Remembering Korea: Paldang Dam in Fall

Fall Berries

The beautiful park near the dam; definitely the best picture, which is probably why I put it first.

I’ve been remembering Korea a lot lately, and I found this old post from an old blog and thought I’d share. You know, for old time’s sake. So please enjoy this post I wrote just after traveling to Paldang Dam.

When I have fun, I really have fun. Fall here is incredible. Coming from Texas, whose version of fall tends to be, “Hey, it’s November! Time to bring the temps all the way down to 80 and kill the trees! Whoooo!” having any kind of transition to winter is a treat. I never knew what fall was. Here, I call it Autumn, because holy pancakes, Batman, the colors and weather are sublime.

I feel like Anne of Green Gables, with the shining waters, warm reds of Octobers, and now the promise of a chilly, mystical November. Perfect for my writing and tea-drinking desires.

In honor of the season, my friend and I went biking by the Paldang Dam, about an hour outside of Seoul. You can rent bikes there cheap; 10,000won ($10) for the day. We got the cute ones with baskets and trundled off. Now, my friend is a marathoner, so she probably considered our five-hour outing a light jaunt. My sedentary thighs were not so happy, but I muscled (ha) through and had a grand old time. The leaves were just beginning to turn, and the mountains were a beautiful ombre of every tree color imaginable.

What are these strange floofs and are they related to pygmy puffs?

It’s a big touristy spot, so there was a really nice restaurant about halfway down with bibimbap and really incredible pajeon. Unfortunately, I have no idea what the name of the place was. I was too hungry to care, so I had some tunnel-vision going. Food.


I’d never seen lotus in its natural environment. Those strange roots they serve at school come from these? Incredible.

We also had a bit of an off-road adventure to get to a nearby park. The bike path doesn’t go to it, as far as we know, so we lugged our bikes up and down forest trails, slipping and sliding and being laughed at by the men behind us. Hey, you guys arrived twenty minutes after we did. Take that.

It was so worth it though. The park was quiet, lush, and right on a kind of peninsula into the dam area. It looked more like a lake, really, and with the mountains and lotus leaves, you could believe you were in the middle of nowhere. Never mind the ahjumma’s next to you dancing to their trot music.

The dam itself. Dam.


We stopped for coffee and to rest a little at the park; I got mine iced, which flummoxed the vendor, but it was warm in the sun. And I really, really wanted a picture of the man selling chestnuts. He had the most incredible beard I’ve seen here. But in beard-language, it could have meant “nice old grandfather” or “seriously creepy.” I didn’t want to take the chance.


Cabbages getting ready for kimchi.

It was a nice way to spend Halloween, at any rate, since Korea doesn’t do much for the holiday. And as it’s beginning to be really cold here, it was the perfect opportunity.

Looking back, that was one of the best excursions I took in Korea, which makes me a little sad, not that it wasn’t amazing, but that I didn’t do more of it while I was there. I should have seen everything. I should have made it the perfect two and a half years. I should have…

No, I shouldn’t. It was perfect, every moment.



Remembering Korea: 1 Year Later

More and more lately I find myself thinking about my life in Korea. Bits of it come back at the most random moments, and I get a pang of…not quite homesickness, but close to it. I miss life in Korea in many ways. I’m glad to be back, but there will always be that part of me that loved living in a foreign country and making my home there.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

This is the view up the street where I lived. The bakery on the corner, Paris Baguette, was a place I often went after school to grab dinner, and I got to know the owners a little, since their English wasn’t good and my Korean was terrible. But they were very kind to the foreigner who didn’t understand about the tray and the tongs the first time she went in (grab a tray and tongs and then put the things you want on them).

IMG_20150822_183356(1)

This is near the bakery, down the other way to the Tancheon river. Apparently, you can bike all the way to Seoul on the paths, but I just walked, mostly, probably a dozen or so times the two years I was there. It was usually busy, crowded with walkers and families, or the air was full of clouds of gnats, but the rushing water was always soothing, and once I saw the most unusual black water bird hunched in the middle of the river.

IMG_20150821_145824(1)

I have a lot of memories of Jukjeon cafe street. I celebrated the first birthday after coming to Korea with a couple of coworkers there. We had sandwiches and awkward silence. But later, I would go to that street often and walk about the old European style streets, looking at the restaurants and checking out the handmade jewelry at the tables. It was most beautiful near Halloween, when decorations would go up and the lights would wind around trees. And let’s not forget the date I had there, where, at the end of the night, I was informed that my date “had nothing else to say” and thus closed the evening.

IMG_20150902_121253(1)

The walk to school – one I took close to a thousand times – was always a good part of my day. It was twelve minutes long, and unless there was snow to slip on, was a peaceful early morning kind of meditation. This house above, and its near twin next door, fascinated me every time I walked by. Small brick houses, so tiny, with gardens and plants everywhere. Hollyhocks, roses, trailing vines, bleeding hearts, and all other manner of plant life spilled over the fences and were glimpsed between the slats. I watched the growth of the squash on the corner with interest, seeing every day how it had changed. Though we lived in the city (see the skyscraper apartment buildings in the background), there were these pockets of garden and nature that kept me happy.

20170410_074006(0)

This is an earlier portion of my walk to work. Down the street and to the left is the road that leads past those houses, but before that, I would pass under the cherry trees, which, in spring, would dust the road with pink sprinkles and create whirls of magic as cars rushed by. It was breathtaking for a first-timer, and magical every year after.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

This was taken at the mall in Jamsil. They had several of these flying unicorn statues, for what reason, I’ve no idea, but it was a fun and unique part of the huge complex. Jamsil was where I did nearly all my clothes shopping, as it had Zara and H&M and I could find clothes to fit my American body. It was also where I spent a lot of time with my two best friends in Korea, hanging out in the coffee shop run by a car designer (or something) with cars on display, or at the Kakao friends store giggling over Apeach cushions, eating huge meals at On the Border, or just wandering around and talking. I was never one for hanging out at malls until I moved to Korea.

IMG_20170430_181234_508

And then there was this. This place, and this group of people, and this new hobby, Dungeons and Dragons. I started watching Critical Role while I lived in Korea, and after several months was aching to play, so I posted a question on the local foreigners facebook page, just on a long shot, and lo and behold, there was a group. The rest is history. I got hooked, and had the best time with some of the best people, and had the best food at Lagniappe, a cajun/mexican eatery run by a woman from New Orleans. Seriously, the best food.20160329_121557(1)

And of course, Jeju. The first vacation I took with friends. A week of bliss, riding in a rental car, singing along to Cake by the Ocean five times a day, eating black pork twice in a week because it was so good, cringing through the chocolate museum that reminded me of my grandmother’s closet floor, and laughing with each other in our fabulous suite rooms. Not to mention the oranges, the black beaches, the gardens, the hiking, the rafting, and the multitude of cherry blossoms.

Everyday

Then there was my life at home in my tiny apartment. I spent most of my time on my laptop, writing, watching TV, or using it to put a bit of nature in the background while I read. I started bullet journaling while in Korea too, hoping to insert a bit of meaning through organization. That bedspread was one of my favorite purchases. Cream colored with dusty purple accents, it was calming and warm and meant home to me. If I could have brought it back to America, I would have.

I still remember the feeling of waking up, looking at the wall next to my bed, at the lightly raised pattern on the wallpaper. I would roll over and sit up, feeling the quilted floral rug next to my bed, over the warped faux-wood flooring that covered the ondol heating. I would meditate like that, sitting in bed with my feet on the rug, anchoring myself to reality, before getting up and walking ten paces to start my coffee maker, a small red two-cup maker, while listening to my friend down the hall grind her coffee. I would sit at my desk and put my makeup on using the small standing mirror, since my bathroom mirror had permanent water stains all over it and no surface to hold my makeup.

I would drink a cup of coffee while putting on makeup, do my hair quickly, since it did so well in Korea, and then pour the rest of my coffee into a thermos to take with me. After the cafe went in at the school, breakfast was there. I would buy two chicken sandwiches, specially made by the dear lady who worked there, previously our office coordinator, and save one for lunch. I would eat the first after Quiet Time at 8:50, while the kids had their snack, and drink my coffee or tea and prepare myself for the day. Strange how those habits still remain so clear.

Yes, writing all this makes me miss Korea terribly. Even the problems. But the problems were very real, and I know my hindsight is rose-colored, and I needed to move on, move out, or make some kind of change. Maybe I could go back one day to teach in a different school. Maybe I could live there for several months on a sabbatical. I don’t know. All I know is that even memories of walking through the grocery aisles while listening to my brother tell me his latest D&D story brings a pang of longing very deep. I can remember so clearly buying tuna and milk tea and those excellent caesar salads and laughing at the antics of his group, thinking one day I might join them (I did).

Korea will remain a bright memory for me. No matter how it ended, no matter what happened there, it was an amazing time in my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Signature

 

Korea: Looking Back

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

(Written two weeks after coming home.)

Already I miss Korea. I was desperate to leave the situation I was in, but Korea itself was never the problem.

I miss walking up the uneven sidewalk to the crosswalk, where I always waited. Sometimes I waited with others, sweat pouring off me in the summer humidity.

Sometimes I waited in silence, the special padded silence of falling snow, on those rare mornings it fell.

Sometimes I would run into a coworker. Let’s leave it at that.

I miss the walk; that calm ten to twelve minutes on the way, when the steady rhythm of my feet evened out the day ahead of me. The first wrinkle ironed.

I must have walked that way and back hundreds of times. Almost every day for two years. Sometimes on weekends too. I wonder if I had closed my eyes and felt with my feet if I could have guessed where I stood at any point along the way.

I miss waiting for the 102 bus to Jeongja, where I played D&D. I miss walking to the station in fine weather to the mall to shop, or just to the Kimbap King to get food that didn’t come from a convenience store.

 

20170410_074006(0)
The path to school – one I walked hundreds of times, and every season it changed.

 

I miss the spring rain of cherry blossoms.

I miss the few friends I made there. I miss the things we said to each other every day.

Funny, how quickly all the problems shrink as they move past. Funny, how everything that seemed heinous seems laughable now. Funny. It’s not.

Korea from this moment looks like my regular life, the one I will return to when I wake up.

I wonder what Korea will look like when I realize I have woken up.

I wonder what Korea will look like ten years from now.

Korea, Korea, land that I miss.

Signature

Excerpts from my journal; August 2015

August

My biggest memory of arriving in Korea is of sweat. I wore a sweater thing on the plane because it was freezing, but I didn’t take it off when I went through the airport, and when I got outside I felt the hot air rush towards me and my sweater with steamy caresses. Bless you, Korean air.

My friend who teaches at my school met me, and we took the airport bus back to our apartment. We live on the same floor. We also live above a convenience store, which is…convenient. That was our dinner. I don’t know what would have happened if we went out. I might have passed out at the table.

The people have been very nice. When we were trying to get a taxi, after the first man refused us, for some odd reason, a guy came out of the McDonalds behind us and offered help. And our taxi driver who did take us was very friendly.

Today I went to Daiso to get some basics. A pillow, for one. I don’t fancy stuffing clothes into my pillowcases every night. Slippers, as well, and a trash can. No more leaving trash on the ground. I’m not a dirty college student anymore.

I won’t have internet for a month or so. It takes a long time to get the Alien Registration Card (ARC), and I can’t get phone or internet or a bank account until I get that one. They say the first month is the make or break. If you don’t go mad, you’ll be fine. I didn’t realize how much I used internet until I didn’t have it. However, I love that I don’t. It’s hard since that’s the only way I can contact family, but it’s giving me an opportunity to do other things I normally put off. Like writing, practicing ukulele, reading, and exercising. Most importantly, I can study Korean.

August

Today was the first day of school. It was really, really good. I didn’t have anything to do at first, so I followed my friend as she showed me the place and looked over the textbooks a bit. We have a new curriculum for Language Arts so all the teachers are trying to get used to it. They just finished camps so everyone, including me, is preparing at the same time.

In the afternoon we had two hours of CPR training with a certified instructor. He also talked to us about general heart health, which led straight to a sales pitch on L-alginine, some supposedly miracle drink that will clear up all your arteries. For only $400, you too can feel a few pounds lighter and have fat come out in your urine! Awesome.

August

Today we have the day off, since tomorrow is Independence day and otherwise we wouldn’t have a holiday. So I went to pick up my health check, all by myself, and then stopped at Home Plus and Daiso for a pot and skillet.

I’m very pleased I worked the buses and remembered where everything was all by myself. It wasn’t hard or scary and I’m beginning to feel like I live here. As opposed to what, I’m not sure. Visiting, I guess. It’s annoying not having a phone or anything but I can live without it for a while, I suppose.

August

Today is my birthday! It doesn’t feel like it. But I did get to Skype with mom and dad and the brother, so that was good. Seemed birthdayish. Actually, it was funny – I went out this morning in search of wifi, and found one outside a building, so I stopped there and checked messages and things. I was heading to the mall to see if they had some there, but I went down into the subway to use the bathroom and found some from Daiso, so I sat on the bench outside and called home. It was great. We spent a lot of time talking and they got to see the subway.

I stopped to get kimbap on the way home – enough for lunch and dinner. I need to go grocery shopping for real food again but until I can stock up on basics like spices and oils I don’t want to try cooking much.

I just did some cleaning. My friend said the girl who lived here before wasn’t clean, and I can tell. Mold by the door and grease all over the backsplash. Ugh.

Why does this kitchen view seem so familiar already? Why does it seem like this is the life I’ve always had? Time and my memories have condensed strangely, until I’ve always been living here, like this, waiting for school to start. My whole universe has been this desk, with that green tile wall in front of me, and Monday I open the door to another universe…