Saturday, July 12, 2008

Travelogue #43: My Hot, Sweaty, Drippy Korean Summer

<---Excerpt from "Half-Virgin"
--->Travelogue #44: How My Favorite Class Changed, Grew Up, and Said Goodbye

She worms into your skin, leaving microscopic but persistent beads of sweat on your knees, your ankles, and your lower back. "Hot" is not the right word for her. Neither is "humid." She is altogether more ominous, more insidious, and more alive. In an otherwise empty apartment she's a companion who refuses to leave. You hide under the weak puff of an outmatched air conditioner. You try cold showers. You put on a fresh t-shirt, only to peel it off moments later. You can't escape. She is summer, and her name is Seoul.

I thought I knew heat. I grew up in Memphis, TN, infamous for its thick hazy Julys as memorialized in Hustle and Flow. I didn't love the unblinking humidity of the Bluff City, but I could handle it. I got used to it. Every year offered the same harsh-sun ninety-something temperatures, and every year I reacted the same way: I jumped into swimming pools and drank a lot of Dr. Pepper. Even though I grew impatient with the season, I survived it and didn't mull it too much once the leaves started changing colors.

But here it's different. Temperatures hover in the the low eighties, effectively deceiving you into expecting mild breezes that never quite come. There's a sneakiness in the broiling gray air that makes you squirm, inch-by-sweat-stained-inch. When the rain finally drops, it steams.

On the first day of July, I walked zombified through the neighborhood of Seohyeon with my friend Jovan. We sought refuge from the cloudy heat at California Pizza Kitchen, sipping iced mojitos through straws and staring out the windows, prematurely ready for September browns and October orange. We later wandered into the movie theater for a evening showing of Wanted, and despite the film's abundance of knife-fights and Angelina Jolie, I fell asleep during the climax. Seoul's oppressive summer is turning me into my dad.

As for Fourth of July weekend, it offered no fireworks and no flapping stars and stripes, but some of us did our best to conjure the spirit of the day: that meant Ogles bringing hamburgers into the office. Korean teachers and American teachers sat side-by-side, chowing down on patties from the Japanese-based Freshness Burger chain. We Americans shared stories of Fourth of July traditions, and the Koreans oohed and nodded in the same way I would if I was being told of Chuseok. It's funny to think that a holiday so ingrained in you by years and years of memories can be so, well, foreign to somebody else. For that somebody else, the Fourth of July is nothing more than a few lines in a history book or an occasional conversation with an American.

The world is big, dude.

And the summer in Seoul is long. Two days ago I bought a fan. I'm ready to fight the heat.

Bring it on.

<---Excerpt from "Half-Virgin"
--->Travelogue #44: How My Favorite Class Changed, Grew Up, and Said Goodbye



Alex Pollack said...

I spent my 4th of July night at WaBar, this western-style bar near my apartment. A few friends and I enjoyed some chips and salsa, but I wanted more. (In Korea, you are given six chips in a basket and a thimble of salsa. I don't remember if I pined for Chili's bottomless chips and salsa on this blog yet; if not, that's what I'm doing right now.) So - I tried slipping ten dollars to one of the guys at the bar to tell him to "keep em' coming." Unfortunately, neither he nor the owner understood my "keep em' coming" request, so in the end, I was charged eight dollars for the menu item of nachos.

Oh well. Found some great chips and salsa in a random hangout in Hongdae the next night, so this story has a happy ending.

Sorry for that. As I'm typing this, I am getting very hungry...

Anonymous said...

And what if I tell you it will be 97 degrees here in Memphis tomorrow...and this is not taking into consideration the humidity. Don't even want to guess what the heat index will be.