“Hongdae” – by Ashley Lee

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Riding the subway to Hongdae is one of my life’s glorious natural highs. As I stand by the constantly opening and closing doors of the carriage, watching the world outside fade into farmland, plastic greenhouses, roads, and the faded grey and eggshell-colored apartment complexes, euphoria surrounds my mind like a dense mist of wonder and electricity. The trip to Hongdae takes about twenty-three minutes. One learns these things the more they ride along the massive clunky strip of metal that carries the lives and hopes and dreams of so many Korean hearts. I realize I am the main character while I ride this subway. Only the main character of a story would stare out towards the hazy sky while listening to the Amadeus soundtrack, thinking about nothing yet everything at the same time. 

It’s necessary to take trips alone… I learn to listen to my own heartbeat and hear my own ragged breath as I hop off the subway and walk to Exit 3. I melt into my surroundings, coalesce with the other souls just like you who’re searching for something more in their day: spending time with a loved one, or maybe just in want of a new sweater. This is around the time I realize my position in the world, how miraculous it is that life’s every circumstance brought me here, where I’m standing, walking the city alone, still listening to Amadeus

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Taking my car and driving north to L.A. is another one of my life’s glorious natural highs. The radiant nature of California’s ever-flowing freeways grabs you by your shoulders and tells me, “Just drive. Go somewhere, it can be anywhere.” I take the rush of having just enough money for half a tank and set off, a smile tugging at my mouth. The trip to L.A. takes about two hours. Maybe more. You see, traffic in California is the layman’s nightmare. The occasional, half-hearted contemplation of life arrives as I sit in the traffic, a Californian depressant, and I realize I’m surrounded by the relentless flow of others, all stuck in the same dismal situation as me. I lift my foot off the brake when the congregation moves and become blinded by the glaring beams of the sun. Of course, I’m the main character. Only main characters would be stuck in traffic, silently cursing their plight, while enjoying a playlist titled The Beatles’ Greatest Hits. You begin to think of absolutely nothing, but also everything at the same time. 

It is necessary to take the trip with others. A journey alone is an option, but that may not be wise for this moment; it’s not wise to go on a road trip alone. A group of two or three more people is ideal. While distracted driving is unacceptable, the white noise of a few loud conversations and godforsaken karaoke never hurt anyone. I learn to feel the strength of inseparable bonds on these trips in cramped spaces stuffed with endless carbon dioxide. As I drive past cliffs overlooking the Pacific ocean, past sunkissed, Spanish-style, red-tiled, homes surrounded by swaying palm trees, past Disneyland on the left-hand side, I appreciate the thrill of living the way I do. I realize what a miracle it is that life has led me here. To where I’m sitting, driving to another adventure, still listening to the Beatles accompanied by “karaoke” from the back. 

The Pacific ocean separates Hongdae and L.A. The differences between the two lands, their cultures, their values, and morals are vast. The East and the West are not so easily bridged. But through two simple trips, I can see a faint, glimmering string connecting the two opposites. Both American and Korean cultures give me opportunities to enjoy the beautiful life I’ve been gifted by simply allowing me to take note and enjoying the smallest of things that pass me by. Whether it be plexiglass that separates me from Korean farmland or a windscreen from a Californian highway, they’re both windows that reveal the intricacies of living that often slip between our fingers. The way the sun shines into the murky water in the rice paddies. The way the textured clouds sift around the heads of towering palms. 

I am living between two worlds, learning the differences between them but appreciating their similarities all the same. That is, indeed, the essence of having a dual identity: enjoying the best of what two worlds can offer.