Sunday, January 22, 2017

Harbor View

Outside Seogwipo Harbor is a graceful white pedestrian bridge in the shape of a sail that links the mainland to a smaller island that is part of the local UNESCO world heritage site. You can look down from the height of the bridge into the blue water and see the boulders at the bottom--the sea's crystal clarity belies the extraordinary amount of garbage that washes ashore elsewhere and clogs the back alleys of the nearby city.

There are strict recycling laws here--not only must various plastics be sorted, but glass, paper, and even food waste have particular, separate days to be taken to the neighborhood bins, within a designated span of nighttime hours. I am two blocks from the nearest waste collection point, and I have made the journey only once, with a small bag of bottles. Cardboard and paper have to be tied up with string, and my stack is tied...and sitting on my small floor-dining table, as it's been too cold after hours for me to want to go outdoors again after I reach the warmth of my apartment following a long day of work. And the directions for which specific items are collected on which specific days are all, naturally, in Korean (the what to do and what not to do covers two sides of a closely printed sheet), so I've been a little puzzled about what I am allowed to discard when. My food waste is in my freezer, where it won't stink up the house. Regular trash, which accounts for very little, must be thrown away in special 10 and 20 liter bags purchasable at a local convenience store. I certainly don't object to recycling, but I wish they had a single stream system with daily collection of everything. And, again, I can't learn Korean soon enough.

I went to an all Korean language church service for the second time today. The format and the hymn tunes are familiar, and on both occasions I have been able to figure out what the text is for the sermon, because the names of many books in the Bible are cross-culturally similar. But beyond 6 to 10 words I picked out in said sermon, I was completely clueless. I know "love," "Lord," "Jesus," "hunger," and a handful of other terms, but not enough to even begin to guess the pastor's points. Both Sundays, Amy and I have eaten lunch with the parishioners (hearty traditional food with everyone seated shoeless on the floor  at low tables in the room beneath the sanctuary), and then walked a couple of blocks to an English-language service at another church, which is less formal and where the sermons, whatever the text, tend to be identical week after week. But at least they are in our language.

After church today, Amy and I walked 6 miles, through a park and down a winding road to the bridge, then back up to a great coffee shop where I had the best mug of hot chocolate I have ever tasted: rich, dark, with a dollop of cream in the center. Today felt the coldest of any day since I arrived, and though I was dressed in layers, and had loved breathing the bracing fresh air, when the sun went down the wind cut into me, and I was so glad to get home.

Because of the moisture in my bathroom, with its cold tile floors, I have to leave the window open in there (I am trying to slow the inevitable growth of mold), so every time I step in to use the facilities, I confront a temperature drop of 50 degrees. Needless to say I do not linger. For my nighttime shower, I turn on the water heater, shut the window, and crank the hot water at full blast, and wait about three minutes until the bathroom is filled with steam, then step into my shower shoes and under the warm water. Afterwards, I quickly towel off, open the window again, and bolt back into the warm main room,  exchanging my bath shoes for my bedroom slippers at the threshold and then dressing. Then I turn off the water heater, gulp down some cool chamomile tea, and snuggle in to bed.

The islands off the coast of Jeju look imaginary to my western eyes, like whimsical sketches out of a swashbuckling adventure novel, with sheer, rocky cliffs and thick greenery on top. Today the improbably blue sea, salted with little whitecaps, stretched away to the horizon, and a collection of identical ships lay at anchor offshore, the copy of a 19th-century nautical painting. The large fishing fleet was tied up to the dock, and the white cutters of the Korean coast guard rested near a small blue cargo transport, from which the shipping containers were slowly being removed. Twin lighthouses, shaped like chessboard queens, one red, one white, marked the entrance to sheltered waters. Snow clouds rolled down from Mount Halla, flinging flakes against our faces as the sun descended towards China. We stopped at the street market on the way home, to get grilled skewers of meat and bell peppers--they were served in paper bowls and topped with flavorful wood shavings. It was peculiar, but tasty.

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