Spring Has Sprung… Almost
I’ll be clear from the start that spring is not my favorite time of the year. I love the flowers and the colors and the warmer weather, but especially in Changwon, there is one thing about spring that I hate more than just about anything else: the annual spring cold. It always sneaks up on me. I never think that I’m going to catch it and then, almost as if by magic, I wake up one morning with a terrible nasal drip, a sore throat, and no will to live. I’m still waiting, so spring hasn’t quite sprung yet.
It’s getting there, though. Last week, it was shockingly warm. Okay, it wasn’t that shocking, but it was better than scurrying along to work wearing various layers of under garments, sweaters, and wool. I’m down to a long-sleeved T-shirt and a sweatshirt on most days now. When the sun is out, it’s downright nice, in fact. Evenings are still cool, but hey, that’s to be expected, right? Then it started raining on Wednesday, and by Friday, a cruel north wind had blown down from the mountains. Korea is like that: obnoxiously windy at times. Suffice it to say that the wind cooled my hopes of spring being directly around the corner, the corner being Monday morning.
In spite of the pouring rain and ghastly wind in spring and fall, the pounding heat (and often rain) in the summer, and the blistering wind in the winter, walking to work affords a serious advantage that is somewhat missed when tooling around in one’s car, and that advantage is that you are keenly aware of the change of the seasons. This sounds silly, but when you can visibly see, almost as if by slow motion camera, the popping of the cherry and tulip blossoms and the first peep of the pussy willows, it feels somehow invigorating. It’s especially nice as winter gives way to spring and color begins to return to the world. You can see the mountains slowly renewing their green mantle and the parks coming back to life with bugs, wee critters, and flowers of various colors, sizes, and scents.
Also, weirdly, you know spring is coming when the “aju-mafia” is sent in to clean up the park. Our park has lots of shedding trees, and in the spring, the aju-mafia has to be called in to rake out the park, cut down the crazy, out-of-control bamboo forest growing, and trim back the bushes that have gotten too wild since fall. The result is that, within less than a day, the park goes from being a gardener’s worst nightmare to being a pillar of community cleanliness. There was even a new turtle in the pond the next day! (Frankly, I’m amazed that anything can live in that cesspool, but apparently there are koi in there, too.)
The best thing about Korean spring, as most Koreans would be somewhat likely to tell you, are the cherry blossoms. Korea (and Japan, too) have a mother load of cherry trees. Changwon’s Daero (alias the longest straight road in Korea) is completely lined with them. Our neighbor, Jinhae, is renowned throughout Korea for its annual cherry blossom festival, which begins next weekend, I do believe. For a sweet two or three weeks, the entire country will be filled with trees that look like cotton candy poof balls, tinged a pinkish-white color. Korea suddenly looks like a tangerine-sky, anime dream world where children have blue and pink hair, huge eyes, gigantic mouths, shapeless legs, and ridiculously short skirts, if they’re girls. Everything seems right and perfect, and people roam the streets with cameras, hoping to snap that perfect picture of the idyllic trees and flowers. You have to give Korea credit – it does have nice flora and fauna.
Still, the part that I like most is the incoming warm weather. The days typically aren’t that warm in early spring, and the nights can be downright chilly, but summer is on its way. By May and June, we are usually well on our way towards summer weather. And as the cherry blossoms drift lazily to the ground or are blown across town by spring winds, the green leaves pop out, leaving us with the lush colors of summer. It’s a nice time to be alive.
In any case, I’m ready for those pussy willows to pop, and I’m ready for our park cherry blossoms to strut their stuff. I’m done with the brown and gray tones of winter. Winter is passé now. It’s time for spring to, well, spring. I’m ready to head to the cherry blossom festival and eat the heck out of some egg bread (don’t ask it, it’s delicious), wander around Changwon’s flowers parks, and maybe hike up our local mountain trail and see if I can (finally) spot some wildlife. It’s official: I’m ready.