Spring Explodes

Relishing the beauty of spring and my adopted home.

“Is the spring coming?…What is it like?”…
“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”
― Frances Hodgson BurnettThe Secret Garden

Winter finally left Sacheon, and with its departure came spring flowers. The plum blossoms signal the start of spring and came out at the end of March. On the heels of the plum blossoms came the cherry blossoms in early April. Since then, my yard seems to surprise me every few days with new flowers. We moved into the house in June, so many of these colorful treasures are surprises as they weren’t all here by then. I wake up to many perfectly perfect days and think, “Spring is my favorite.” (I will think the same thing about summer, fall, and the first part of winter, too.) It has been so many years since I really experienced spring that I am pinching myself at my good fortune.

I spent my first 36 years in the Midwest of the United States, and that area generally enjoys lovely spring seasons. However, my last 15 years in the US were spent in north Texas, where it seemed that everything was perpetually brown – with a blazing hot sun burning up the grass and trees. I don’t recall much color outside of the months of March and April. The Republic of Korea is simply glorious this time of year. I’ve read and heard that spring and fall are short, but I believe spring will last close to three months. It is time to get outdoors, time for visitors, time for picnics, and time for rebirth.

I have been fortunate to meet a group of Korean women who meet every Tuesday for an outing or just lunch and coffee and who indulge the company and endless curiosity of expat women. Being with them on Tuesday outings means one is guaranteed to see blossoms at peak bloom, visit sites when the fall colors are at their best, know when to visit a festival and where to park, and know where to visit for the best of various Korean foods. The grace and hospitality of these women is limitless, and I am indebted to the person who invited me to join the group. What started as an intimate group has grown tremendously with so many new expats. The Koreans continue to host us and treat us to their wealth of knowledge and pride despite our numbers.

At the end of March, the group brought us to the Gwangyang International Maehwa Festival. The festival is in Seomjin Village – home to the largest number of plum blossom trees in Korea. During the festival, visitors can walk beneath endless plum blossoms, purchase small plum blossom trees, and sample and purchase local organic plum products. The name plum, however, is misleading. The tree species is related to both the plum and apricot and is referred to as a plum in English and Chinese although more closely relates to the apricot. The fruit of the tree is used in Asian cooking in juices, as a flavoring for alcohol, as a pickle, in sauces, and in traditional medicine. It is an early flowering tree (late winter and early spring) so is regarded as a seasonal symbol. The festival allowed me to sample endless apricot pickles, and I purchased a couple containers.

apricot pickle
Apricot pickles

Most US residents haven’t had apricots outside of the dried variety. I’ve been able to eat fresh apricots here, which are juicy, sweeter versions of the dried kind. The pickled versions are sweet and sour, and I find them wonderful on their own as a side dish or on a sandwich or mixed in with a main course. I am fortunate to have two very small versions of these in my yard. Once the blossoms fall off and the fruit develops, it’s the summer. I had no idea what I had last year so did nothing with them. However, this year I am ready to pickle!

The plum blossoms are very quickly followed by cherry blossoms. While plum blossom trees are not hard to find here, cherry blossom trees are impossible to miss. The country is filled with them. Like the plum, these blossoms are fragile, beautiful, and short-lived. The blossom period seems to last no longer than two weeks, and the entire country seems to celebrate them. Tour busses and cars filled with groups of friends, families, couples, and singles flock to the various festivals throughout the country to see the blooms. And while the blossom season is short, they all appear to bloom at once, reflecting trees covered in brilliant and delicate pink. When they blow away, pink “snow” covers the streets, sidewalks, and fields. For me, this was the true start of spring.

The cherry blossoms have been followed by mountains and roadsides covered with azaleas. These lovely flowers last longer, and I’ve been on at least four hikes to see them in various places. And, of course, azalea season is filled with azalea festivals. While azaleas are less exotic to westerners, it is exotic to see mountainsides covered with the blooms.

The biggest surprise for me in my first spring here is our yard. There are at least 17 different flowers and flowering plants in our garden, many of which were no longer blossoming by the time we moved in last year. It is a regular surprise to see what new beauty has opened up to greet the sun. There are plum and cherry trees, irises, hyacinths, dianthus, coryanthes, orange honeysuckle, poppies, and numerous unknown blooms. After what was for me a difficult winter, all of this new life gives me new life. I am brought back to the initial excitement of being here – remembering my joy at all the new discoveries and reliving the wonder at Korea’s beauty. 

The summer will arrive, and with it, the hot temperatures and unbelievable humidity. But I was born in the summer. I love summer and am determined to enjoy it. For now, however, I am relishing the beauty of spring and my adopted home.

*Featured image taken by Amy Beerwinkle.

A Short Note on Avoiding Politics

It’s not a secret to people who know me that I had no problem leaving the United States when the opportunity arose. The 2016 Presidential election was devastating for me, and then I watched my dad die. I don’t intend to blog about politics, but there’s no guarantee. What I want to mention is that the lack of politics – or, really, of political attention – has probably added back years to my life.

We seem to notice what is much more easily than noticing what isn’t. What isn’t is trash all over the road-side. It took a few drives to realize the roads here are very clean. Like the US, there are still cigarette butts all over the place, but it’s free of bottles and bags and cups and anything else people seem to throw out of their cars. This is made more striking when considering there aren’t trash cans anywhere. The US has trash cans on every street corner and trash on every street, and Korea is the opposite.

What isn’t is road rage. This is despite some of the most daring driving I’ve seen in my half-century on this planet. I fear I may meet a premature end via motor vehicle while here. However, the driving is not aggressive. If there is space (heck, even if there isn’t), a car will move into it. Busses and cabs do whatever they want; know this, and give them clearance. Drivers will go way over the speed limit and then slam their breaks when approaching the moving camera zones. I do it now too. No more searching for hidden police vehicles and radar guns. Just speed and then slow down through the zones. Makes sense. And take none of this personally.

What isn’t is constant negative news – for me at least. I considered myself very well informed in 2016. I watched the national news from a reputable network and avoided the sensationalistic local news. I read stories via the Washington Post and New York Times. I paid attention and prided myself on it. And it all broke my heart. If you had asked me what I thought about people, I would have told you they sucked. The news confirmed that. Politics confirmed that. However, if you asked me what I thought about my neighbor, coworkers, friends, family, the guy on the corner, I would tell you they were great. I didn’t like the lot of us but seemed to love the individual.

Now I am trying to avoid the news. I’m sure there is plenty of the same here as at home. The country impeached former-President Park Geun-hye and then arrested her on corruption charges. But we don’t have Korean cable, and I’m avoiding internet news. We’ve barely watched television – at least compared to what we did in the States. When I look at social media, though, I see what’s going on. I see postings and reactions from friends. I look up whatever is happening and then quickly shut down those stories. They’re all bad. They’re all unbelievable. They make me embarrassed and ashamed for my home country. So I bury my head in the sand, which makes me feel guilty, but I think it’s good for me. I’m happier this way. I am finding ways to do kind things. I am healing my heart and loving again. I’m working on assuming that people are good. Someday I may again get involved in politics, but right now is not that day. Living in a place that has a different language and alphabet makes it easy to stay a little ignorant. Viva la ignorance!

How Did I Get Here?

It all starts with the idea, right? How did the biggest decisions you’ve ever made get started? Listen for the message, and live without regret.

I’m on day 15 living out of a small hotel room. Before moving to Korea, I was in a two-room hotel in Fort Worth Texas with my husband (Chris) and two dogs (Molly and Sophie). Getting the dogs on their first elevator, getting them to poop outside in a new place, getting them over the fear of all the turmoil, and getting them to stop barking at every noise were the smallest challenges. Now I’m in a single-room hotel with my husband in Sacheon, Korea, with our six suitcases worth of stuff, anxiously awaiting the delivery of my precious pups and the move to our home for the next two to three years. How did I get here?

On my 50th birthday, Chris proposed to me at the Garden of the Gods in Colorado. We’d been together 3 years and had gone through the formal process to be informally married (it’s a real thing in Texas) for some practical reasons, but this was the real deal. Back at the hotel, I quickly called my parents to tell them. And then I got punched in the gut: My dad said he’d been diagnosed with metastatic cancer. He was terminal.  In a matter of days I quit my job and began driving from Texas to California every 2-3 months for visits. I needed to spend time with him and my mom. And for the next 17 months, that’s what I did.

The experience of losing a parent is its own blog entry. But it leads me to now. In January, as my dad was in increasingly poor health, Chris mentioned an opportunity to work in Korea. He was going to get more information. And in February, after my dad died, I was 100% in. Leaving my mom behind hurts my heart in unbelievable ways, but this beautiful man I married (another blog entry) told me I could visit as much as I wanted. So that’s how I find myself living in this very small room hoping and praying and wishing and begging that my very old dogs survive the separation without thinking they’ve been abandoned and make the flight okay. They’ll be here no later than June 2. That’s 10 days. We can do this!

I hope to share my journey through these writings which might on occasion include some practical information for anyone considering taking on something similar. I’m new to this, but I enjoy writing and have friends who’ve expressed interest in my experience. So here we go. Thanks for joining me