Written and photographed by Amy-Leigh Braaf
The train moved like a flexible centipede, strategic in its direction, yet curving about the tracks to Seoul as if it had no desire to live up to anyone’s expectations except its own. My earphones, slung around my neck, had been uncomfortably digging into my collarbone as my over-filled pleather bag pushed them down into my skin even further. Did that elderly man sitting opposite me notice? No, it appears that he had been asleep long before I had even gotten onto the train. It being my first subway ride in this glorious yet enigmatic country, I decided to capture everything photographically – I can’t depend on my bad eyesight all that much.
Although my intentions were superficial at first, my camera is what molded my very malleable personality at the time. For some reason, as soon as I held it, I was invisible to myself and those around me. In this day and age, with social media at every turn, profiles on different platforms, and cyber-personalities that we have to constantly maintain, invisibility isn’t the worst thing.
As if we were polishing a golden clock every day that would eventually stop ticking – until, inevitably, it would be replaced with another aesthetically similar clock – we focus so much energy on things that disappear as fast as my grandmother’s cakes sell at Sunday Mass, and why? I can’t help but be grateful to have been sitting on a train, feeling ridiculously self-conscious about a sleeping old man who didn’t care about what I looked like. Korea has that ability to push all of that nonsense away, even if for only a moment. As you walk through its streets, Korea, with its historical sites and rich allure, shocks you with a reality bite yet simultaneously takes you in with two arms and a warm plate of food (kimchi included).
I left a lot behind me to come to this country out of impulse, but perhaps I’m mistaken. Impulse has no say when a cosmic force has its hands on the dice that decide where you end up in your life. A month ago, I was drinking coffee in a café, writing down all the places I would visit if I moved to Korea, and here I am now, capturing life almost as fast as its captures me.