Friday, October 22, 2010

Korea - Chusok and storms

September 23 - Chusok and storms The day before Chusok I took the subway down to Home Plus to do some shopping. I had just been to EMart the day before and loaded up on supplies, but couldn’t carry everything that I needed, thus the additional shopping trip. I enjoy shopping here, even though it can be confusing, because it is so interesting to see what delicious treats I can find. It is also sometimes a surprise to realize that what I thought I purchased turns out to be something quite different! I got some persimmons, a seasonal specialty, some yellow kiwi fruit among other things, and some delicious jiaozi. Of course I didn’t know how good it was until I came home and prepared them. I am also a big fan of red bean bao which I probably overindulge in. I was curious to see how many people were doing last minute shopping for Chusok, a harvest festival which includes visiting families and honoring ancestors. I was told that it is the biggest holiday in Korea. The morning was quiet, perhaps a bit more so than normal. I was told by a Korean woman that all of the women are busy cooking for a couple of days before the holiday. I did see some women who carried packages wrapped furoshiki style in sheer fabric of pink or yellow. These gifts come in gift boxes and can be any sort of fruit including boxes that contained three large cantaloupe-looking melons. In the stores there were candied persimmons, assorted toiletries, seaweed, tuna and so just about anything that an enterprising company will assemble into large gift boxes. That afternoon Ruby and I took a walk and it was cool and sprinkling outside. A few people were out walking or biking but most noticeable was how quiet it was. But, as time passed more and more older people showed up on the walking paths. This was quite a contrast to Saturday, a few days before, when many school children were visiting the river parks with their classes. The excitement of being free from school and anticipation of the holiday charged the kids with energy. Yesterday was Chusok. Again, it was noticeably quiet. No wonder, since from my apartment I could see the highway and freeway clogged with traffic that was moving at a crawl. Part of the tradition of this holiday is to go home to one’s parents home, which here means the husband’s parents. Nowadays though the young couple will stop by her parents home after having spent the appropriate amount of time at her in-laws. When I went to take Ruby to the river for our walk I realized that it was raining lightly so we returned back to the 23rd floor to retrieve my umbrella. Since the rain was light I chose my small umbrella over the more unwieldily large one. By the time I crossed the street, pushing Ruby in her stroller, the rain had stopped, but on the corner near the river I found myself standing, while waiting for the light to change, in a cloud of golden dragonflies. They were almost swarming around my head, but in graceful lazy arcs. I have often observed them by the river but have never been ‘visited’ by them before. By the time the light changed and I crossed the street the rain was falling steadily. I hated to give up our walk so I forged ahead. I noticed that some ginkgo fruit had fallen on the sidewalk. I like to gather things on my walks to put in my apartment. It is a way of bringing life and nature to my home. There were very few people out, mostly westerners and the rain would come and go in squalls. Eventually the rain really started to fall. I was astonished at how quickly Ruby and I were soaked. Her stroller was wet, and she was wet. Water was trickling down my legs and into my shoes because it was raining hard by then. When I came into my apartment we dried off, laid the clothing on the drying rack to dry, and watched the rain come down. The sky was very grey and the rain was falling harder and harder. Since I had been in a cleaning mood, which has become rather rare for me, I decided to try my luck at the exterior windows, which are dressed in a pretty thick layer of grit and grime. By standing on my couch and reaching out of the high window as far as I could I was able to make a number of great swipes across a rather large part of the window. It a very short time I realized that I ran the risk of the open window that I was leaning out of slamming hard against my arm since the wind was picking up. That’s when the lightning began! I decided that would be a definite signal to close the window and give up the window cleaning. Within moments the lightning was cracking over and over, and seemed to be just overhead. It was so strong that the metal fillings in my teeth started to feel strange! In only moments there was a wall of water falling and the visibility was zero. I couldn’t see past my window because the grayness and rain was so dense. I knew that there was a typhoon again in Taiwan, but didn’t expect to be on the edge of it as we had been a couple of weeks before. I was busy so didn’t worry about the storm, although I was quite happy that I didn’t lose power. This morning Ruby and I headed out for our walk and it wasn’t until I got to the river that I realized that the heavy rains and wind had really caused significant damage to the area. The typhoon a few weeks ago caused a large number of trees to fall down, and a number of signs to fall off of the walls of buildings, but this was different. There were some areas that looked like someone had been digging the sod up in the park next to the river, but I later realized that it was a combination of the water and the force that was behind it that caused the damage. Flooding water had come up the far side of the river and with it came debris, and the tearing of many grasses that were stuck in masses in fences, and the netting around the golf area. The force had even removed metal railings and even asphalt in a number of areas. I remarked how easily the pigeons adjusted to the mashed down grasses on the side of the river. I actually think that it made it easier for them to get the grain that they enjoyed eating. As I was watching them placidly eating I noticed how varied the pigeons are here. Some were grey while other were white, or black. Some had a green iridescent coloring, while some had auburn streaks. The combinations of black and white, and grey markings was really lovely to look at. I tried to see patterns in the coloring among birds, but each looked unique, like fingerprints. The magpies seemed unfazed, and were going about business as usual. The water was too brown and still moving too quickly to see any carp. The absence of the egrets was most evident. I didn’t see one. I must say though that I only saw two ducks and normally there are quite a few. I wonder if they were hiding out until thing calmed down a bit. It was strange to see the debris everywhere, decorated by the effluvia from our daily lives. One area was dotted with chunks of styrofoam, while a sliced pineapple top was resting in the matted grasses. Up on one of the railings that was still standing, packed with broken grasses was a single small glass bottle, resting right on the top. It was so precarious that I thought it was interesting that it stayed thought all of the rain and wind. Behind another clot of grasses I saw a single fish, dead and resting on its side. It was about six inches in length, and I couldn’t identify it. I marveled that there weren’t more fish that had washed up into the park. This is the first time I have ever lived so close to a river, and have enjoyed it everyday. I am astounded in the changes that I have seen there in less than two months. Sometimes the river water is clear, sparkling and one can see the river bed due to its clarity. After the last storm it looked slick and shiny, almost oily due to the strange light. Today it was swift and brown. I have looked forward to my walks on the river. As the days darken earlier and earlier I judge how far and how long I can walk in the darkness, lit by old fashioned looking globes of light. The very grasses have become dear to me. I was sad that the wildflowers seemed to have vanished, but curious about all of the sand that was swept to the shore. The air was cooler today than any day since I arrived, barely two months ago. I had to wear a jacket to stay warm. As I pushed Ruby back to our apartment I smelled a bit of bitterness and decay in the air, that seems to accompany autumn, as I walked under pines and birch trees. At the base of the ginkgo trees were their yellow fruits scattered on the sidewalks. As I walked across the carpet that they provided a lovely crunching sound accompanied my footfalls. This is my new home. It is a place that feels calm, even during the storms. The people who I meet are friendly and curious. For the first time since being here, today when I came in my door it felt like home.


  1. Wonderful post, Heidi! Your beautiful description of the rain and the storm and the birds and the streets after the rain made me feel that I was there. The pictures that you have posted from the drum festival are quite beautiful and interesting! Looking forward to reading your further impressions on Korea :)

  2. Wonderful! I have been looking for your pictures on the internet, even the other KIS teachers.
    I am Brian Kim. One of your library students. I am looking forward to more of your pictures. Good luck on your trips!