Where am I? Joy of getting lost

Three disorienting factors for travellers in Seoul. A different system for building addresses, the sun travelling a different route, and a city suddenly deserted.

Plan on a brick wall showing the addresses of nearby properties
Clever: instead of a street having a unique name, a cluster of streets in one neighbourhood share the same name. Or do they? Seoul Street Addressing Map.

I know my address, but only in English.
I see the same street name on many local streets.
I read about traditional street naming systems
I read of a new sort-of Western system
three different types of numbering rules
basic numbering, serial numbering and other numbering.
It all makes sense, and taxi drivers bring me safely home.

A ginger cat drinking at a trough in sunshine, seen through wooden blind slats.
Morning sun, so that must be east. But wait, where’s north?

That’s morning sun, that must be east
and therefore that is west—
but north is upside down.
My instincts are all garbled
for in the northern hemisphere
the sun goes right instead of left
so right is south, it isn’t north.
My body turns me back to front
so deeply does it know
that as the day proceeds
the sun swoops north.

I’m good at orientation
except on half the planet
good with two-dimensional maps
good with proprioception
and even my vestibular
equipment works (for now)
so am I truly me
if even when I’m staring at a compass
my head revolves?

A street in Seoul deserted on a public holiday, Chuseok
An almost deserted street in a city of 25 million. Today is a precious public holiday, Chuseok

In the distance, two people walking.
That’s all I see
in a city of ten million.
Everyone has gone to their home town
for Chuseok, or else
they’re sleeping in

9 thoughts on “Where am I? Joy of getting lost

      1. Sorry to be so muddling. We had no letterboxes so somehow whoever delivered our bills seemed to find our Korean style addresses, knew where to find us, and delivered our bills to our apartment front doors. I never did find out my actual address and was very impressed that our delivery person knew just where to go.

  1. Has the city really got 25 million Wiki gives it 10. It looks deserted but my eye caught those patchy plane trees and I was transported back to my childhood in London ; we called them London planes — bit of a cheek really.

    1. Depends where you draw the line: within the city limits it’s about ten million. But the poem reads better with “ten” anyway, and honestly, once you get to ten million, that already qualifies as a heckofalot!

  2. Hi Rachel – I struggled with north and south and east and west when I lived in South Africa – thankfully they wrote in English … the language may have been somewhat difficult to use … but at least it was manageable – the sun … not so much: even in Cape Town when everyone said it’s easy the mountain’s there … I never got it – or maybe that’s when I ‘lost it’ … cheers – but fascinating to see your take on life in Seoul – Hilary

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