It sticks to my skin. There is a heaviness only those who have experienced the humidity of East Asian summers can understand.
Those below us—closer to the equator in Hong Kong, Indonesia or Thailand—have it worse. We should be thankful for having four seasons. Still, summer and winter in South Korea stand out as two extremes.
If you want to experience the seasonal diversity of New York with the ethnic homogeneity of Chinatown, then come to South Korea. If you want to feel the sweltering heat of the sun and soak in bittersweet rain in one day, come to South Korea. I’ve felt fear, awe and bliss all at once in South Korea.
I’ve felt fear, awe and bliss all at once in South Korea.
July is the monsoon season. One day, I was stuck on a bus route on my way home when the pouring began. I didn’t have an umbrella. I’d spent enough summers there to know I should have had one with me, but I have the gift of stubborn folly. I stopped out of the bus. It took 30 seconds for me to be drenched to my toes.
I ran. My socks squished in my water-heavy shoes all the way home. The puddles splashed up the side of my bare legs, leaving mud streaks. I was out of breath by the time I reached my apartment. Standing under the concrete shelter of the lobby, panting, I could hear the violent splatters paint the world outside one darker shade of grey. It was exhilarating.
It sticks closer than a brother (or sister). I spend one, maybe two months at most in South Korea every summer, but each time, I leave with precious friends. There is a certain kinship felt only by those of us who live on the fringe between South Korea and somewhere else—those of us who can blend in perfectly with our looks yet open our mouths and immediately reveal that we’re strangers.
There is a certain kinship felt only by those who live on the fringe between South Korea and somewhere else.
Whether we’re here for a summer, a school year or even permanently relocated, South Korea is not our first home. That means we can enjoy things about it, perhaps forgotten by its natives. We can see Gyeongbok Palace and Hanok Village with the fresh eyes of a tourist. We can go to Lotte World and squirm in line for the Viking Ship like the 8-year-olds behind us. We can marvel at the cheap street malls, the endless late-night eateries, the neon lights glowing on familiar letters and words we grew up only seeing on subtitles or hearing from our parents when they let slip our native tongue.
It sticks in my memory. It’s only a few short months out of the year. I remember the warm rain. I remember the bingsu runs, ripped pleather bus seats and nylon blankets spread out along Han River with fried chicken and sweet potato pizza.
This, for me, is summer in South Korea: sticky, sweet and unforgettable.
What is summer like for you in your home country or city? What are your favorite memories?
Image via Jen Miller