Supposedly we are nearing the end of the 장마절, rainy season, but it is still incredibly humid. On a good day the humidity is in the 80 percentile, and on a not-so-lucky day the humidity could hit 97%. I have to admit I searched online why I am not standing in a puddle if the humidity is basically 100%… It was funny because other people had also looked up similar questions such as, “Why am I not drowning in 100% humidity?”
Because it is just so incredibly humid and hot every thing feels sticky. Dollar money feels wet, the foam floors at taekwondo are warped, I cannot seem to dry after I shower. Due to the monsoon season in Korea the buildings are built incredibly seal-proof, which is great when it is pouring all the time. However, now that it is incredibly hot people sweat inside of the buildings and the moisture cannot escape. Basically the air feels heavy and dead.
As I right this blog it is 95˚ outside, but it feels like it is in the 100s in actuality. I think it is because of all the hot cement roads and buildings near me, and just from being in a city. Honestly, I have no idea how I have survived the last five weeks in the heat… I used to melt into a tantrum when I was in grade school and get sooo crabby during the intense heat.
Anyways, on Monday after class I went home to find that S was at the grandparents house, which meant that H and I could do something just the two of us. We decided to bike to a nearby river where you can wade in and get some relief from the heat and humidity. I really really really enjoyed the bike ride, which was only about 10 minutes long (with a fourth grader in tow). It was through the valley of the mountains, in the countryside of Gwangju. Off the path there were 아줌마s and 아저씨 (older women and men) tending to their corn, which is now in season. There were cute little houses like the ones you find in the States, which you cannot see at all in Seoul or most of Gwangju that is because there is only room for apartments in the city. There were other kids biking, one person even fishing. The bike brought a lot of child hood memories of biking with my own sister in New Hampshire.
I know I often complain about living so far from the school, because it honestly does suck on days where I could use the extra hour of sleep or am simply not in the mood to take a bus 2+ hours in one day. But today’s bike ride made me realize again just how lucky I am to live where I do. It is gorgeous, the air is cleaner. I can see the stars, and I have bike paths and mountains to walk right behind my house. I wonder if I was purposely placed here because out of all 27 CLS students I live in the most rural town in the U.S.
Also… living the farthest out of Gwangju downtown has forced me to learn the city better and master public transportation. I am the only one of the CLS students who takes the subway regularly… I also feel that I have a better spatial understanding of how Gwangju is laid out from all the buses (sometimes initially in the wrong direction) I have taken.
So when H and got to the stream we dared ourselves to run across the stretch of it barefoot. The water was INCREDIBLY cold but AMAZINGLY refreshing. There were some other kids there floating around on inner tubes or playing with water guns… a few families were having picnics. While H continued to play with some of the kids there I went to the soccer field right next the stream and found a soccer ball to dribble around with.
I feel really mixed about the reactions that I get when I play soccer in Korea. It is always guaranteed that I get a lot of stares and gather a lot of attention because girls in Korea do not do team sports. When I asked some college students at 전남대 why girls do not do sports I got answers like, “We should not sweat in public” or “Girls are cowardly to the ball.” This really frustrated me at first, especially because as an athletic girl in Korea I have received comments such as “오빠 느낌이 있어” (you’re like an older brother) and even comments from two different teachers that I am androgynous. My residential director has called me out countless times for not wearing dresses enough, and other people have said that I need to wear makeup and work on doing my hair more.
These comments really ate away at me the first two to three weeks, especially because in conservative Gwangju they were much more intense and I received them more often when I was in Seoul. It actually kind of put me in the dumps a little, and I felt overwhelmed from all the posters of doll like models on every surface in Gwangju. In Korea, trends have incredible social influence and everyone dresses the same, has the same hair styles, makeup styles etc., that generally mimic that of celebrities.
Maybe I do not pay attention to celebrities in the U.S. Or because I live in a more rural town and do not watch TV or do much social media I am not bombarded with celebrity images.
Anyways, I have just gone on a huge tangent and want to bring the topic back to soccer, but overall it is incredibly evident (especially in Gwangju where there really are not many foreigners) that Korea is a collectivist society easily influenced by trends, where as America places more value on individualism.
Ok, so like the river and bike ride, I enjoyed playing soccer so so so much. It is so freeing, and all my thoughts sort of disappear as if I am in in this special zone. H tried to play with me but quickly became un interested and has not once touched the ball since Monday…
I really wanted to play with some of the guys who started a game shortly after I arrived, but I could not work up the nerve to ask. Last time I asked a group of guys if I could join their game, it became this huuuuuge ordeal where they had to get permission from the other team and the team “managers” on whether or not a girl could join in the play. Let me remind you that time was not even an official game, it was pickup soccer…
Regardless, I really should just ask now, because last time when it eventually worked out 2 weeks later I fit right into the game and scored goals. Soccer was what eventually helped me really adjust to life in Seoul because all the guy classmates then knew my name, wanted to get to know me more, and I got a lot of respect from the other girls and school teachers who suddenly would come down to the soccer field to cheer me on. Right before I left Seoul, the boys on that soccer team even pooled their money together to get me a Korea national soccer jersey and a soccer ball.
I guess each time I play soccer with guys in Korea I could really change people’s perceptions about girls and team sports in a positive way… But overall in Korea the change of attitude with girls playing team sports fells painfully slow. Hopefully at least I can make a noticeable impact on my young host sisters.