No One Knows What Tomorrow May Bring

On my flight home, I read this poem in my Korea Air in-flight magazine. As someone who knew it was time to leave Korea, even though my heart wanted me to stay, this poem really moved me.

When To Go
by Chung Dong-muk

The green so glorious
For two seasons,
Knows when to leave,
When it's time to go.
But you, old tree,
With your sturdy roots,
You know for sure,
You are in the right place,
And I in mine.
No one knows what tomorrow may bring.
Everyone in their place.

Yeouido's Cherry Blossom Streets

While Japan gets all the attention, Korea does have its own amazing display of cherry blossoms to boast about. Yeouido is the best place in Seoul to see the blossoms in bloom. A 7-km long street on the small island is lined with over a thousand cherry blossom trees---and today the sidewalks were filled with millions of Seoulites trying to get a picture of the delicate white blossoms before they fall to the ground like snowflakes.

I biked the five kilometers from my apartment before taking a brief stroll under the trees. If you could get keep your head above the crowds, it was a beautiful sight. After a short walk around Yeouido, I headed back home, where the path from my apartment to the Han River has a few beautiful cherry blossom trees of its own with none of the crowd. We only have a few more days to enjoy the snow-like petals before they melt away.

"Fighting!" to Run

It has been a busy few days for me as I ran not one, but two 10K races this weekend. Running is new for me; it's something I've just picked up since being here. I did my first 10K was in mid-May. As it was my first race, I was told just to finish, just concentrate on running every step, and not worry about the timing. No, I wasn't anywhere near the front of the pack, but I did manage to run the whole thing.

The run started at World Cup Stadium and ventured off along the river. It rained a little bit---just enough to cool us down, but not enough to make the trail slippery or make it uncomfortable. At first, we were all running as a big group; it was hard to find space for my feet. But it was exciting to be racing a clock, actually running for a purpose instead of just to move somewhere. After a while, when the real runners found their way to the front as us amateurs slowed down, there was finally some room for all of us.

Running along the river trail was beautiful. The Han River is a view that I will never get tired of. I live really close to the river, so I did all of my training runs on the trail near my house. I discovered that running from my apartment to the 63 Building in Yeouido is about 10 kilometres (well, it is according to my caveman-basic calculations, anyways), so I run there and back for my weekly runs.

This amazing view of the river reflecting all these lights just opened up in front of me all at once.

I remember one of my first runs, when I was running towards the river under a bunch of overpasses and I just stepped onto the river trail, and suddenly the view of the river opened up to me. It was late, maybe 10 o'clock, and so the sky was dark but the tall apartment buildings across the river were full of light. So this amazing view of the river reflecting all these lights just opened up all at once. I actually gasped out loud---a full, deep intake of air, and then a "Wow." That was then followed by some quick sideways glances to make sure no one heard me. It was just that beautiful, I couldn't help it.

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And so I was running along the river once again. I was running to the sound of my feet hitting the pacement, counting each kilometre marker as it went by: 1, 2, 3...that went by quickly...4, 5...halfway done...6, 7, 8...almost there...

I was trying to find the ninth kilometre marker when I first saw the spectators. They were standing along the edge, pumping their fists in the air and shouting something like "Whiting!"  or "Piting!" The people kept coming, more and more were standing at the sidelines cheering, "Piting!" to everyone running by. Even though I wasn't sure what they were saying, it pumped me up and I kept going, now with a smile on my face. Then I turned a corner and there, suddenly, was the finish line. With a quick burst of energy and a few dozen "Piting!"s, I crossed the line.

It wasn't until later that I found out the crowd was yelling, "Fighting!" (pa-ee-ting or hwa-ee-ting, in Korean)---the Konglish expression for encouragement. It doesn't really have a direct translation, but it's meant to be like "You can do it!" or "Go for it!" or "Don't give up!"

It's come to be something I look forward to when I race; I know that I must be nearing the end when I hear it, and it gives me that one last burst of energy I need to cross the line. It's what I needed to hear this morning, as I was nearing the finish line at Olympic Stadium. "Keep going!" they said. "Don't slow down, just keep fighting!"

And I crossed the line with my best time yet.

Springtime in Korea

Just as I'm reading news that Ontarians are experiencing one of the snowiest winters on record and bracing for yet another huge snowstorm, I'm celebrating the arrival of spring here in Korea.

It happened suddenly and unexpectedly: I went to bed all cozy under my blankets and woke up the next morning to bright sunshine and temperatures rising into the teens. And amazingly, it's stayed that way for weeks. I swear the birds are chirping so loud, I feel like I'm in a Disney movie.

Teaching at Winter English Camp

After Vietnam and after Thailand, it's now back to Korean winter. Coming from Canada, they aren't so bad. Cold, sure, but I didn't even have a pair of gloves until I received a pair this week as a birthday present. My boots and warm winter coat are enough to keep me warm on my way to and from work.

Regular classes may be finished for a seven-week vacation, but there's still plenty of work to be done as a "special" teacher at my school. After returing from my Lunar New Year break in Thailand, I'm now halfway through my six-week winter camp English classes. In these camp classes, I teach two small groups of students and one class of teachers.

I didn't realize so many teachers spoke some English; they were always too shy to speak to me in the past. But now I'm getting a chance to get to know them better and we're having a lot of fun. They're hilarious when it comes to role-plays. We always leave that class laughing.

students hard at work

students hard at work

As for the students, these classes of just four to six students offer a chance for the girls to receive much closer attention and I'm noticing huge improvements in their English already. We play games and chat for a couple hours, reviewing troubling grammar and practicing our conversation skills. Every time it snows, we all get excited and turn our attention to the window for a few minutes to watch it fall gently onto the trees and buildings around the school, sprinkling everything in a soft blanket of white dust.

It rarely snows here, and when it does, it never stays on the ground past noon. It could be snowing on my way to work early in the morning, but when I leave in the afternoon, there is no trace of it left. The lack of snow is disheartening for a Canadian like myself who is used to wadding through piles of soft white powder or splashing through mushy grey slush. Here, I need to stop and pause every time the snow falls, or I miss my chance to see it for weeks.

First Snow

The first snow. It's an important event every year on my calendar. It feels a little early; I feel like it was just last weekend I was admiring the explosion of colour on the trees. But, here it is. Winter. It made itself known with not just snow, but also rain and a thunderstorm. Now all I need is to warm myself up with a cup of hot chocolate, or hot choco as it's known here, and get cozy under my blanket.

How to Use an Umbrella in Seoul

Rainy season in Seoul is an adventure. From June to September, don’t leave home without an umbrella in your purse or bag, as heavy rains can erupt at any time. The maze of umbrellas on the sidewalks is a beautiful, colourful scene. But walking through them is a potentially dangerous task. You have to be attentive to your own umbrella’s whereabouts, as well as the whereabouts of the thousands of other umbrellas around you. For your safety and the safety of others, there are two good umbrella manoeuvres that can help keep the sidewalks injury-free during the rainy season: The Lift and The Tilt.

The Tilt is a popular technique because it’s simple and quick. A tilted umbrella takes up less space, creating a bigger path for a person to pass. Also, the pointy tips of the umbrella are further away from people’s faces, so there’s less potential for an accidental poking.

The Lift is my preferred method, simply because I’m in the taller half of the population. I just lift my umbrella above all the umbrellas around me, thus space is created yet I’m still fully covered by my umbrella. It works well if you’re one of the taller ones in the bunch because you don’t have to lift the umbrella very high. This method is not widely used, which is a good thing. Overuse will significantly lower its success rate.

But now it’s autumnmost Koreans favourite season. The skies are blue, the temperature is moderate, the leaves are colourful. I still carry my umbrella in my purse every day, just in case, but it’s rarely used. On my walks these days, I’m admiring the golden yellow and fiery red leaves on the trees all around me instead of watching for a wayward umbrella. Sometimes I miss the chaos of the rain, but I prefer the serenity of a sunny autumn day.