Sunday, December 6, 2009

A very cool Saturday

I was running on the treadmill at the hael-seu cleob yesterday morning when it started to snow (outside, fortunately). The treadmills face the windows and the street, and I was on the machine on the far left, so I could open the side windows and let some cool air into the overheated room. So I had windows two feet to my left and two feet in front of me.

The snow started tentatively, one big wet flake drifting aimlessly around, then another, and another, and soon I was running in a snow globe, the air just full of thousands of swirling flakes. It was magical.

It was possibly marginally less magical as I took the short walk home, all sweaty and virtuous, and the wind started blowing the heavy snow at 20 miles per hour into my face. Still, I felt invigorated and alive. By the time I got out of the shower, the air was still thick with enormous flakes, the little park across the street had a thin blanket of white, and the mountains were ready for yodelers.

 I was reminded of a 3 a.m. walk around the Addams Family house and Six-Mile Creek in Ithaca, nineteen years ago, and a Christmas Day cross-country skiing down Linn Street, ten years before that. Now we know exactly how long it takes, after four decades in the sub-Arctic, to find snow enchanting again. Fourteen years, nine months, twelve days. And three hours.

But it melted.

I had a long a rewarding Skype talk with an old friend from St. Augustine, which continued my cool day. (If any Sarah Palin fans are reading this entry, I'd be glad to explain my sophisticated use of the word "cool" in both the metaphorical and literal senses to describe my day.)

In the early afternoon, I met my friend and fellow member of the Most Righteously Marvelous Department at St. Paul Prep (tm) Zach at his apartment. He had a four-foot-high bookshelf he wanted to get rid of, and we carried it a third of a mile to my place. Of course, Zach is the only teacher who doesn't live within two minutes' walk of my place, but as frickin' frigid as the walk was (the snow had stopped, but the wind hadn't), as cumbersome as the bookcase was, and as parlous as it was dodging the traffic on the tiny sidewalk-bereft streets, it was worth it. I barely have room for another coffee mug in my apartment, but the shelves in effect increase my space. I can get a few things off my little table and finally unpack the last box I brought from Daegu.

The best part of the day, though, came when I took the long subway ride to Insadong for my first dinner with the Seoul Veggie Club. I got to the area early, so I had a little time to explore. I had walked through Insadong (a blocks-long pedestrian mall with alleys and courtyards, lined with restaurants and tiny shops) once before, with Zach and Chris, to get to Gyeongmokgung Palace. But that was on a lovely Saturday in fall, and the sheer mass of people made it impossible to actually see anything.

True trivial fact: Insadong has the only Starbucks in the world with a sign that reads "Starbucks" in the local language's writing system. By law, Insadong shop signs must be in Hangeul.

Now it was very very cold, very very windy, and just about to get dark. (Just reg'lar dark, not very very.) There was all the space in the world to look around at the art galleries and shops selling traditional Korean goods, wall hangings and Buddha statues and shamanist totems, ranging from the almost lovely to the truly tacky, caricature artists (one of whom I think drew my picture at the New York State Fair in 1982) and street carts, some protected from the winter by heavy plastic sheets, selling roasted chestnuts and little doughy custard-filled "walnuts".

And then it was time for the elite to meet, greet, and eat. I met a bunch of folks at a subway exit and we walked to a vegan restaurant a few blocks away. The place is like a church basement meeting room, just a big space with several rows of long, tables covered with white tablecloths, with more long tables laden with aluminum containers full of food. The get-together was a joint effort between the SVC and the Korean Vegan Society, and the room filled up with fifteen or twenty Westerners from the former and twice that many Koreans from the latter.

Please don't tell PETA, but vegan food doesn't thrill me; just not enough fat and sugar for my sophisticated palate. But the buffet was good, lots of greenery and brownery, identifiable and un. My favorite dishes were the pumpkin tempura and the Chinese noodles with... mushroom stroganoff?

It wasn't the food that was the best thing, though. It was meeting people in this tremendously carnivorous country who think like me; I had almost given up the thought that there were any. Our table looked like Ithaca, scruffy beards and flannel shirts on the men, adorable knit hats with tassels and long straight hair on the women, and I made some new friends, the first I've found in Seoul whom I don't work with. In particular, I had a really nice conversation with a couple of friendly guys named Zenas and Ray about Buddhism, Thich Nhat Hanh, Eckhart Tolle, and football. One of these things is not like the others...

I don't know if you can understand the "up" I get from all this unless you're a veghead living in a nation full to the brim with meatheads. (Note to self: edit this before posting.) But it's so good to be around people who exude positive energy and kindness.

What's almost as good is that they told me about other veg restaurants: two more in Insadong (one of which carries frozen prepared veggie "meat"-- oh frabjous day!) and a chain of vegan places called Loving Hut, one of which isn't too far from my neighborhood. I Facebook-friended Zenas and talked with Ray about meeting for lunch at Loving Hut sometime soon. And the next Veggie Group dinner, at a different location, is only two weeks away.

And my late Sunday morning is blindingly bright, and there's still a light confectioner's-sugar dusting of snow on the highest mountain outside my window.

Very cool.

1 comment:

Cindy said...

Snow there...I'm so jealous!