The first spring of my life I experienced last year in Korea. California has one season with fluctuations–hot hot summer, hot summer, warm summer, cool summer–and living there for twenty-two years without break never seemed to acclimate me to heat. Anybody could look at me and see I’m ill-fitted for a sunny desert climate without the lows at night–light eyes, light skin, a tendency to freckle and burn–and though I used to tan during my days spent on the softball field throughout junior high and high school and my long afternoons on the golf course for a couple years on the high school team, I still never enjoyed the sunshine or clear skies, and I never learned to surf due to a combination of social anxiety and perhaps the seemingly vestigial evolutionary trait, present in me but not in the bulk of me peers, of self-preservation.
Of course everyone knows there are four seasons in a year, but to southern California people, the four seasons are kind of myth in the same realm as Plato’s world of first forms: the idea is great and yeah it probably exists somewhere…beyond, but it has nothing to do with me.
Most people who live there seem to welcome their reality. I wish it were sunny all the time, they say, and complain when it drops to 65 with a marine layer. Days like that allowed me to survive and to find a shred of meaning in continuing my life. But to be fair to the heat, I used to write poetry during heatwaves in January, watching shingles fall off the roofs of our neighbor’s house, peeling backwards and spitting off before falling like a leaf to the lawnless yard; there was something inspiring about the sheer frustration and existential crisis brought on by 90 degree heat in the first month of the year.
So of course–Spring is beautiful. I love it. There are a few bright weeks of blossomings, petals falling from the trees like snow–the temperature hovers around the high fifties into the high sixties–clouds burn off by midday, and the sky is the picture of blue–the yellow dust gives us all sore throats and colds….
Last year I also witnessed my first cherry blossoms. Of course I knew what they were–petals on a wet, black bough–and had seen pictures before. Very few sights in life that move other people to emotional reactions move me to the same extent, so I didn’t expect to feel much of anything but felt determined, at the same time, to go see them.
My then-coworker Heather and I made an impromptu trip to Jinhae, Masan, and Busan last April. We spent the day in Jinhae crowding onto busses with 2384729479 other people (though I can’t confirm the actual statistics) and squirming through anchovy-tin-packed crowds. In all of my photos there’s cherry blossoms up there at the top and then about eye level, a bunch of cameras held above the heads of all the thousands of other tourists. At one point I wasn’t sure whether I was capturing more scenery or backs of heads. There was a sort of concert thing happening at a park in the city and we walked around for a while before heading back to Masan to stay the night.
Heather had worked in Masan at a hagwon for a couple years and knew the city. Old ladies from the side of the road called out to us (how pretty! Cute girls!) and an older man in emart came up and introduced himself to us, after which Heather told me she’d already met him three or four times before. Apparently he needed to make sure every foreigner passing through Masan knew who he was.
We were only in Busan for a day and we never went into the main city, so it’s still a goal of mine to go back there this year to see it properly. I have a friend who’s living there now so may ask him to be my tour-guide for a day or two. He’s an amateur photographer and has sent me some photos taken from some optimal vantage points, so I expect to see great things.
But in the meantime, I’m in Seoul, and as the climate is cooler the flowers are a little later to open here, barely breaking the bud while others in the south are in full bloom. Last year the variety of flowers I didn’t know how to name was astounding to me; I’d go on hunts through Google images of “spring flowers in Seoul” and then read through the captions until I’d found the ones I was looking for.
One of the prominent new flowers for me was the 목련 (mog-nyun), or the magnolia flower. These bloom standing up, their long ovular petals thick and fleshy, a bright cream color, and close at night. I was fascinated by the quick lifespan–in bloom for a week at most, they then faded into a sort of putrid yellow and fell heavily off the branches in a matter of a day or two.
Another is the 무궁화 (moo-goong-hwa), or rose of sharon/hibiscus. The national flower of Korea is the white / light pink 무궁화 with darker purple towards the center, but I like a variety best that’s bright red in color with a shorter, fuller stamen. Last summer I came up with the first tattoo concept I’ve had that’s lasted more than a few months–one of these flowers overlapping with a red English rose, about two by two inches total, ideally placed on the back of my arm above my right elbow but more likely placed on my left upper thigh. I’ve got to ask my principal / vice principal or maybe even SMOE for permission before I make a consultation, but I’ve found a couple artists I like in Seoul already whose style fits what I’m looking for.
This week, spring is just beginning. I’ll enjoy it while it’s here, but at the same time, I can’t ever fully relax for dread–I know the hot summer is bearing down, and I know it’ll stay there for a long time.
Sometimes I express this thought to my friends who say, oh, it’s not too bad. It’s only really hot for a couple of months. To which I stare at them open-mouthed repressing my urge to knock them upside the back of the head because EXCUSE ME that is two months of my life. That I will never get back. Sweat which I will never unsweat. Misery which I will never unmisery. Etc.
There are two perspectives I find most people take on about Spring. One is that it’s their favorite season, and two is that Spring is too fleeting to be meaningful. There are the treacly cliches of Spring which emerge each year, there’s the coupling-up hype of Spring, there’s the everyone-put-away-your-black-clothes attitude of Spring, and there’s the underside of those cliches in which the high and mighty sit back and laugh at the dummies enjoying and finding meaning in something that ends so soon.
Thinking that way everything falls apart. There’s no defense against the logical hole that opens up upon making that argument–that each season comes and goes by design. The cliches, as sickly as they are, that Spring brings at least feed on that reality of feeling, the first walk in the sunshine after months of winter winds.
I find myself getting impatient with the impatient and impatient with the delighted. Unlike other times in my life in which the reasons for my frustration were easily transmutable into metaphor–a cage, a blind fall beneath me, idiotic friends (okay…not a metaphor)–these days when I attempt to locate the source of my restlessness, so many possible reasons rise to the surface that it becomes impossible even to identify them all. I can only assume, then, that it’s the changing of the seasons, the gradual inability to insist to myself that it’s still winter for a while yet, that I can keep things the way I like them, that the world as a whole doesn’t not give a damn what I want or what’s important to me.
I think that is what Spring is about. The world is moving. And it isn’t up to you or to me to make it do that. And the world is bigger than we think. And how comforting that is.