As I continue uploading my old blogs, this one still rings true.  Unlike at home, where I simultaneously love fall and dread the season to follow, autumn is simply my favorite season in Korea.  Currently, we are jumping into our third and final fall season here, and I can thoroughly enjoy it without worrying about what’s to come because the winters are so mild.  The temperature drops ever so gradually while the sun shines everyday.  I’m so thankful to be adoring it one last time.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Given that I haven’t posted to my blog in awhile, I had a few ideas floating in my head all ready to go.  Most were actually of the criticism variety, the downside of living over here.  Hey, it can’t be all rainbows and lollipops everyday.  And trust me, I will get to that.  Oh, I have plenty to say.  But this week, I had an experience that was so uniquely Korean that brought me in a much needed way back to the reality of why I’m here at this exact moment in time.

With my plane ticket home already purchased for the holidays, I’ve been doing a bit of living in the future.  Picturing family and friends all gathered around the fire, the Christmas tree, the array of foods I haven’t eaten in a year.  My dog jumping through a mountain of Chardon snow.  Walking the streets of Chicago again.  But in the meantime, I haven’t been fully appreciating the present, autumn in Korea, the first fall I’ve experienced outside the U.S. or Canada.  Until Tuesday.

Every week, I hang out with a group of Korean friends.  We’re an odd bunch of different ages and backgrounds who share language and culture over tea or lunch or some outdoor activity.  On Tuesday, my friend “Jennifer” came to pick me up.  I had forgotten we were going to a mountain and hopped in the car with my brand new outfit that I knew the always impeccably dressed Jennifer would approve of.  But for the first time in a year, I noticed I was overdressed compared to her.  She delicately informed me that I had forgotten our plans.  “I have mountainwear,” she said.  “Are you wearing new shoes?”  That was her way of saying to go change and lose the heels.

I ran inside, quickly changed, and popped back in the car yelling “Mountainwear!”  And we were off.  We met two other friends and took a drive through the Korean countryside, listening to K-Pop the entire way.  We arrived at Tasan, both the name of the mountain and the Korean scholar who lived there in exile during the nineteenth century.  There were a handful of other people there, all walking reverently through the woods.  We walked up the “stairs” created by years of trees rooting themselves into the ground up to the places where Tasan lived and wrote.  As we sat in a pavilion with our coffee and cookies, I finally felt it.  It was peaceful and quiet, the sun was shining over the mountains and water, the air was crisp, and the leaves were changing.  This is fall in Korea.

We made our way down to the restaurant at the bottom where the chairs around the tables were made from tree stumps.  Since Tasan translates to “tea mountain”, we ate green tea noodle soup for lunch, followed by a traditional tea ceremony.  Instrumental music with that distinctly Asian sound played in the background.  I could have drunk from those little heartwarming bowls and listened to that music for hours.

In a few weeks, it will be my turn to share an autumn cultural experience with my friends.  I will be making them a mini-version of Thanksgiving dinner.  Chicken (turkey is a rarity here), potatoes, stuffing, and the rest all cooked with my one-burner stove and a borrowed toaster oven.  It may not light off fireworks for them the way our trip to Tasan did for me, but the exchange and sheer appreciation for each other’s cultures can’t be denied.

This is why I’m in Korea.