“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
― Paulo Coelho
I started this year on a positive note. We had spent Christmas in Uzbekistan and the change of scenery had done wonders for me. January, the coldest winter month, wasn’t over; but I had found ways to beat the gloom. I got myself enrolled in art classes, wrote extensively about all our past trips, and reconnected with old friends in Seoul and around the globe. Life was looking up. Winter wasn’t as gloomy or cold, the air wasn’t bad, and we had plenty of sunshine. I started believing in Paulo Coelho’s philosophy. I had probably wasted my entire life as a pessimist. I was gravitating towards optimism.
“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”
The unpredictability of life is what makes it so interesting (for an optimist) or challenging (for a pessimist). By the end of January, around Lunar New Year, things started spiralling. Murphy was winning again and the good old ‘pessimist’ in me reappeared.
“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.”
― Victor Hugo
Getting one’s teeth extracted isn’t the best idea when a ‘novel’ virus (that’s what they called it back then) is doing the rounds. I was more petrified than Basil — the patient. Four extractions later and after 2 waves of the novel virus, life came to a strange standstill. Nothing would ever be the same again.
The second wave, a community transmission, occurred in mid-February. We never had a lockdown. Democracy is important in Korea. Personal privacy may have taken a beating though. I was too blank to have an opinion on either. But with all travel options quickly fading and most countries issuing travel bans — we were effectively trapped in Seoul. It was hard to get information in English. My expat and local Korean friends were of some help before I found local English news websites.
Social distancing hadn’t been coined yet. But, everyone, or at least those we knew, were ‘social distancing’. And it kickstarted the days of spending more time at home and less outside. Grocery shopping and finding isolated places in our neighbourhood was the most exciting thing we’d do. We explored online shopping (thank you Coupang) and food delivery too. Basil started working from home (we haven’t killed each other yet) and we stopped Korean class. Masks (I know there’s still a debate on this) and sanitisers became a part of our life.
“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”
― Marcus Aurelius
By late March, temperatures started rising quickly and we had a riot of colour all around. We were approaching the end of the ‘stay-at-home’ period and spring was bringing new hope for us. Korea had flattened the curve and most of us were optimistic.
Cherry blossoms started blooming earlier this year. Most festivals were cancelled, popular neighbourhoods were barricaded, and some canola fields were mowed to prevent people from gathering. We were advised to be cautious and avoid crowded places. So, we explored the local forest line. Sadly, this year people arrived in hordes and we had to find another place to walk.
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
― Albert Einstein
We live very close to the centre of Seoul. Four years ago, it was a great neighbourhood because of its connectivity and proximity to the subway. Now, it’s really hard finding places that are empty and the peak of cherry blossoms was actually a nightmare. On one weekend, we decided to wake up early and cycle along the Han. We wanted to be tourists in Seoul. We couldn’t take the subway back so we had to cycle all the way back. It was a nice 14.8 Km ride (not our best). The lack of exercise and excessive eating had made us unfit and we were quite pooped.
We were urged to practice social distancing for the first two weeks of April. We had gone back to square one. We woke up early (on the next weekend) to visit Hyochang Park (just behind us) and it was empty. This park is only visited by locals and has fewer blossoms. It was a treat to take in the solitude and beauty around us.
“The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”
― Isaac Asimov
The government eventually extended the period of social distancing until April 19th. That’s when we became tourists in our own neighbourhood — finding hidden sculptures and enjoying blossoms on the street.
The blossoms didn’t last very long this year. It’s been one of the hottest springs we’ve had so far. Soon the streets were lined with pink dust and the magic was gone.
“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”
William Arthur Ward
There may have been many reasons to feel glum, but I decided to focus on the positive. I could complain that I haven’t travelled to the other side of the city or met friends (family) for months. I don’t even know when we could travel again. I miss my family (in three different continents) terribly and go into endless cycles of worry. But, I also know there are people who are struggling in ways that I cannot imagine. My grievances are only petty complaints in comparison. I can wait and be patient. I can breathe and let life take its course. I can live in the moment and forget about the uncertainties that are beyond my control.
Chiki: Do you even know what’s the difference between a pessimist and an optimist?From the movie, No Man’s Land
Nino: No, what?
Chiki: A pessimist thinks things can’t be worse. An optimist knows they can.
We’re approaching the end of the fourth week of intensive social distancing. Life looks quite normal — given the conditions. There’s some nervous chatter of new clusters and when would be a good time to ease restrictions. However, nature doesn’t wait. Tulips and other flowers have started popping out. I guess we’ll have an early summer.
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
― Anne Frank
The pessimist and optimist in me are engaged in a battle of tug-of-war. The pessimist thinks life will never be the same again. You will always doubt the next person, think twice before standing less than 6 feet, and the apartment is the only safe place. The optimist in me feels that we can get over this if we work together. The human spirit is far greater than my silly fears. I’m rooting for the optimist and a vaccine. Maybe, Paulo Coelho will win this time.