Swimming in the Sea of Japan

Dear Diary,

This weekend me and my friend Ann went to the beach. We rode on a bus all the way from Seoul!!! It took three-something hours. The bus had really comfortable seats with adjustable foot rests and a TV with really weird Korean game shows. It was called the Excellent Bus and it was Excellent!! We ate hot dogs on a stick. Korea is really green and beautiful and all the mountains were covered in misty clouds.

We went to a town on the East Sea called Suck-cho. I mean Sokcho. It didn’t really suck-cho. The monsoon suck-cho’ed. Everyone kept saying before Ann came “The Monsoon’s coming! THE MONSOON’S COMING!” and I was all, monsoon schmonsoon. It’s rain. What’s the big effing deal?

Well, Diary, I’ll tell you what the big effing deal is. When you only have one weekend to really go explore Korea while your friend is visiting, you kinda don’t want the monsoon to join you. You kinda want just one weekend of moderate sunlight to rest your feet in the Sea of Japan, soak in the lush green rice fields and smell the salty ocean air. Actually, all we were asking for, Diary, was A Few Hours of Dry. We got An Hour of Dry. Then the monsoon was all, “Hey guys! Wait up! I wanna go to the Sea of Japan, too!” and we were all “dude, did you tell him we were coming here because I totally thought we ditched him back in Seoul.”

We stayed in a hotel called H.O.T.E.L. Good Morning. Our room was quite nice, clean and airy, with a view of the ocean, a balcony and fancy mood lights that were controlled arbitrarily by a giant remote control. Being a short walk from Sokcho Beach, we deposited our belongings and directed ourselves to the shore. There we were treated like rock stars, everyone wanting to take their photos with us. Janelle would say it’s because of my earrings, but the honest truth is that it’s because of our Awesomeness.

Please, we take your picture? Now I know.

Saturday we liked. There was no rain. We stood in the wind on the edge of the Sea of Japan and just kept saying “We are standing on the edge of the Sea of Japan.” I mean, really, it’s just like any other sea, but it seems more exotic when it is something that has always seemed so far-off and distant. When you can look out on the horizon, watching ferries that are heading to Russia, imagining what is on the other side of this sea. Well, Japan, of course. But there are times when living on the other side of the world still just does not make any logical sense and you can feel its hugeness envelope you. You can taste the far-off, the distant.

On Saturday we dipped our hands into the sea and walked the shoreline, planning our great adventures for Sunday. On Saturday we drank beer and ate Twix bars and listened to Rufus Wainwright and read our books and fell asleep to the fireworks on the beach.

Now Diary, let’s be clear here. I don’t “hate” rain. In fact, in many ways I was actually quite looking forward to a little monsoon. The storms, the winds, the rains, the time of quiet reflection. The lightening of my social calendar as we all retreat to the dry safety of our teeny, tiny apartments. Yes, it would have been nice if Ann were able to see Korea in its glorious sunshine and green luscious mountains against cobalt skies. Sure. But we had even come to accept that a little rain must inconveniently fall on our beach weekend holiday.

A little rain must fall.

Not an incessant shower of cold, spraying, gusting rain that is like standing next to a Giant who is spraying cold spit on you every time he talks or breathes or exists. And he never shuts up or suffocates or dies. Rain like that.

We spent Sunday reading at the Nescafé Café across from our hotel which, despite its wretched Korean pop music and less than stellar beverage selection, did provide a lovely alternative to self-inflicted gunshot wounds or drowning ourselves in the Sea of Japan. Perhaps that seems a bit melodramatic, but if you were cold, wet and stuck in a Nescafé Café in Sokcho, South Korea with a useless beach at your side, you’d be contemplating your very existence as well. Because by Nescafé I mean NESCAFE® and by stuck I mean hungry.


We finally settled on cooking pasta at our hotel and never swimming in the Sea of Japan, and ventured out for one last miserable excursion to E-Mart. When we returned to the H.O.T.E.L. Good Morning, feeling deflated and on the verge of an existential crisis, I decided that, goddammit, I was going to lay down on that sand and let the water wash over me. I left Ann to her hot shower and ran down to the beach in the stormy quiet, past the soaking wet restaurants all lit-up and empty of patrons, past the Nescafé Café still blaring its bad music, onto the stillness of the shoreline and dark black of the night. I stripped down to my swimsuit and lay down at the water’s edge on the coarse, rough sand. The soft, foaming waves came pounding onto the sand and swept over me, the water as warm and velvet as the day before. The salt from my eyes dissolving into the salt of the East Sea, my skin more alive than in months and the release of every bitterness from my tongue.

This morning we returned to Seoul on the very first bus, filling our bellies with hot walnut cakes from a rest-stop along the highway. The bag the cakes came in reads “Take It Easy & Be Happy!” and this is one of the first times I think nothing has been lost in translation. Because Diary, when you ask me later how my trip to Sokcho was, I will say “It wasn’t what I expected.” The best things never are.

2 Responses to “Swimming in the Sea of Japan”

  1. Mathias says:

    I can’t stop laughing about this. Your writing is most excellent Steph. Sorry about that dang monsoon. I know how that feels like though. We had rain all day in northern australia. Good times.
    Now if I could get a piece of the walnut cake, I’ll be outta here.

  2. Julie C says:

    steph are you losing weight or what ? you look really thin ! must be all those hot dogs on sticks and boxes of o$r@e*o#s. maybe if I try eating hot dogs on sticks i’ll lose weight off my ever-plumpening arse.
    as always, loved the read.

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