Story by: Simon Slater, Photos by: Simon Slater
“Nothing is static. Everything is evolving. Everything is falling apart.” says fictitious character Tyler Durden in Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club.Certainly not in Seoul, a city whose internal cogs turn so quickly, it wouldn’t know how to slow down. So too for the country’s distinct seasons, which are vastly over-proportioned in the case of summer and winter. Spring’s salvation doesn’t last long.
The first warm winds of the year in April allow many things to bloom in Korea, including the first empty rice wine bottles of the season sprouting all over the country’s convenience store patio ‘beer gardens’. The unveiling of the lower half of the nation’s young women contrasts with the covering of all things flesh-related in the old. Floral arrangements are furiously installed in any green space around the cities as the first buds begin to emerge. One flower then explodes into the urban scenery like a ticking time bomb of exquisite beauty – the cherry blossom.
The biggest celebrated event in the Spring calendar starts at Mount Ansan in the North East
of Seoul, far from Yeouido’s madding crowds. The trees may be artificially clustered, but their concentration is so engulfing once in their midst that it only enhances the natural phenomenon.
The celebrations don’t stop there. As Korea doesn’t possess the most fertile soil, Mother Nature is given a helping hand at the base of the mountain in the Yeonhui-dong neighbourhood. The artificial island has been sculpted to be a perfect leisure experience: classical music emanates from fake rocks, an impressive waterfall descends from great heights at designated times and every spring flower is planted in their right place.
Between the spattering of numerous academies, themed entertainment venues and weekend activities, the emergence of young lives in Seoul seems much like the start of the Cherry Blossom trail– too regimented, unnaturally engineered. Where are the groups of kids roaming around Seoul’s neighborhoods in their spare time? Unfortunately, study takes precedence over play. Still, when you see the happy families hanging out on the mountains or the park (sometimes literally), kids seem as happy as they would anywhere else in the world.
The season brings the briefest of windows in which to experience the changes that occur. Be quick to appreciate the lessons in birth and decay that the cherry blossoms teach us each year. As they descend as rapidly as they present themselves, the soft, snow white confetti sprinkles down onto the hard concrete and we’re reminded once again that nature can be the cruellest of mistresses. She offers us her most ornamental of charms for but a fleeting moment before returning to the familiar shades of green that take the reigns from there on in.
In a country infatuated with anti-wrinkle creams and surgery procedures pursuing perfection, perhaps more people should look to the cherry blossom for beauty tips. Our own skin-deep beauty is as the rest of nature – transient, ephemeral, prone to displays of brief magnificence yet in a constant state of flux. Observing this in the natural world to reflect upon is a good reminder of our inevitable mortality. Although the physical transformations of Seoul’s citizens can be seen more in light of adaptation than vanity – Korea’s hiring practices are as unforgiving as nature itself.
After all, “A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection” says Fight Club’s Tyler. So don’t mourn the inevitable loss of such natural beauty, for it was it’s brevity that creates such a spectacle. Cherish the moment when you are in it, be it an engulfment of cherry blossoms or any other passing occurrence.