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.