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.

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perspectives

There’s this particular curve in the highway on the way to my apartment. Texas is really flat, but from this curve you can see across the landscape and off into the distant horizon. This evening, as I was cresting the curve, I looked at that horizon – it was misty and hard to see because the sun was going down beyond it. It looked like a bad Instagram filter. Darned hipsters.

It was so beautiful to me, and that thought stopped me (not literally – I was on a highway going 70 – dangerous). Why was it so beautiful to me? I love beautiful views, and for all intents and purposes, it was not a particularly beautiful scene. A lot of houses in suburban squares, roads, some shopping complexes; just typical Texas. Thanks to my lightning fast deduction skills, I decided the reason it was so beautiful to me was because it was familiar, and that familiar things are beautiful because they are peaceful. Beautiful new things are also beautiful, but they are beautiful because they are new and shocking to the eyes, which try to take in every new thing and make sense of it and tend to leave the brain reeling a bit.

But the eyes love familiar things because they can rest on them, skip over the unimportant details and just sit there without freaking out. Bless my eyes. Texas will always be beautiful, in that regard, because it will be peaceful, even though, at the same time, it bores me to frustration.

Korea will be beautiful but shocking for a while. I will crave that familiarity. I think that’s why there’s so much power in bringing things from home to look at. Even the smallest bit of our old life gives the eyes a stopping point. A period at which to pause and breathe (eyes don’t breathe, silly).

I was also thinking about the height of Texas. Not elevation or anything, but just the average height of buildings. I know Asia in general has taller buildings because they have to cram stuff into a much smaller space. Of course America has lots of tall buildings, but they tend to cluster in awkward cliques called big cities and don’t let smaller buildings around since all of them would end up feeling a bit self-conscious. You feel big, at least in Texas. I feel rather tall and important as I whiz by three and four story buildings squatting modestly among the roads.

I didn’t get this impression in Taiwan, but I think in Korea I will feel a lot shorter and more apologetic to my surroundings. I will feel more like the mouse scuttling among table legs than the stately…whatever stately animal, deer, I guess, galloping in America. Maybe there’s a metaphor here about perspectives in Korea vs America, and philosophy and the value of independence vs fitting in and so and so forth. Maybe I shouldn’t look for the metaphor. Nasty, slippery things.

otter.