Written two weeks ago-edited today at the airport. All things still true.
Even when I'm in Canada all I can do is talk about Korea, about Hong Kong, about Beijing...about Georgia the country and hitchhiking in Kyrgyzstan. (it was hard coming "home" and not feeling connected to the people as I walk around the city, my city that I've known for so long. People don't smile and say Hello, people don't offer lifts to where you need to go, or tea on the side of the road. Call me crazy but I think we need to bring that back...especially in these dark times, am I right?)
Today, while eating Thai fried rice at a restaurant on one of my favourite streets in the city with one of my most favourite people in the world (a place where there's an African market next to Korean food, then Chinese food across from Montreal's older diners) I started telling them about the four seasons in Korea. Yes, the south part of Asia is hot most the time. Places like Korea, Japan, and the northern part of China have the change of seasons just like in Montreal, Toronto, New York City. They even get snow, but maybe not as much as in North America. It was nice to live in a country and wander through places for a while that was completely different in a lot of ways, but then the change of the seasons was a pattern I've lived with my entire life. Fall breezes. Summer sweats. That cold January night when only a handful of things can keep you warm. The thing about Korea is that the best seasons are long and a little delayed in my opinion; sometimes a little lazy but well received anyways. I like seeing flowers still in bloom at the beginning of October, and hints of spring by the beginning of March.
A part of me will always be Korean when I do things like wake up on a Sunday and want to go for a hike. Or as I wander the streets ranting about how there are no 24-hour convenience stores. And WHY AREN'T THERE SUPER ADORABLE CAFES ALL OVER THE PLACE?! We're spoiled a little, in Korea.
My first trip to Seoul, one of the biggest metropolises in the world and the capital city of Korea (South part!) I walked around the city not quite getting it. The bright lights, garbage and endless bars (from the back of an old van, to a little coffee kiosk, to a three-floor club) overwhelmed me and I got caught up in the excessiveness of it all. I looked at the city with a critical eye. Then it turned Sunday and I took the bullet train back to my little beach city of Busan, where I had a comfortable job and a studio apartment. I finally returned months later, my body finally adjusted to Korea time and my spirits a little higher. My best friend and I wandered through the neighbourhood of Hyehwa in the north east part of the city on a chilled Friday in November, searching for our hostel. It was next to a chicken restaurant-like many things are in Korea. If y'all haven't tried Korean fried chicken yet, go do it. Do it now. Keep reading later.
It was wonderful, wasn't it?
Maybe it was because I was too overwhelmed when I first moved to Korea and I needed time to settle in the country. I have a different relationship with that country than I do with a country like China, where the chaos on the streets and openness of the people make me feel at home. Korea is a country that shows it's light when you least expect it.
Just like in relationships. Just like in love. And sometimes it's too late (but not all the time).
This particular Saturday morning, my second trip to Seoul was one of the sunniest November mornings that I can remember. We walked around the neighbourhood and around the Uni campus with the pathway lined with Korean maple trees. The leaves were smaller than a typical Canadian maple but so much brighter. Everything was painted a bright, bold red. I was living in a country where my favourite season stretches an extra month, until wintertime, even during what's usually the grimmest of months.
November in Korea is also the month to make kimchi. You'll know it because outside of most local marts there will be carts of giant cabbage, just ready to be marinated, fermented and made into the country's national dish/pass time. And you can't pass those marts without walking by endless rows of persimmon-delcious and juicy and ready to be made into a tea. Pink rubber gloves will be on sale (the yellow ones don't work because they'd stain yellow ones with all the chilli paste) and people will be carting giant plastic containers of the stuff on the subway, on their way home to refrigerate the stuff for a few months. The ritual of making kimchi, like many things in Korea, are done with friends and family. What fun is it to do it alone?
Usually the first or second week of December is when people take their last hike of the season. Jangsan, Seoraksan, (san means "mountain") Jirisan and Seoul's Bukhansan are some of the country's highlights, when locals boast about how particularly beautiful it is when the leaves have changed colour. A Sunday spent walking up the mountains and getting some fresh air that the concrete jungle below can't really provide-talking to friends, co-workers, strangers, a few hilarious exchanges with the ajummas and ajoshis along the way (usually involving those stretching machines or one of the random hula-hoops found on the ground) are one of the reasons people stay in Korea. Not to mention the food (one restaurant and lots of makoli) that's always to be had once you reach the peak.
This fall when I felt the air turn crisp and the smell of fall approaching, I started to second guess where I was. Is this what Canada smelled like? Is it supposed to be this warm in October? Who wants to go for a walk with me? How does Mont-Royal sound? How many yellow leaves can I jump in with the kids at work during their (and my) playtime? When you feel those seasons changing you either need to move, or find yourself a partner...or at least someone to hike with up those mountains when September ends way too quickly, and then plan how to hibernate for the winter.