These are the two new main things going on in my life right now. After taking a couple of weeks to adjust myself (and also get over the usual sinus hell created by the shift in weather), this weekend saw the acquisition of a new bicycle and a new little baby kitten named (by B -- I take no responsibility for it) Moja.
Our apartment is about a ten minute walk from the Bulkwang Stream, which is something we were very keen on when it came down to choosing it, but also something we somehow lost track of in the midst of all of the moving/job finishing bustle. I'm more than a little sad that it took us until the tail end of October (and the warm weather) to get around to buying bikes, but I'm glad that we at least managed that. The Bulkwangcheon park itself is lovely, but the truly amazing thing about it is how... well, how dearly guarded the rules of pedestrian etiquette are within it.
Let me be clear: I do not ride that fucking bicycle outside of the park. I can't. I hope to eventually get around to it, but I don't hold out much hope. I can't even manage to walk down a sidewalk most days without having three or four collisions in the span of half an hour, and crossing streets even on foot, even at appropriate crossings, leads to nearly being hit by a car at least half the days out of the week. So how am I supposed to manage on a bike? I'll take my fucking time with that, thank you. But in the meantime, I've been shocked to see how seriously the right/left flow of traffic, appropriate passing behavior and bikes-on-the-bike-path, pedestrians-on-the-pedestrian path rules are taken within the park itself. Certainly better than what I remember back in the US.
Occasionally you have the odd grandmother blindly wandering out perpendicular into the middle of the bike path, or a middle-aged man striding out down the center of the bike path with his chest puffed out and a challenging, territorial look on his face, but the main annoyance inside the park is the fucking pigeons. As B and I attempted to make our way out of the park and the short distance down the regular streets to the Emart on Sunday, however, I gave up within five minutes. Although the sidewalks here are all equipped with built-in bike paths, they are all blocked with cars illegally parked on the sidewalk, and what parts aren't are full of illegal street vendors' goods and people milling about gazing into their smartphones waiting for a bus. After three or four near hits and nearly falling over from having to slow down so much to ride behind a college-aged couple with linked arms in armorous oblivion so strong it resisted even the sound of my bell, I just gave up. If this is how the sidewalk bike paths are, I'm not even willing to risk the street itself.
But the good news is, we are just a short 15 minute ride down the stream to the Han Gang, and from there you can go as far as you want. Which is what I've been doing every morning since I bought the bike. I'm happy to say my mood and energy have greatly improved, since falling into a slump after finishing working. It's not easy to go from being on your feet surrounded by teenage boys all day to a quiet chair at a quiet desk in a quiet house. Without that boost of the walk to work in the morning, I was feeling as though I never fully woke up. So now, I wake up with B at his morning alarm for work and we share a cup of coffee while watching the news. I, so far, successfully emotionally blackmail him into carrying my bike down the five flights of stairs out of our apartment building, walk him the bus, and then off I go.
It was on yesterday morning's ride, after I stopped off to grab a coffee and sit on a bench beside the Han for a while, watching the morning traffic slouch its way down the expressways over my head, that I realized how lucky I am at the moment. Two weeks ago I was on one of those buses at 7 am, the stress of the day having already started with a hope and a prayer that traffic would be light enough for me to make it to work on time. And it just got worse from there.
In a way, I thrive off of stress. I've never done very well without it. But I think I'm old enough now that it's a good time to learn how to relax a little. How to take a two hour bike ride down the river in the morning, sit on a bench and have a quiet cup of coffee without doing anything. And how to appreciate that. Appreciate that, instead of being on one of those sweaty buses on my way to work, I'm going to get back on my bike and ride home to read, write and study. Do some gardening. Bake a loaf of bread. Take care of our energetic new little kitten. Call home.
When you look at it that way, a couple of months doesn't seem so long. So I'll do my best to enjoy it while I can.