So often, I hear that my life is exciting, exotic, fascinating, and I counter with "no really. I go to the grocery store, I work out, I catch the bus. My life is no different than yours." Today, I had an exciting, exotic, fascinating life. Michael, this is for you.
I sleep in and when I at last wake up, I look out my window and see the river beckoning. It has both a bike path (two way) and a walking path - made of some sort of soft stuff to make walking better on your joints. The day is beautiful, and I must go for a ride. There is simply no other choice! Taking the elevator down down down from the 18th floor, I didn't bring my key. The door has a keycode to get in. My bicycle, a simple little Wizard of Oz type bike, complete with basket in the front, takes me through the park where I see the ajessis and ajummas (older folks) exercising on the outdoor exercise equipment that peppers all the parks in Korea. Every few kilometers you can find one of these spaces with a dozen machines and various other equipment to keep yourself in shape. Even the tops of mountains have exercise equipment, but I digress. I fly down to the bike path on my lil green sailing machine and pass the first of several reflexology areas as the path winds along the local river. Yes, there they are. More ajessis and ajummas walking across the stones, some of them jumping up and down to give their feet little massages and activate whatever the pressure points of feet activate.
The path snakes along, passing basketball courts, river dikes, overhead bridges, an occasional Buddhist type gazebo, and at last I'm... well ... where am I? I'd been riding for nearly an hour and had gone further in this direction than I ever had before - no idea where I was... but it was pretty. There were huge stones leading across the river. No need for a bridge, just dance across the rocks! No, I didn't, not with my bike. Eventually there was a crossover bridge, and I pass the fathers teaching their children to ride, the mothers with their baby carriages, the teens with ipods, and the serious bicyclists - all in a row, leaning forward, their aerodynamic helmets the only thing that differentiates them from one another. And then there was the old man who often sees me. I think he's deaf because he says hello in that kind of garbled way that the dear often speak. I regularly see him on my rides, and he never fails to wave and say hello to me. It makes me feel special. I always bow my head (as much as one can and safely steer a bicycle), and wave and say An yang ha say oh! to him in return. We may not know each other's language but we can smile and greet each other.
I return home and, hot and sweaty, but feeling like I rule the world, I swing by the grocery store. It's in my building for goodness' sake! I pick up quail eggs in a pack. I look around at the other food - dried squid, dried tiny shrimp (complete with heads and eyes), ground something or other leaf, octopus tentacles, five bazillion ways to make rice, and decide to pick up a couple of the packs of seaweed (salted with olive oil). It's yummy with eggs - yes I picked up some familiar foods too - apples, bananas, almonds, cherry tomatoes, and a treat - a diet coke for my first day of classes tomorrow!
I come home still sweaty and decided that the creak creak of my knees warrants a visit to the jim jil bbang, a Korean bath house. There the women scrub each others' backs, wash every square inch of their bodies, and soak in hot water then cold water then tea water then mud then rinse off then soak then shower then sit in the steam room (rubbing salt upon their bodies) and then shower and then get beaten up by the ladies who massage you then .... well you get the picture. It's an event. I'm told the men are just as helpful with each other with no question of homosexuality. They honor the sauna for what it is.
I hop on my bicycle to return home, shiny and shaven, the blaringly bright neon lights screaming in my face. The moon is still right above me although I can't see the stars because of all the visual noise that is common to Asia. I get in the elevator and ride up to the 18th floor with a man who holds a tiny dog under his arm. I ask tentatively if I can pet his dog, and he says yes, but she is a little "hard" right now. Whatever that means... When I put my hand out to her, she growls, and I gently pull my hand back. I like that she's clear about what she does and doesn't want. I tell him so, and he tells me that she has cancer and doesn't feel good. Ah, I wish her well. And then I think of Michael and his dear lady and their own sweet dog with cancer. And then I think, yes, my life is different and maybe I don't know what the food is, and maybe the sky is a little different here, and maybe they take baths communally here. But one thing is the same. Love and loss are the same whether you are in Korea or Canada, Tokyo or Tallahassee. We have many things that separate us, but some things are the same everywhere.
Blessings to all who have love in their lives - with two leggeds or four leggeds.