Seoul, from Above


An hour or so later I was on my flight, flying high above the city. I looked down at Seoul below and attempted to make out some of the places I visited. Was that borough in between the forested section Insa-Dong, or was it that other one surrounded by buildings? That mountain must be Seolaksan, or was it that one? I pulled my backpack out from under the seatback in front of me and searched for a pen to fill out the customs card. I fumbled through utensils, boxes, and other loose parts, before my hand felt the smooth texture of the rock Sooncheon had bought me in Insa-Dong. I pulled it out and looked at it again realizing that I had forgotten to ask what it meant. I turned to the man next to me and politely asked, “Excuse me sir, would you mind telling me what this says?”

The man folded his magazine and briefly touched the lens of his glasses.

“It’s a Korean proverb,” the man began. “It says, ‘You see only the trees, but not the forest.’”

I thanked the man before returning the rock to my backpack. I turned and looked out the window at the clear sky over the city. I peered downward and observed the Korean peninsula, a sea of green separating a sea of blue. A flight attendant approached us.

“Water, tea, or coffee, sir?”

I briefly contemplated the options, before making my selection.

“How about makgeolli? Do you have any makgeolli?”

The woman stepped back and smiled.

“It’s your lucky day, sir. Makgeolli it is.”

. . .