Floating Skyscrapers and the Ghosts Who Haunt Them

 Two Twins and Other Redundancies, north-central Seoul, 2012ish
Two Twins and Other Redundancies, north-central Seoul, 2012ish

Ten years somewhere is enough to grow familiar with it. To know the footsteps of a neighborhood, to hear the morning hustle in a place. To know the groan of vehicles plying steep, winding hillside roads scarcely as wide as the gaunt chassis of the nimble half ton trucks and motorbikes that putter up and around the bends that abutt the brickside corner of your second floor apartment. To know the sights and sounds of your neighbors coming home at night.

It is enough time for a place to grow old. It is enough time to feel yourself grow old within that stale air that was once an optimistic but perhaps naive adventurism. 

You wonder sometimes if it’s stale air that moves those of us who travel. Treating the attraction of seeking as one which is glamorous, and the avoidance of ill as an act of irresponsibility, something in our secularism that is a venial sin, and thus ubiquitous. You wonder if you are an accidental traveler, having agreed to travel with a once-partner a year into a relationship. 

Ten years to come to know so many new versions of oneself: one as defined by musicianship; as defined by seeing one’s words in a local print monthly; as defined by foisting upon the ambition of entrepreneurship the joys cultivated as a hobby. It is time enough for all of these to grow, and others even, and all to each fade, and leave in their stead an empty planter box of depleted soil. 

Time enough to understand the lure of hibernation, of a long wintering, of letting the soils of one’s soul go (grow?) fallow, and in that disuse and empty boredom find a purpose to the spaciousness of absence. 

 Approach to Busan, 5 am
Approach to Busan, 5 am

It is hard, that empty space. Its demands are endless because there are none and its uniformity is numberless, and so every day, you waken to your old habits of hustle and hype and connecting among dynamism and networks: and it takes a moment to realize your hopes are things you’re remembering, and trying to forget. You don’t want or hope or aspire to the magazine pages anymore, nor to the favor of hip investors across shimmering Gangnam tabletops. But you remember these wants, and wake each morning living them, until you shake yourself and realize you are hunting fossils. 

And you seek the emptiness. As hard as it is to shrug off social circles you come to know the cause for connection of those who you fought to call friends. Fought whom? Yourself, of course. That ubiquitous vagueness, the appeal for niceties: of course everyone is a friend. Acquaintance is almost an insult, the emphasis of unfamiliarity coming with an echo of nigh damnation. So, friends: alone on a mountaintop beside your self selected place of exile, you pour one out for the names you swipe off of lists, tapping the fatal red quadrilaterals of the glowing electronic brain that has been your face to so many. Fewer perhaps than your arrogance might imagine. More, though, than your depression would ever admit. 

 One of several ports
One of several ports

The emptiness is hard to find in The City. It is the Perpetual City, revolting against both gravity and earth, convulsing its very guts and converting the work of eons into the regularities of the Modern Grid, the New Life, all neon and LED and bustling with commerce. It is a hollow place, one robbed and raped of many things, two chief respectives of former and latter being Past and Future. The City pays little mind, though; after all, whatever culture is lost the New Capitalism can replace. Instead of ritual we can have Style. Instead of history we can have Marketing. Instead of imagination we can have Desire.

It is the age of perfect convenience bubbling away along the roadways you peer over from a tall roof. You remind yourself to never mention to anyone the (dispassionate) thoughts of suicide you sometimes feel, high up here. No reason to worry anyone. Besides, it’d just be a cry for help, right? Which is a pathetic thing, right? Which is transitively something that only pathetic people awash in self pity do, right?

So you just watch the traffic, and stay quiet, and watch as the thoughts come and go like clouds in a sky whose character is defined by its lack of affectedness. 

And you look ahead, to where you can find more of it, the emptiness, because you’re hooked on it, and you seek it even with the friends who’ve remained with you, at least electronically. You wonder why you fought so hard to pursue a life which, in achieving, you watch your peers waste away into long, antisocial hours. Perhaps they too are seeking an emptiness of their own. And you judge them for it, and judge yourself for your failure to walk in their shoes, as you once longed to. 

 Le capitain, Port of Hong Kong
Le capitain, Port of Hong Kong

When you board the boat, you cry. No huffing, not in that breathy way that you always hold off lest anyone be assaulted with the volume of knowing your quietest pains. You walk upwards, away from the world, and it’s like climbing that mountain all over again, but this one has no roots. It is not tied into the world, and you can feel it rocking, like a mountain moored to the earth but inclined towards heaven. 

22 days of emptiness. Of nothing but sky and sea and self. Of no networks. Of tearing away from not just The City, but from the very precept of its architecture: of tearing away from the earth itself. Time warps, it contracts and telescopes and bends and teeters between uptopian synoptics and mind-rending antithetics you direct at yourself in accusation. In transition. In recollection. In imagination.

 South China Sea
South China Sea

Through it all, the emptiness remains. Quiet and lulling under it all, it is like the ocean under the keel. You are humbled by the immensity in which you dwell, which shudders with its 12 cylinder heart the way you do when you watch your twitching limbs after a hard ride. You are lost and faceless within it. You are alone, floating through hallways, leaning like an uprooted tree against the railings which separate you from a 14-story fall to the quiet emptiness below, churning as you traverse its infinite horizon.