The girl, the forest, and the tower

Seoul, South Korea

September 11th, 2018

Here I am, stuck in a beautiful dog cafe with wonderful humans I have grown with- my friends, my humans. Here I am, wonderstruck after a magical yesterday. Here I am, lost in my thoughts of a beautiful forest and a trail that wound around the heart of Seoul. Here I am, thinking about Papa without whom I wouldn’t be in Korea, I wouldn’t be Ezza, or I wouldn’t be struggling with the name spellings that I have.

Yesterday was my first day of classes in Korea, and the day I decided that I will travel and explore one place on my brave two feet. Slinging my backpack on, I felt determined to go out and conquer the land and feel the winds of my new home. I read the signs: Namsan Park. Enters Ezza.

In a couple of minutes, I embarked on a trail, walking off of the main route. There was tall grass, teeming with life: bugs, ants, spiders, all danced around my feet. A stone seat awaited me. Within minutes, I found myself enshrouded among tree leaves that draped downwards, with a floor that was carpeted by pebbles and undergrowth. It was time to stop and stare.

I went onwards, exploring places where undergrowth bent under the feet of those who came before me, and places where the grass was fresh and stood calm and untrodden. The trees, the leaves, the sunlight and how it kissed some places casting a soft gold glow, and the wind and how it carried the songs of the birds of Seoul all had me fascinated, awestruck at the beauty of Namsan. I hiked on and on and on, with no destination in mind, no idea where I would be in two hours.

Soon, I went off route again. This time, though, I was scared, and a little tired: all the more motivation to go forward. It seemed as if this “unofficial” trail was endless, looping and meandering around trees and steeper ground. Fear crept in. Was I lost again? Laughing because I was completely lost, I went on anyway, knowing that 100% of my days, I have found my way home. Behold. Five steps later, I saw something magnificent: smiling at me within two trees was a very modern looking building. Was I exiting the forest? I checked my GPS. I was nearing the Namsan mountain peak. Maybe this was a tourist help center?

I walked up and around the building. It was right next to the Fortress Wall of Seoul – which is 700 years old. The building, however, was a very modern… Seven Eleven. Mother of globalization. Hull…

It was here when I realized what my real destination was: the Namsan tower itself! It was the luminous building, the heart of Seoul, which often waved at me from my home window. Maybe it was calling me.

So I walked onwards and upwards. 7 minutes later, I stood among people from all over the world, some in headscarves, some with open hair, some colored pale, others painted with the colors of the sunset. All laughing around the tall tower, admiring the beauty of the city below, leaving behind locks on a fence to mark their love, and of course, taking photographs.

I walked around, admiring the great view of the city below. And I felt my Papa’s presence. Right here. For when I was a little girl probably 8 or 9, Papa explored Seoul. And I found the tiny Namsan tower in a gift shop next to the tower, the same souvenir that rests in my living room…

I let my tears flow, embracing the moment for all its wonder, all its hurt. Never in my life did I imagine I would conquer another destination which my dad so greatly adored. I wanted to ask him all about the tower, share my stories of coming here, of the hike up, of the kind strangers who volunteered to take my photos, of lovers and friends who locked their love on the fence that curled the balcony I was on, and hear how he felt when he was here. Did he think of me? Did he wish I could be there? Did he admire the view and fell in love with the city and take a hundred photos, as I had? It was 6 pm.

And it was also this very moment, that somewhere in Pakistan, heaven hugged a dear friend’s beautiful mother. Someone once told me that we feel the pain of those we love even when we’re miles away. Maybe the universe was telling me something: I will lose my Papa, I will be in great pain, but I will find moments when I will reunite with himhere on earth. I will feel him. I really will. And that maybe, I will be able to feel a terribly tiny fragment of the pain my friend underwent.

So here I am,  at a cafe with cute little dogs, writing away on my laptop. To add to the beauty of the moment, my favorite song, from the talk I gave on my life and my father, fills the air: Ed Sheeran’s Photograph. Here I am, eyes wet missing the one who protected me from all harm, who loved me unconditionally, and uttering a praying for my friend’s mother.

All love,

Ezza Naveed Irfan


P.s, I actually did end up writing in my journal in a secret resting spot :).


In the memory of Papa, and in the honor of Dr. Rubina Kamran.