It’s monsoon season. Humid as a witch’s armpit, with rain that could sink a thousand Titanics sporadically occurring on the daily. Sunny days here are overcast to other countries; you’re lucky to see the sun’s yellow silhouette in the sky behind the blanket of altostratus clouds before they turn cumulonimbus for the storm. Good luck seeing more than three stars at night if you’re living in a city of three million.
But South Korea is not all about the weather, though the weather has a way of affecting everything you do in this country.
It’s also about the food and the people and the experiences. It’s about getting drunk with Koreans over BBQ and spicy Japanese seafood soup. It’s about refilling transit cards and cool subway rides and renting bikes on the weekend. It’s about powdered ice coffee and Dutch coffee and pronouncing coffee like “copy.” It’s about high speed rail and exchange rates and cheaper, healthier diets. It’s about being an ambassador for your country. It’s about language and miscommunication and dialogue breakthroughs. It’s about customs you can’t get used to but knowing they’re not your customs to judge. It’s about not resisting and open-mindedness and learning as much as you teach. It’s about traveling not only to test your mind and soul, but to feel accomplished that in your lifetime you left the bubble of your mother country and took a risk across borders, not to vacation but to live.
In my one month in Korea and my four months in Turkey, I have missed my home but I have made the world my home. I have accepted its invitation to see all that it offers its human guests, explored the rooms of its expansive, elegant mansion, seen its sunsets in faraway places and found overall that people aren’t so different. We strive for similar outcomes. We are but mortals.
On the personal, I am a little under the halfway point of my time in Daegu with Jenny, aiming to return to Sacramento on the 19th of August. After that, it’s back to school for me. I will cherish my time abroad forever and in ways I can’t fathom now, but look forward to catching the tail end of a California summer. We make and change and change again our plans for the future. We imagine cozy lofts and barbecues and front porch talks. We think of gardens and foods we miss and places we still want to go. We have it in our head to align ourselves toward San Francisco, to live there and fulfill the dream of every young person in Northern California. We have it in our head to circle the globe and stop in all the topical paradises, to comb all the beautiful beaches, and take walks at night in the most romantic places. For some reason we are fascinated by the idea of spending time in South America so I better start brushing up on my Spanish.
Life rarely unfolds the way you expect. Even at 25 years old I’ve seen my fair share of curve balls. So we know this. We have our high hopes and realistic expectations. We just want to be happily successful and feel the fulfillment of a life lived to its maximum potential.
So despite the weather, which you get used to. Despite the exchange rate, which is not in our favor. Despite the sometimes suffocating urban sprawl, which blocks your view of the mountains… I really like it here in South Korea. I will spend the second half of my summer making memories, exploring with Jenny, and making sure I leave this rice and kimchi loving country on a good note.
Besides those clusters of bugs that like to hover in clouds at face-height, waiting like krill to be swallowed by our unsuspecting whale mouths, the bike ride to Suseong Land was rather magical.
It starts like many things do in Daegu, with a lazy morning, which is followed by an attempt at socializing with the outside world, which, like many plans do in Daegu, changes according to the weather. It’s goddamn gorgeous today (Saturday) and despite some inconvenient backtracking from the baking store and a few additional swipes of our transit card, Jenny and I are eventually renting free bikes from the Dongdaegu Subway Station and tearing through the city on two wheels.
The last time I rode a bike was in Istanbul on the biggest of the Princes’ Islands, where my biggest competition on the road was a horse carriage. Here, we’re sticking to the sidewalks because the street would be suicide. The bikes are better quality than you’d expect from a free service in a city of three million, which means they’re not being utilized enough, which is a shame. Maybe Jenny’s bike sounds like an old witch hacking up a lung when she changes gears, but otherwise they roll along just fine and brake on command. We spend most of the time on a smooth trail along the Sincheon River, anyway, so it’s not like we need any fancy all-terrain functions.
What made the ride so magical is tough to pinpoint. The weather was ideal—mid-afternoon comedown, with a breeze to battle the waning humidity. People were out and about, celebrating the sunny weekend after a gloomy week, riding bikes, having picnics, taking strolls, racing remote-control cars, exercising, eating ice cream, walking dogs and meeting up with friends. On the ride out, we saw a band setting up equipment on a cement stage on the river’s edge, and on the ride back, we heard them playing to a crowd of fans. We passed a dance party. We crossed the river on a stone path with the water flowing between the stepping blocks and fish trying to leap upstream. At Suseong Land, we rode through the amusements and saw all the families and locals waiting in line for rides and carnival games. We stopped at the lake to watch the swan boats dance in erratic loops along the shore with families peddling inside, then drank our beers and ate our kimbaps before hopping back on the bikes to head home as the sun set behind us. On the way back, we passed some of Jenny’s friends who stopped and chatted with us and made plans for a get-together this weekend.
It was nice to be mobile. The river, as manmade as it is, still has charm and brings an assortment of color and life to the otherwise cement-and-glass feeling of Daegu. Plus the bikes were free to rent, so you can’t lose, and if you’re ever in Daegu without a plan on a Saturday, this one comes highly recommended.