A Spring Morning Walk in Korea

Korean empty market

I ran this morning and caught a beautiful sunrise on an empty market street. Few people are awake this early. Usually it’s the older people – some choosing to get up to exercise along with me. Others wake up to begin their workday – picking up garbage, preparing their market stall, etc. It’s in these moments, where there is calm and nothing else is in focus, where I feel so foreign and outside of myself. I have those moments where I think, “Oh man, I am in Korea!”. It still is a shock, two and a half years later. Because nothing can really prepare you for the first country you live abroad in.

After getting ready, I start walking to school. It’s a speed walk really, because of course I wait to the last-minute to leave. Abruptly, I am stopped at the corner by this guy yelling something happily at me and thrusting a warm cup into my hands. I automatically grab it and thank him with the usual sweet “Kamsahamnida!” I’ve grown accustomed to saying. On this chilly spring morning where I didn’t have breakfast, I am thankful for this random Korea moment.

Cereal drink - Korea

A Korean Hot Cereal Drink

This morning I also passed by the old man who stands outside an elementary school on my way to work, volunteering his time by directing traffic. He grins at me and with a boisterous voice, greets me with a sincere, “Good morning!” This old man and I cross path almost every morning, on days I decide to not be lazy and splurge on a bus ride. This morning for some reason, his morning greeting just made me smile from cheek to cheek. He reminded me of people back home. He reminded me of those immigrants who are so thankful they have come to the land of the free that they are overflowing with joy. He reminds me of my parents. And my neighbors, and your friends mom who couldn’t speak a lick of English but would bring extra snacks on school trips so her son could share with others.

I say this because next year, he tells me, he will be joining his daughter in America. He is so excited and I tell him he will fit right in. A smile goes a long way after all. A smile has gotten me through two and a half years, you would be surprised at the interactions I’ve had just by simply being in the moment and reacting to someone. A smile, eye contact. Whatever it is, another human being and I share a moment, making our way through language barriers and learning to communicate in other ways. It is easy being the foreigner, the strange one, and it’s as easy as being invisible in the background  surrounded by people who you cannot fully communicate with. But when you take that chance, you meet the sweetest people – the lady selling you cookies, the traffic volunteer guiding your students, the woman selling you tea. These moments change you for the better somehow.

Today is just one of those mornings where you feel light, and ready for a day that can bring any possibility. It’s what every day should feel like, where things align perfectly. The flowers are blooming and of course, we do what we must to motivate ourselves and take it as a metaphor for our own lives. A mental spring cleaning, a start to a new lifestyle , or just a moment to spiritually breathe and gather your thoughts on things too big to mull over when winter was nipping at your behind and all you cared about was warming your fingers and toes. We are waking up, with the morning sun and the flowers pushing to burst into color. This is spring. This is a new moment in my year. I lean in and embrace it tenderly.



8 thoughts on “A Spring Morning Walk in Korea

  1. I love those moments! It is really true a smile does go a long way. I really loved my last week of traveling around Jeollanam-do everybody treated me with such kindness I was overwhelmed. It wasn’t even big things sometimes but just those little gestures that made me feel like they were watching out for me. Then the best part was on the train home from Daejeon, I had bought a standing ticket and I got a seat in the cafe car. Then two kids sat next to me and they were struggling with their lunch that they were holding so I helped them settle themselves down. Then I offered to hold the university books of this girl that didn’t have a seat and since they were younger than me I kind of felt like the older one “look after” the younger ones and it felt really nice to give back when usually I am on the other end of things. A sense of community is the greatest feeling especially in a foreign country. It sounds like you have that in your neighborhood and you can’t put a price on that :).

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