I had heard that there was a campaign to “invite Mayor Park Won Soon” to see a play. The play, called Seoul People, is the creation of a group of young people, and something that I definitely had to see because of the title if nothing else, so I went to the theater.
There’s a Korean expression: ‘It’s always market day when I go into town’, which roughly means ‘bad timing’, and in this vein the day I’d chosen to go was the very last day of the play’s run.
It turned out this way because I’d been putting it off for so long due to my busy schedule.
The play depicts young people living in a goshiwon (a ‘single room accommodation building’) in Seoul. There’s Jun-hui, highly strung because he can’t find a job; Ram, always broke and running around all day doing part time jobs here and there to pay his room deposit money; and Da-jeong who came to Seoul from Masan in Gyeongnam, and can’t afford to buy one of the handbags that they sell at the department stores even though she works herself into the ground at a department store. The play is a collection of young people’s tales about the struggles they face in Seoul, a strange land far from their homes.
The content is something that those who have left their hometowns in the countryside for Seoul will sympathize with a little… I too was reminded of an episode from my childhood.
Visiting Seoul for the first time after finishing my 3rd year of middle school… I didn’t have any proper lodgings, so I was a burden to my older sister, staying in her room in Sindorim-dong. There was a red light district between the bus stop and our rented room, and the sister, dolled up in her thick make-up, sometimes used to joke around by grabbing my hat and throwing it, exposing my student ‘buzz haircut’. I was so scared and ashamed that I’d run away, leaving my hat behind. I’d sprint like I was running the 100m race back in my small town, with the splendor of Seoul’s night unfolding before my eyes.
The city lights were so splendid that my hometown in the Changnyeong countryside paled in comparison… I guess my own sparkle got lost in that ceaselessly sparkling city, but a corner of my mind remained forever dazzled. Nevertheless, that ‘unfamiliar Seoul’ was bearable for me, because I also had a dream, just like the main characters of the play.
Seoul, whose doors are open to everyone who dreams….That’s the kind of Seoul that I hope for. A world that does not distinguish between those who come from Seoul or those who come from the countryside, between those from Gangnam or those from Gangbuk, or between those who are rich and those who are poor… That’s exactly the kind of Seoul that I hope for.
So even if a person from a less fortunate background is unable to study abroad and receive a masters degree, it’s my hope that anyone, if they study hard like Jun-hui, can realize their dreams, and that Ram’s house deposit can be halved so that he can go to school instead of slaving away at a part-time job.
A song from the play, Cho Yong-pil’s Dream
Even at this very moment, people are struggling to realize their dreams in strange, unfamiliar Seoul. It would be good if they could be comforted a little.
1. Yearning for the vibrant city, here I came
That place, that cold and dangerous place
Wandering here and there, on the shabby doorstep
Gulping down hot tears
Here after a long journey, here finding my dreams
On this rough and miserable road, here I am
In this world, where is the forest and where is the swamp?
Nobody told me that
2. People are all going back home
I’m the only one left now
Wandering among buildings, through run-down alleys
Gulping down hot tears
Does that star up there understand my feelings, does it know my dreams?
Singing a sad song when I’m miserable
P.S. Having seen the final performance, I believe the play will provide comfort to youth, especially to young people who have come to an unfamiliar Seoul and are experiencing sorrow while holding onto their dreams, even in the fatigue of daily life. Thankfully, it appears that the play’s run has been extended, so it may provide comfort and sympathy to many more people yet.