Heading for Insadong, getting sidetracked . . .
On October 8 of this year, my wife Sun-Ae had a significant birthday that I dare not identify too precisely. Let's just say she's no longer 29. Wherever the exact truth lies -- yes, it sometimes does lie, especially temporal truths -- we celebrated by heading off that Saturday afternoon for Seoul's traditional neighborhood of Insadong . . . and vicinity.
We decided to take the subway and walked from our apartment to Mangu Station on the Jungang Line, rode to Oksu Station and switched to Line 3, then rode for eight stops to Gyeongbokgung Station, where we got off and encountered a gate with Chinese writing opaque to my mind if visible to my eyes, but I decided to pass through anyway:
After I'd crossed that threshold, Sun-Ae noticed an explanation given in Korean -- and more importantly, for me, also in English:
That reads as follows:
This gate was made of monolith in imitation of PULLOMUN in CH'ANGDOKKUNG. It has a legend that once one passes through the gate, he would not be old forever.I don't think "monolith" is a type of stone -- perhaps an indefinite article is missing? -- but the message is certainly reassuring. I won't stay old forever. Apparently, I will die . . . someday. Maybe never even knowing what "PULLOMUN" and "CH'ANGDOKKUNG" mean, for the informative sign failed to inform. But they must mean something odd, for weird things happened on the other side of that gate after we'd left the underground for the city streets above:
A man emerged from a mural as his girlfriend looked about to be run down by a mysteriously floating automobile . . . and by its equally buoyant couple. Sun-Ae and I soon even more mysteriously found ourselves beyond the mural in the midst of those traditional Korean houses known as hanok . . .
. . . hanok . . .
. . . and more hanok . . .
. . . after which we wound our way down that hillside -- unexpectedly encountering fellow translator Brother Anthony in our descent -- and ended up at our reserved table in the easily misheard Min's Club, a restaurant named after a descendant of Queen Min and located in a house designed by Korean architect Gilryong Park (1898∼1943) and built in 1930 in a combination of Korean and Japanese style:
You see from my glowing red eyes that I really was in a different state of being after passing through that gate that threatened to kill me.
But all of you are wondering, "Where's the lovely Sun-Ae?" Where indeed? She had the camera and refused to part with it, perhaps unwilling to document this birthday of hers too closely . . .
But happy belated birthday, anyway, my dear . . .