Bittersweet

I’ll admit it. I’ve been bitter. I was overly optimistic when I returned from Singapore and stood outside Incheon Aiport in only my wool sweater; when I returned to my sunny apartment and found no reason to turn on the heat. As someone who gets cold at 20ºC, this was a marvelous revelation: Spring has arrived! I have successfully outsmarted winter and its wicked ways!

Then it snowed. And I plummeted into a cavern of despair, certain that my life may indeed end. Certain that there has never been spring and quite certain that if there has, it will never come again. As if there are no warm places on earth. As if I am trapped in Korea for all of eternity.

It’s difficult to admit it, but Korea and I haven’t exactly been getting along lately; something which goes back to last summer and Tokyo Ruining Everything. As my friend Lisa said, “That wasn’t really fair of Tokyo, was it?” No, it was not. But my mind has been actively courting other locales for some time now. Locales with more summer, less spitting and more English. We’re in the interview stage. I’m collecting resumés. “Tell me, Vancouver, just how rainy are your winters? You present a solid case and I think you’d be a great part of the team, but what can you offer me that Melbourne can’t? And have you considered the competition coming from coastal Japan?”

Deep down we still like each other, Korea and me. But when something goes wrong, it’s usually Korea’s fault. Like when it snows or doesn’t take out the trash. When something smells bad or coughs up its phlegm right next to me or demands something be done in an unreasonably short amount of time, more often than not it’s Korea’s fault.

Yesterday I sat in a frigid government office watching powerpoint presentations, praying for blood to return to my fingers and toes. I tried to buy bread that was decoration and not for sale. I waited for 30 minutes for a bus and was walked into or pushed out of the way seven to eight times. I got lost in a building and could not ask for directions to reset my course. All Korea’s fault. All the things that at first were really wonderful challenges, but have grown exhausting on an everyday basis. Vancouver, for all its rain, looked really, really good.

But late that night, after dinner with friends, I hopped out of the taxi into the very busy intersection near my apartment and the air was not quite so cold anymore. The small plaza outside the new subway exit was bustling with food stalls serving up hot ddeokbokki, fish cake and fried sweet potato. A small truck was brightly lit and crowded by women. As I got closer, I saw he was selling potted plants for $2. Spring, you did arrive.

I walked home with my two new plants — passing the trucks selling bunches of bananas for $1, the woman selling socks and leggings for a song, the man selling the last of the season’s oranges — and I knew I had better soak all this up. Right here, right now. Because when that day comes, and I am packing up for the last time, there is no amount of English in the world that will make up for all these little treasures that make this place so special. Warts and all.

Except for the phlegm. I’ll pass on that.

12 Responses to “Bittersweet”

  1. Astrid says:

    This made me smile.

  2. amydawnrose says:

    oh, i remember that phlegm so well from my brief teaching stint. except i had a korean roommate, and the phlegm found itself on the floor of our lovely bathroom… but oh how i miss yut and walnut cookies and even the coffee from vending machines:)

  3. ash says:

    have you met melbourne? I’m pretty sure the pair of you would be the best of friends.

  4. tauri says:

    Yeah, soak it up while you can. This relationship will end, as they all do. And you’ll move on to make new friends, explore new streets, develop new tastes. But one day you’ll be enjoying Vancouver’s parks or Melbourne’s alleys and restaurants, and you’ll see some neon hangul or maybe hear a snippet of conversation, young tourists laughing together in 반말. And you’ll think back to Korea and all the time you guys spent together. And you won’t remember the phelgm, the cold, the sharp-elbowed ajumma or the winter greys, but you’ll remember Sunday afternoons with friends and cameras exploring the city, sunny mornings in your apartment, glorious colors in the autumn leaves, red wine and cafes with YD…

    This relationship will end, and maybe you guys weren’t meant to be. But where ever your next relationship takes you, I’m sure you and Korea will stay friends.

  5. Rach says:

    Vancity has been having deliciously wonderful winters as of late….

    …just saying =)

  6. joisle says:

    R u speaking of Melbourne, Australia?

    It’s crap weather here. Just a week ago, I got a migraine from the heat in the afternoon and suddenly it started hailing. The next thing I know, the outdoors was covering with what looked like a layer of snow. It was pretty but ridiculous at the same time.

  7. krakatoa says:

    (the plant in front is likely an Echeveria harmsii)

  8. hiki says:

    Yes Melbourne will make a wonderful mate.
    We had our ups and downs but overall we were really good friends.
    Tokyo has it all but maybe too much, still I’m looking forward to your coming back i love hearing your story about Seoul! Stay warm and enjoy the early spring season!

  9. BF says:

    oh man, how true this sentiment is.
    (also, i bought potted plants last weekend too, in hopes of welcoming spring to london. it seems to have worked, for now.)

  10. Arliss says:

    Rach is right – Vancouver did get off pretty easy this year. We pretty much went straight from Fall to Spring. So, 2010, darlin’, would have been your year, weather-wise.

    BUT…

    …there have been years where it’s rained every day in a March. Last June was beautiful, but June 2008 was cold and rainy. So just sayin’. After I moved back to Vancouver from Seoul I was initially very grateful for the change, but soon wished there was a Millenium Falcon-fast Vancouver Seoul subway line….

  11. claire says:

    vancouver leaves me cold and wet.

    it took about a year, but melbourne stole my heart.

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