sources, they are simply parts of me that, like their source, want a quiet place to stop and think.
Maybe this is what it’s like, becoming your own friend.
I’ve filled my Zoom Handy Recorder’s memory card full of ambient noise from this place. More than photos, more than seeing, I’ve always used sounds to go back to places: songs, melodies.
If you close your eyes here, and just listen to the train rumble by and the people mill about and your breathing slow…I swear after a while it sounds like music.
I planned this trip to Seoul because I was a fangirl who wanted to feel a physical connection to the music and artists I’d come to love. In the weeks leading up to actually leaving, though, this trip became more and more about a desire to run. From everything. From nothing in particular. From the sense that I was moving too much, too fast (or not fast enough) in a direction I wasn’t even sure would get me where I needed to be, like running into the first train at a station only to wonder if you are on the right track.
I have had so many moments like that this year, so many nights wondering if I am where I am meant to be, or if I even know where that meant to be place is at all. The thing about dreams is that they’re not always clear, and you have to wonder how much of them can be trusted?
At Ttukseom, all those thoughts disappear with the water, the wind, the noise of a city learning to both keep moving and stop. There are no dreams here, no destinations, only a world that spins while I sit still, am allowed to just be. I type out snatches of songs with numb fingers. I listen to buskers in the distance. I nurse my drink and watch the city lights turn on against the black sky.
Perhaps, more than following my idols, with dreams and stories and fears that aren’t mine, I needed this trip to connect with me again, like that girl who used to play by herself in an imaginary fort made of blankets and chairs. Like that girl who, no matter if she was alone, never felt lonely and always knew where she was.
I take a deep breath. I am right here. I am right here.
For a moment, the music of this city I do not know silences the noise I carry with me from home, as if the waves of this river, the rumbling train, have the pulse needed to cancel out the signals gone haywire inside me. I take a minute to bottle everything about this night, to carry with me. A reminder, when the questions inevitably return and my fears and anxieties defrost, that sometimes you don’t need answers or signs or directions or even a hand to hold to scare away the dark.
Just a river, a drink, the cold, and breathing. Just deciding to stop, and watching the world follow suit.
It is getting too cold. I get up and start walking towards the station.
I’m ready to go home.