If you ever want a classic example of the Buddhist tenet that everything is impermanent, come to Yangjae-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
E-Mart itself has been massively renovated and expanded and gone upscale, so much that shopping on a Sunday afternoon, when nobody knows where anything is, is like playing bumper cars on the 405. Every single item in the store is someplace else from where it was last week; the store's aisles are now marked in Korean, English, Japanese, and Chinese; there's an international cuisine section (peanut butter and baked beans are the mainstays of US cuisine by the way); they've put in dozens of upright coolers (and have realized, finally, that people like their beer cold); they've moved the sporting goods to a separate room (The Sports Zone) with a rubberized fake running track underfoot; they've made the bakery into a Bread and Honey alcove; and they've turned one whole corner of the store into Molly's Pet Shop, complete with vet-only specialty food--and an actual vet's office, the only one within two miles of my house.
I asked a man in a white coat if any of the vets speak English and he--in somewhat limited English--said he does. Now I have to decide whether to turn Tug's care over to him. My current vet is wonderful; Dr. Choi, the boss, speaks perfect English, they have a cat specialist whose English is quite adequate, and their office has every bell and whistle of modern animal care. But it's a 40-minute cab ride, with a yowling cat in a carrier and for a ten-buck fare, each way. E-Mart is a five-minute walk. Is a puzzlement. At least now I don't have to take an hour and two subway fares to get Tug's bladder-care food.
A bit earlier, I scouted for a hash trail I'm going to lay in a few weeks. I got a closer look at the endless array of high-rise apartments they've put up just across the Yangjae Cheon (stream) from me. They've bulldozed acre after acre of trees and field (no doubt killing or forcing the relocation of thousands of animals) and erected building after soulless 30-story building, and they're calling the development "Nature Hill".
Isn't it ironic, don't you think?
How many people will be moving into my neighborhood? Forty thousand? A hundred thousand? Everybody in Korea? I don't know. I do know that I can't see the mountains anymore and the running path along the Cheon is going to be a lot more congested this summer.
Also, a hundred feet from my ramp down to the Cheon, a bulldozer is filling in 75 percent of the stream's width in one spot, raising the water level there and submerging several of the steppingstones across the creek. And they've put up a footbridge nearby to handle the expected extra foot traffic. I realize that I'm hypocritical on this subject; I know that every meter of the Cheon from Gwacheon City to the Han River that runs through the heart of Seoul has been groomed, fussed over, diverted, landscaped, and denatured. But I guess we all would like good things to stay the way they were the day we first discovered them.
I miss seeing the mountains out my window. And I miss the steppingstones already.
But the change that is hardest to deal with is the constant shuffling of people in and out of my life. "So many people have come and gone/Their faces fade as the years go by", as Boston sang. (What a great record!) Most of the core group of hash veterans has left, or is leaving, this spring. It's weird, when it seems that so recently I was a newbie, to be one of the veterans who's supposed to know what he's doing. Currently I'm the hash chef (supplier of comestibles) and longevity archivist/treasurer. I like the responsibility, but it's strange that the people who have been the heart of the hash are gone. I miss my friends.
We are getting fresh, enthusiastic people coming in, though. With the approach of spring, we've had a lot of first-timers. We named two hashers yesterday and there's another one coming up next Saturday. In particular, I've gotten to be buddies with Kat, who's bright and vivacious, talks with me about books and movies, and actually likes my jokes (or is a talented actor).
So life, as it tends to do, goes on. But I don't care what they say...
The more things change, the more things change.