I have always had a reserved affection for New Year’s. It’s one of the few holidays that isn’t affiliated with one religion or one nation, one of the rare holidays that’s nearly universally celebrated (although at varying times and with varying traditions).
But mostly, I like it because it’s about reflection, change and celebrting passing of time. Reflection is important to me. That explains why this blog is filled with 1,000 word entries and few photos. Thoughts and feelings, find em right here, folks.
Instead of reflecting on this year wherein I would share broad sentiments on my growth of the recent past and hope for what’s to come, I’ll share the story of my first New Year’s in Korea.
Year: 2012 (end)
Lived in Korea: 30 days
Location: Ilsan – Northwest of Seoul
My “furnished” apartment in Ilsan had one bed, one blanket, one pillow, a table the size of a pizza box and two chairs. Let me reiterate: one blanket.
A few weeks after arriving in Ilsan at the beginning of December, I paid the extra 30 dollars Amazon requires to ship to South Korea and ordered myself a pair of snow boots that would insulate my feet for up to -28 degrees F. The place was terrifically cold.
As a Northeasterner I am no stranger to cold winters, although my threshold for bitter cold has rapidly lowered since I was a child. The chill of Ilsan was razor sharp and thick socks or a down jacket was no match for it. The cold cut through you and seemed to live inside you. My 15 minute walk to work across pedestrian through-fare slick with unsalted ice was a daily ordeal. Gusts of wind caused me to involuntarily cry in pain. Ilsan is tucked up very close to the North Korean border, and I used to imagine the winds would blow straight from the dark depths of Kim Jong Il’s tomb. In fact, they come down from Siberia. Some kind of North Pole-to-South Korea express gust lane, I speculate.
The boots did help, though. Forty person blog readership, I wholeheartedly endorse Columbia’s line of outdoor winter footwear.
All of this is to say that my first New Year’s in Korea is marked in my memory, above and beyond all NJ and NYC holidays of my past which were also frigid, by bitter, bitter cold. And an apartment with one blanket.
Although it was cold and walking to work and going outside generally was wildly unpleasant, I did have arrivee reverie. Korea still very much had its glint, snow or no snow. I had walked off the plane into a neon Narnia.
Our school gave us the week of New Year’s off. I had not been paid yet and it was too cold to go anywhere. So, I went to the Homeplus to get a sheet for my bed. I wandered the aisles listening to Chipmunk-pitched Christmas music and other jingles sung by children. Christmas trees in neon wire swirls were on sale. The giant store was not very different than a Target, but still fascinated me. I ogled a line of frumpy underwear for women and men with the brand name James Dean. I saw that nearly half an aisle was devoted to dried seaweed. I bought an ugly, baby pink topsheet. Paper thin and cost about 45.00 USD.
On the way home the light was fading as I toted my topsheet, frying pan and a few other sundries across the frozen sidewalks of Ilsan. On the way home I stopped in a dumpling shop and bought some meat dumplings. The man making the dumplings spoke English so well. It was a strange thing to have only traveled in Europe and then come to South Korea and hear people speak better English. That still astounds me today. He asked me if I would be eating the dumplings alone.
It ended up being true, however, a coworker had invited me over to her apartment that evening, New Year’s Eve. Canadian and a lover of Greek and Latin, these were the ways Joanna defined herself. Not to mention her ardent love of K-pop (there seems to be no other kind) and distaste for what she perceived to be mainstream and/or American.
I did not last long at Joanna’s apartment with her other Canadian friends the night of New Year’s Eve. It was nonstop comic book references, fawning over G-Dragon (a K-pop superstar known for heavy eyeliner and bad lyrics) and quoting over every line from Scott Pilgrim.
Late that night I got a video call from my friends who were gathered in New York City. That was both the best and worst part of the evening. Being around Joanna made me realize how much I missed being with people I actually liked.
My bed was cold and I was homesick for my friends, but it would fade. Adventure and hope won out.