In a city of 12 million people, it can be a wee bit difficult to find a place of quiet, a place to truly be alone (outside of your own apartment that is). The sidewalks are lined with an obstacle course of people walking in every which direction. The subway walkways look like a herd of antelope in a canyon, all rushing to the next destination. Coffee shops, which in the US are known for being places to study or relax, are rarely quiet, even at 2 in the morning. Even the hiking paths are crowded with the ajummas and ajosshis of the Korean world, equipped with walking sticks and visors, beating you to the top. Needless to say, a place of tranquilite is a rarity indeed.
However, the other day, I applauded the creativity of one of Seoul’s citizens. In a semi-crowded morning train this young man reached behind me to hit the button that opened the two sets of doors that led to the next train. He stepped inside the first door and stopped. My first thought was ‘he’s going to get stuck in there.’ I watched him with confusion and curiosity, arching my eyebrows and tilting my head, much akin to the way my former whippet would. He waited. The doors closed. He turned sideways. And promptly sat down. I almost laughed out loud. I looked away, but continued to chuckle at him for having such a brilliant idea. The 3 older women I was standing in front of caught a glimpse of him and stared, shock bringing their hands to the mouths.
In a country where not standing out is the norm, having a young Korean man take a stand against the lack of solitude was refreshing at best. I found myself blocking the button as if I could prevent anyone from trying to use that doorway while he enjoyed his moment of silence. I also resisted the urge to knock on the door and give him two thumbs up as a sign of my support. Instead I left him in silence, just him, a backpack and an MP3 player.
He was my hero for the day.