September 2020 marked a full year of our residency in South Korea. I had been looking forward to spring in Seoul and the famed cherry blossoms from February 2020 just as the pandemic hit full force in Seoul. Instead of experiencing that spring I travelled to the Southern Hemisphere late February to visit my children in New Zealand and Australia and hence went straight from winter in Seoul to autumn in Australia.
The pandemic hit the Southern Hemisphere and I was forced to quarantine in Wellington in my daughter’s apartment before flying to Melbourne for a few days to see one of my sons, thence to Sydney to see my other son. There I stayed, in lockdown with my youngest son in his tiny apartment in Sydney for all of the Australian autumn and the corresponding South Korean spring. I watched the leaves on the grand tree outside our kitchen window in the Balmain apartment turn from green to golden to russet brown and I returned to Seoul just as the tree shed the last of its leaves and its branches were barren and stark against a grey cold sky.
I arrived in Seoul just as summer began in South Korea and I served my two weeks quarantine while the sun shone and I gazed at the blue sky from my balcony, which we are fortunate to have as it allowed me fresh air and sun on my skin every day.
Once I was out of quarantine, South Korea endured a 56 day monsoon season. The Han River overflowed and the lower Banpo Bridge which we can view from Hannam Bridge was submerged. Our usual Han River walk was out for a little while so we walked the streets and explored some neighbourhoods of Seoul in safety. Finally the monsoon ended and after a couple of typhoons the sun came out again and it was Autumn!
The days were splendid, the air clear, it got cooler and the sky was bright blue. The leaves turned and we were treated to luminous displays of burnt orange, brilliant red and vermillion yellow. We did plenty of hikes and over the Chuseok period we committed to 5 hikes in 5 days and achieved it. In the middle of Chuseok we drove to Paju with some friends here in Seoul and walked over the red suspension bridge, a magnificent sight and then hiked to the peak of Gamaksan. As we sped towards winter, I wondered if I would see my family in Australia for Christmas 2020 and I busied myself with exploring neighbourhoods in Seoul and taking Korean lessons via zoom.
Winter came and Seoul experienced a third wave of the pandemic. We were limited to groups of four only inside and outside. I was fortunate to spend Christmas day with a dear cousin and her partner. That made our four. We had a severe cold snap and the Han River froze over. Temperatures dropped to negative 18. We were instructed to keep our taps on a little overnight to prevent our pipes from freezing. I walked in heavy falling snow along the river and it disappeared completely. I was a little panicked but the next time I walked in snow, I understood it better and was able to enjoy it. We are in January 2021 now, the cases are falling, but we are to endure some restrictions for a little longer yet. I am grateful that South Korea has managed the virus so well and feel safe. Restrictions have lifted a little and presently we can take our cappuccino whilst sitting in a cafe after a while of take away only. Small steps that I do not take for granted.
I am grateful that my children are in Australia where the virus is kept tightly managed. In the latter half of 2020 my daughter and her partner moved back to Australia from New Zealand, no mean feat in a pandemic, they quarantined in an airless hotel and made their way to their new life in the ACT. That same month my sons moved accommodation too. It’s summer in Australia and I’m enjoying photos of my family swimming, playing golf and holidaying along the east coast. Meanwhile, in the Korean winter, my Korean lessons via zoom continue, I walk in a long puffer jacket with a beanie, thermals and gloves. I realise next month it will be a full year since I have seen my children. Life goes on.
It’s a strange and different world we are living in now with our masks, our sanitiser, our QR codes and the prospect of the vaccine. Some of us, like my husband and I are separated from family by oceans and miles while others are very together all working from home. I’m looking forward to seeing my family in Australia and I fervently hope it’s this year. Until then Seoul may release some more of her secrets to me, I also look forward to that!