Harriet lived a full life. She raised three kids, four including her husband, and she raised them well. Now, at the age of 77, she found herself living alone with nothing to do. The museum in Cooperstown was looking for volunteers. She had grown up going to the museum regularly, as she can trace her lineage to the founders of the quaint village that was nestled in the mountains of upstate New York. She thought that it would be nice to talk to people again, even to people that she had never met. There were two two-hour shifts to choose from: 10-12 and 1-3. She decided on the first shift.

On her first day, she decided to put on a skirt suit that she thought was very smart. She didn’t remember the last time she wore it, but it included a navy wool skirt and a long blazer that fit loosely over her thin shoulders. Her wiry salt and pepper hair was cut short up to the neck which emphasized the crown of tight curls even more. She dusted on some pale blue eyeshadow over her eyelids and applied a bright crimson lipstick over her thin lips. One last look in the mirror, she straightened her golden wire eyeglasses, and off she went.

Day in an Old-Fashioned Town

I have spent many weekends exploring the wealthy neighborhoods in this area, with their fancy department stores and restaurants. I didn’t want to spend two hours back and forth to Seoul yesterday, and I always pass by a nice looking Lotte Department store on the train that I take into the city. The stop was called Jangwang. Even though they had a nice-looking department store, the rest of that neighborhood wasn’t as attractive. There were old and run-down stores and restaurants surrounding the area, and the Lotte department store, although nice on the outside, even with the new wing, wasn’t very impressive. If I wanted to do any real shopping, I would have to travel farther into the Seoul area. There weren’t that many shoe or clothing stores- just a lot of stores that sold housewares, catering mainly to families.

Since it was an older town compared to the surrounding satellite cities that have been springing up everywhere, the restaurants were more authentic and old fashioned. I entered one after I saw a picture of their dukkguk on the sidewalk. I entered the small shop. In front of the entrance, an elderly woman was making dumplings by hand. Clouds of steam rose from huge boiling pots. I ordered my dish. She nodded and told another elderly lady that was hovering in the corner of the small exposed kitchen. Several minutes passed by and she approached my table with my meal. It was steaming, just like the clouds of steam in the front of the restaurant. The dish was salty and the contents were thick and chewy. It didn’t have any extra or unnecessary ingredients- just some scallions and nori strips. That’s it. There was nothing else to interefere with the flavor of the soup. I ate it, bending over the small wooden table against the wall and sitting in my small and short stool. I was content as I left to reenter the cold January air.

The First Five Days

I couldn’t wait for January 20th to come, and I was so elated to see 45 leave and have Biden sworn in. But the news is still about the ex-president and what a mess he had left everything for the new administration, and for the country, for that matter, and it has been frustrating to see how Democrats just can’t stand up to the Republicans, even though many of them were involved in an actual insurrection.

I left America because of Trump, but even though he’s not president anymore, I still don’t recognize my country. It seems so bitter, angry, and divisive, and it seems like it will stay that way.

I thought naively that we could return to normal, but I only see pointless debates about Rolex watches and Pelotons. It makes me long for the good old days when we would come together to overcome a common enemy, but the Russians have seen what we’ve become: our own worst enemy. And it’s not like we don’t have any serious problems to tackle- the global pandemic is still wreaking havoc on our lives. It makes me wonder why this disaster isn’t enough to bring us together. Instead it has enhanced the divisions that have existed within our society for a long time.

All of this makes me feel ambivalent about returning to the U.S. The pandemic doesn’t make it any easier to return, but I am currently reading a biography about Emily Dickinson. Why I am drawn to her story as a recluse leaves me to ponder, my desire to withdraw from this crazy messed up world.

The Architect

He was small for his size, but he had always been small for his size.  He had thin lips and a delicate skull with prominent cheekbones.  His brows were of normal size that shaded his pensive, intense brown eyes.  He always looked like he was staring, but it was just that he was always thinking, finding solutions to things that he found difficult to understand.  He showed little emotion, but it wasn’t because he was unfeeling.  Brian felt a lot, to the point that he felt he had to hide all his feelings that it wouldn’t startle people.

He was looking for a new apartment in the city.  He wanted a pre-war building since he was drawn toward the fine old architectural touches he found lacking in newer buildings.  One apartment he was looking at had cracked plaster walls.

“It just needs a fresh new coat of paint!” the realtor said with a cheery smile.

Brian looked intently at the walls, and the ceiling cracks.  His brows furrowed.  He was imagining how he could fix the old place up.  He liked the challenge.

Raj came from the inner city of New Delhi.  It was loud and fragrant.  There were signs of life everywhere to remind him that he was not alone in this world.  Then he ended up in the suburbs of New Jersey. He started working for a pharmaceutical company in Lyndhurst. Every weekend, he would come into Manhattan to try a restaurant in Gramercy, or watch a movie in Times Square. After several months of this, he decided that he wanted to move into the city. He couldn’t afford much, but he was willing to sacrfice space and conveniences, such as a dishwasher and stairs.

There was an open house in a quaint little building in Midtown. A doorman greeted him, but refused to open the door for him. He instructed Raj to take the elevator to his right to the fifth floor. Raj took the rickety old elevator and entered to find a young man with his parents chatting with a friendly homely blonde woman. She has holding a binder, and as she was talking to the threesome, she waved her arm at Raj, motioning him into the tiny but brightly painted studio apartment.

“Come in! Come in! Please sign in, and I’ll be right with you,” she beamed. She was short and plump, sturdy. She was wearing a faux lavender fur coat, which matched her eyeshadow. She had the energy of a Bette Midler, and was around the same age as her.

This was Raj’s first open house, and he felt confused and out of place. He didn’t know if he needed papers or proof of qualifications, or any ID. Whenever he applied for anything in this country, he knew mounds of paperwork were involved. When she was done with answering the young man’s questions, he soon left with his parents. Raj immediately showed the woman his driver’s license. She looked down at it and chuckled, saying, “So, you’re interested in finding a new home?”

“Yes,” he said nervously.

“Well, here’s some important info. Oh, and you’ll need to fill this out.”

“Um, OK. How long does it take to buy a place?”

“It depends!”

Raj walked out discouraged, but a little delighted at the thought of owning his own place. “A slice of the Big Apple,” he whispered to himself.

Brian went to the local steakhouse for lunch with his parents. He relied heavily on their opinion when it came to major life decisions. They had decided his major and which college to go to. They knew him best, and they knew what he had to do to succeed. They also knew that it was time for him to find a place of his own. The commute from Westchester to Midtown was getting grueling, as his hours at the office have been getting longer and longer. He was sensible with his money, so he was looking at starter apartments. He liked the apartment he just saw because of the architectural detail. He just wasn’t completely convinced. The realtor was nice enough, but was turned off at how desperate she seemed at selling the place.

First Rain

today is the first rainy day since i moved here exactly a month ago. when it rains here, it rains in the whole country. it was probably the first october i’ve ever had in my life without any rain. i watched it fall from my tenth story window, familiarizing myself with the way it fell from my new view. i had the same view of rain falling for seventeen years, and oddly enough, it was the same light and shadow. the sounds were different, however, the echoes of cars honking their horns were more faint, and i could actually see pedestrians on the street walking with their umbrellas. the only view i had of other people from my old apartment was the neighbors on the other side of the building washing their dishes.

i went for a jog last night along the river. the water made the run pitch black, but made the neighboring city on the other side glimmer against the night sky. i ran so fast, so free. i never ran like that in new york.

The Wisdom of Walt Whitman

Election Day 2020 is next week, and I am taking some time to reflect on what the past four years of this current administration has revealed to me. It has shown that there is an underbelly of America that has found a voice- a fringe movement that has been in the periphery of American politics, but is now at the center of it. These people have somehow twisted what America has traditionally represented to everyone around the world: the land of opportunity, freedom, equality and justice for all.

I understand that rural white America is struggling, that the traditional middle class has been decimated by a changing world, but America is a place where we have always been the best when we are struggling, because that means we are striving to achieve something better than we are now. We are the richest and most powerful country in the world, and have been for quite some time, but is our time up?

We were the best when we were striving to achieve things that were yet to be built and invented, but now with the roads paved, skyscrapers erected and the information superhighway constructed, what is there left to achieve?

I am inspired by the wise words of Walt Whitman, who wrote, reflecting on the root causes of the Civil War: “I say that the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth terms of the American Presidency have shown that the villainy and shallowness of rulers (back’d by the machinery of great parties) are just as eligible to these States as to any foreign despotism, kingdom, or empire—there is not a bit of difference.” We learned from those mistakes back then and rebuilt this country. May we learn from the mistakes of the past four years and rebuild again.

Well, Well

Here I am, my fourth day in my new place, my new town. I didn’t even see this coming a few weeks ago. Everything happened so fast, and now I have a new apartment, a new jacket, and a new pillow. I even have a TV so that I can watch the French Open live- it’s October 4th, by the way, and they’re playing the French Open in October. But it’s the year 2020, and this crazy year is in the beginnings of its twilight, and God has blessed me to look at the upside of these turbulent times.

My new town is completely different than the last two places that I’ve lived in the past year. Jecheon was a small mountain village. I loved it for its quaintness. Daegu was a typical city with a history and tradition. This place, well, is bigger than the former and smaller than the latter, but it’s louder and brighter and more bustling than either of them. I read that it was constructed as a planned community, and I was afraid that it would be like a bland boring suburb, but at least there’s a pedestrian culture, with lots of shops and restaurants that you can walk to. It lacks, soul, however, maybe because of its newness. It’s definitely more Westernized and commercialized than either places that I’ve lived in, but I appreciate the energy that this town has. There’s a scant bus system, but I was able to take the bus to the premium outlet nearby.

The people seem to be more boisterous than the kind, polite, reserved people in Daegu. There are a lot of pubs near my place, so there’s a lot of day drinking going on- granted, it’s Chuseok weekend.

Even though I loved Daegu because I’m a city girl, and the layout of where I lived was that of a typical city, there were two things that were lacking there compared to Jecheon: a decent cafe close to my home and a decent park. Here, there’s a huge park that is paved, unlike those in Daegu, but it doesn’t really have the views that Citizens Park in Jecheon had. I found a huge cafe near my home. I think that I will always compare my future places to my first place in a foreign country: Jecheon. Even though the apartment there was old and shabby, it had a glorious mountain view.

The cool autumn air coming through the floor to ceiling windows in this cafe reminds me of what this season has always been about to me: New beginnings.