autumn in Korea; biking by Paldang Dam

A walk in the park...

The beautiful park near the dam; definitely the best picture, which is probably why I put it on the homepage…

I realize my last couple of posts make it seem like I’m slipping into a melancholy and grey-tinted depression…and that’s not at all true. Sure, life is murky and strange these days (part of adjusting), but I’m not dour and weepy and quite as poetically philosophical as I sound.

On the contrary, 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.

PaldangDam2

The dam itself. Dam.

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.

Fallcolors

Lotus2

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

Restaurant

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.

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The off-roading; where we lugged our bikes up a very steep hill. The picture doesn’t do it justice.

 

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.

 

PeacefulRiver2

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.

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.

ReadyforKimchi

Cabbages getting ready for kimchi.

Floof

The floof. That’s what I named it.

PaldangDam

Tis me. I’m very happy.

otter.

I’m in Korea…

…at last. Actually I’ve been here over two weeks. But I’ve been so busy and so without internet that I haven’t had a moment to write. 

Where to begin? Dragonflies are everywhere, darting between pedestrians, over the river near my apartment, past the cyclists. The humidity shakes the air and makes it feel like the earth is sweating. I close my eyes and I can hear my students’ voices; after only a week their personalities are ingrained in my head. 

The walk to my school is variegated, like a patchwork quilt of different sights; a church with nuns in full habit, a Burger King/gas station, a seafood store with live fish in tanks, a construction site, gardens in the space between the sidewalk and fences…and my friend tells me that the trees I see are cherry trees. Spring is going to be something else.

For the second time in my life, I have moved around the world and not felt it. The hardest part is always the trip over. Asia itself doesn’t faze me. I was thrown in the deep end here, having only a day before starting work full time. Jump and swim. Now the walks to school, the stores, and stations seem familiar. I’m blessed to have a very good sense of direction. Now that I’m used to how my area looks, I can go to a place once and go again no problem. 

There is so much to say now, it’ll take weeks to tell it all. At least I won’t run out of material for a while.


The river near my apartment. It’s about a quarter mile walk. The water is so shallow you can see the backs of the fish swimming. 

  
  

On the way to my apartment. Paris Baguette of course. It’s as common as Starbucks, and contrary to the sign on the door, does not open at seven. 

Until next time,

otter. 
 

Taiwan–looking back, again

taiwanstreet

Typical Taiwanese street. How I miss you, Family Mart.

~TB to a year ago when I was remembering a year ago…~ This is so important now that I have three weeks until I move.

It’s been nearly a year since I moved back home from Taiwan. CRAZY. Most of the time I forget I was ever there, and when I try to dredge up the memories, they have some dream-like quality to them.

It’s insane to imagine that the me that’s sitting here in my hoodie and gym shorts was once running all over Taiwan with no guides, using the Metro like a pro, buying fruit milk from market vendors and biking with mountains behind me. Cuh-razy.

I miss that girl. I do. She was adventurous and spoke Chinese with ten year olds. She had to make big life decisions and work a real job. She was pretty cool. And then she got home and re-discovered Netflix and junk food and sitting at home all day. For shame.

I need the kick in the pants that my Taiwan memories give me. I need to close my eyes and smell the chocolate mocha drinks, feel the humidity and sweat, feel the rough spongy turf the kids played on, see my co-workers beckoning me, laughing at obscure Chinese jokes, and feel the burn in my legs after a lightning fast late night trip to 7-11 to get my favorite spicy chips and passion fruit juice.

It was probably the best year of my life so far, and I miss it like crazy. Sure, there were some bad times, but man was it ever awesome.

So what’s the point of all this reminiscing, you ask? Aside from sparking my memory troves, recalling who I was and what I did a year ago are really helpful. I get kind of freaked out by my future these days, what with it being all impending…only a year away…(breathe in, breathe out)…

In Taiwan, I was a fully functioning independent adult who made hard choices and survived through some tough stuff. I lived. I thrived. I learned a lot. I can do it again.

I can travel and make new friends and fit into a totally different kind of life. And in Korea, I’ll have some advantages. I’ll be living there long-term, so there’s a lot of incentive to learn the language. I’ve also already started, and I can read Korean. That’s huge. I can pronounce street names and bus stops! Huzzah! I’ll actually like the native food. I’ll be living on my own and won’t need to deal with team-life stress. I will most likely have air conditioning. There will be snow at some point. And I’ll be getting paid a lot more.

Huzzah again. Huzzah a million times, because I lived in Taiwan and rocked it, and I can rock Korea!

otter.

P.S. since it’s been a year. So I was freaking out a year ago about moving in a year, huh? Pretty weird that it’s less than a month away and I’m not freaking out. I guess another year of knowing the fact gets you reconciled. How bout that. I had forgotten how awesome I was in Taiwan though. I mean, I really didn’t have many problems there. Thanks, past self, for being awesome! You’re helping future self in ways you can’t imagine! Muah.