Friday, August 12, 2016

Seoul's Nature

Seoul, South Korea
Photo by Josh Lane

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to the body and soul. -John Muir
Contrasting against the grey high-rise buildings and high tech subways are vivid green spaces in South Korea. Seoul is flourishing with wild life- plants, grass, flowers, trees, and the like. Nature is woven seamlessly into the very fabric of the city.  Fruits and vegetables are planted along the sidewalk, rooftops drip with vines from gardens, ponds are filled with lily pads and koi fish, and temples are adorned with lotus flowers.

We rest momentarily in a grassy field on our walk to the Seoul Tower. The spacious green area creates a sense of peace and tranquility in the city bustling with over 10 million people.  We observe children playing happily with a bunny, an elderly couple resting on a blanket in the grass in between games of badminton, a man reading a book while strolling through the area, and groups of students posing beside statues for selfies. We reflect on our project as we debrief from our meeting with Mr. Canning from the Embassy.  We allow nature to wash over us, center our thoughts, and ground us in the present reality- a reality that felt less like being engulfed in a major metropolis and more like a dream, or a movie, or heaven. Brainstorming has never come so effortless. I can’t help but think that the fresh oxygen is providing much needed fuel for high functioning cognition. After all, green spaces are known to create positive effects for humans' well being and productivity.

I take a deep breath to inhale the fresh oxygen, aromatic flowers, and dew in the air. Not only do the plants provide oxygen in exchange for our carbon dioxide, they are productive pollutant reducers. Plants make the city greener and cleaner.

Walking bare foot through the grass, I become keenly aware of the true sacredness of spaces. I admire the ways in which Koreans are able to protect that which is ancient, natural, and sacred while progressing as a metropolis. I think about our own struggles in New Mexico while attempting to protect our sacred spaces- our acequia systems, which compose the water, land, and culture surrounding the traditional communal practice of water sharing and agriculture- by designating them as UNESCO Cultural Heritage sites. South Korea demonstrates that modernization and development do not have to come at the cost of the natural, the beautiful, and the sacred. Rather spaces can be inclusive, blended, multifaceted.

Audriana Stark
World Folk Art Movement
South Korea 2016

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