As graduation week concluded, my first semester of work officially finished, marking the start of a well-deserved two-and-a-half-week uninterrupted vacation. I could think of no other holiday-christening activity more relaxing than a 100-kilometer bike ride.
Mr. Meta, another August orientation-mate, invited me a month in advance. In classic procrastinatory style, I didn’t think much of it until the actual weekend arrived. Suddenly, it was Saturday morning.
Mr. Meta (short for Mr. Manic Metabolism) has lived in Korea for 18 months. Before joining JLP, he and his wife worked in a hagwon (private academy). While not everyone will agree with his outspoken political views, it’s hard to hate on his positivity. His cheerful demeanor serves as a jarring mismatch from his difficult upbringing. His story is inspiring and his optimism proved essential on this fateful day.
In the morning, my optimism was equally elevated. The sun shone in a crystal sky, my backpack was chock-full of essentials, and Mr. Meta filled my head with assurances.
“It’s not a bad ride. Anyone can do it.”
“We’re just going to ride a path along the river. It should be easy.”
“It’s only like four hours.”
I took this optimism to the road. Initially, I could not deny the accuracy of his statements. It was very relaxing to meander down a path beside the Yeongsan River. My body felt good and my mind felt strong – for the first 20 kilometers.
Then detours reared their ugly heads. During the winter, construction equipment dotted sections of trail.
The first few were tolerable. 500-meter detours were annoying but manageable. However, those detours soon gave way to a 1.5 km hike up a slush-laden mountain. Riding proved impossible, so we dismounted our iron steeds and proceeded on foot.
“I didn’t sign up for a hike, Meta.”
“Who designed these detours?”
Step by step we trudged up the mountain while an agonizing thought echoed in my mind.
“All of this is to avoid a 300 meter stretch of construction.”
My resolve began to dissolve. When I glanced at my phone to check our progress, it felt like dumping a bucket of water on a candle. After two hours, we were less than 25% finished. An easy four-hour ride was no longer in the cards.
To make matters more difficult, I chose to listen to an (excellent) audiobook by Ta Nehisi Coates called We Were Eight Years in Power. Listening to Coates’ vivid description of African Americans’ Sisyphean fight against institutional racism combined with our seemingly futile efforts to cross the Korean wilderness filled me with an unfamiliar and all-consuming sense of despair.
The constant headwind and constant slight uphill grade did nothing to help. Anyone who has ridden a bike against the wind knows what I mean. My bones chilled while my quads burned. Each pedal stroke felt increasingly difficult and meaningless. I downshifted my gears, my bike click-clacking like deft secretarial hands on a keyboard. By the time we took a brief break, I contemplated an exit strategy.
“Maybe I can hop on a bus from Naju to Gwangju.”
“Maybe I can pull off the road and ask a ruralite to call me a taxi.”
“Maybe I can turn back to Namak while Meta’s not looking.”
For the first time in a long time, I started to believe that “Mama raised a softie.” I’m loath to quit anything, yet I flirted with surrender more times than I could count. Barring a dramatic mind-shift, I was ready to throw in the towel and burn my bicycle.
Photo Corner – Kakao Friends Museum Edition
I went to Seoul one afternoon to meet my parents at the airport. I was early and therefore chose to find birthday presents for Potato and Scrabbles. As I exited the Kakao Friends Store with one gift in hand, I came upon a museum and thought, “I bet Potato would like this.”
It was a Ryan Chinese New Year Miracle. The lionesque balloons filled the air with indifferent facial expressions.
Deemed too dangerous for the larger society, Ryan was sentenced to life in painfully small solitary confinement.
And on the eighth day, Ryan said, “Look at me. Look into my eyes. I am God now.”
And Frodo loved her so much that he traded his whole kingdom for her golden bust.
That unibrow, though.
Do I have a dirty mind, or does Frodo look like someone walked in on him eating the rug?
Which Kakao Friend would betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver? Muzi looks quite guilty there on the left.
I only recognize the bottom left word – “ne” (yes).
Muzi is looking quite dapper in that bowtie and sinister with that expression on his face. Ryan looks slightly less expressionless than usual. Is that fear I see?
Can you tell I’m an English teacher? I are has perfect grammars. Seriously. The spelling sucks but the grammar is en pointe.
Sleepy Muzi loves his carrot.
That’s the stone-faced Ryan I remember!
I got strip club vibes from this picture. The only difference was I didn’t get roughed up and kicked out for pulling out my cell phone.
If only Potato could see me now, sitting on a chair made of Ryans.
Seoul subway stations can be quite crowded. This is why I am a beacon for my friends. The towering white guy is tough to miss.
3-6-5, on my grind, work all day, got no time, Kakao Friends, till the end, me and them, break don’t bend.
Debut album coming soon :P.