Old Faithful's Welcome Gift

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Old Faithful's Welcome Gift

Dear Friends,

A spontaneous ritual commences each summer day outside Samsung Plaza in Seoul. People of all ages gather around a series of geysers that erupt out of the smooth polished ground, reaching varying heights at various increments.

It is the small children, clustered at the front of the group of onlookers, who are the most transfixed. They watch the fountain intently, perhaps hedging guesses as to which column of water will shoot up the most forcefully at any given moment. All of a sudden one child will leap back and rush to his mother, screaming with delight and anticipation. He never touched the streams of water; he clearly just imagined the feeling in his mind had he dared to enter the fountain. One small child, when asked if he planned to jump into the fountain, shook his head and retreated to a stone bench, a bit frightened as well as energized, perhaps, by the very idea.

Another child may soon inch forward, and tentatively extend her hand into the rush of one of the water columns.

Anticipation is at its highest when the geysers bubble all the way down, and the pavement returns to its ordinary state, albeit a little wetter. Children watch closely for the first sign that the pavement will erupt again. Perhaps some even dare to imagine what it would feel like if they strode over and stood on the dormant spouts, to feel the rush when the fountain surged again.

Eventually a few brave young souls throw caution to the wind and leap wholeheartedly into the fountain. One emerged with a cheeky grin, his T-shirt plastered to his body and his hair left in dripping black spikes.

Two others linger bravely in the penetrating streams. They leave sopping wet but soon return with their bikes, their fear now completely dampened, and ride them through the fountain. These boys, nine and 11, confirm that they come to Samsung Plaza more than 10 times a week, solely for the entertainment of the outdoor fountain. "We arrange to meet our friends here since we live close by," says Kim Jin-kuk, the older of the two brothers. Kim Don-jun, the younger brother, denies that they've ever bothered to bring a swimsuit, and looks puzzled at such a suggestion.

Other children are simply passers-by who became captivated. One girl, about 12, said that she wanted to jump into the water but didn't have a change of clothes. Perhaps next time she will come prepared.

The adults in the assembly smile fondly at the children, enjoying their glee produced from the simple spectacle of water. But they continue to watch not simply for the sake of the children. Every spectator, young and old, thinks at least for one fleeting moment about kicking off stiff dress shoes, surrendering pressed business suits to the moment and plunging into the fountain. Restraint inevitably wins out.

One imagines that rituals like this occur across the city on a given day, as Seoulites find ways to celebrate the summer.


FROM : Katie Piper

by JoongAng Ilbo English Edition, Seoul

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