Tunnel leading to Hangang River

“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.”

Murphy’s Law

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.


Evening walk in Seoul

“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.

Yellow Burst
Love K-Drama Style

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.

White Magnolia

“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.


Along the forest line
Cherry Blossoms

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

Eyeing Yeouido from Mapo

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.

Hyochang Park

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.

Lotte Castle Mapo

“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.

Picking fairy dust

“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?
Nino: No, what?
Chiki: A pessimist thinks things can’t be worse. An optimist knows they can.

From the movie, No Man’s Land

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.

Life goes on…

“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.

Posted by:twobrownfeet

Writer-Photographer Duo. Now in Seoul.

36 replies on “Pause. Reset. Play.

  1. I was smiling at the end of this post so you must be doing something right 🙂 🙂 I would hate to be in an apartment! My son lives city centre in Leeds and has no outside space other than a small park behind them. He takes the youngster there to play football, if everybody else doesn’t have the same idea. Or goes for a run along the canal. I know how very lucky I am. I’m not really an optimist but I wear blinkers sometimes. You’ll come through this. In fact, you have!

    1. Aww! Thanks Jo! I’m so happy I made you smile. I wasn’t sure how this post would be interpreted. We’re all going through different challenges. I wanted to try humour for a change. 🙂
      I know how your son must feel. We’re surrounded by people everywhere and rush hour is crazy here. There’s always some bumping that happens. How’s your grandson coping with this? I think it’s hard for kids (and their parents).
      Your words are so comforting. Thanks for being such a kind heart. You remind me of mum. Bear hugs!

      1. Thank you! 🙂 🙂 What a lovely compliment! As for Logan, he’s a cheerful little spark but sensitive. I’m not sure what he makes of all this, bless him.

  2. Yes Cheryl, I’m with you in rooting for the optimist and a vaccine too! Here the days are sunny but getting cooler as we slowly head into winter, streets are quiet and, though most people I pass, are smiling and look outwardly optimistic, there’s an air of “when’s this going to end?” I think it’s the uncertainty that’s the hardest, not knowing when we’ll be able to see and hug our family and friends again. But like you said, there are many much worse off. I’m grateful for what we have, my backyard and nature on my doorstep. And I’m taking it one day at a time. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your world Cheryl. Take care my friend. xx

    1. Hi Miriam. It’s always so good to hear from you. I’m so glad you’re feeling optimistic. I’ve learned so much from you and your posts. I’m drawn to pessimism and I need to change that because this is going to go on for a while. Basil’s getting all my hugs. haha. He feels I’ve become too clingy. I know what you mean about family. Missing family is hard and the uncertainty of it all is trying. 😦 Mum always taught us to be grateful with what we have. I know I shouldn’t whine. Your backyard is so serene and beautiful. Take care and stay safe my dear friend. xoxo

      1. Your mum is very wise Cheryl. Nothing wrong with being too clingy either. Sending more hugs from afar, from a cool but sunny Melbourne Tuesday xx 😘

  3. From afar, we look at South Korea as a bellwether, and that has felt like a positive thing because you seem to have done things pretty right. Now, reading about how far you still are from “normal” life makes me feel less positive here since we are far behind you in terms of the course of the illness and our steps to mitigate it. I think we all woke up to a new normal in 2020, so I guess we’d all better start adjusting the sails! Like you, I have my own worries and sadnesses, and also like you, I know that missed family events (and family in general 😦 ) are not the end of the world and that many people have much more pressing problems, like daily survival. That fact alone makes me count my blessings every morning. Hang in there, Cheryl; you and Basil have been very resourceful at finding things that make you feel happy or at least OK, and that’s a huge part of staying upbeat.

    1. We’re all playing the guessing game right now. It’s been so hard to predict the next course of action and what/who to believe. Again the approach was very different on this side. As a foreigner, I felt everything was very normal. We’re used to seeing people with masks during fine dust pollution. Big corporations were functional all through. Small business were affected badly and traditional eateries were hit. Schools and universities are still shut, although restrictions on churches and bars are eased. There’s always a fear of silent transmissions. A vaccine or antibody testing may be the only way out. I didn’t want to be overtly pessimistic because I know being positive is one way to ensure we don’t get complacent.
      My maternal cousins are spread around the globe and we haven’t met in really long time. Because of this pandemic, we reconnected and had a long Zoom call before Easter. Friends have been reaching out and I think that’s the silver lining to this situation. We’re reaching out while nature breathes.
      Take care and stay safe, Lexie. xo

  4. Another great post, thanks. We are a few weeks behind you in UK re the virus and are likely to be in lockdown for a few weeks yet. Luckily we live in the countryside so can take long walks in the spring sunshine. Like you, we are enjoying one of the best blossom seasons fort a long time – cherry and blackthorn are beautiful at the moment. Stay safe. xx

    1. Hi Rosie. I couldn’t find your new blog (through your profile) and finally my email came to my rescue. I’m so glad you have an outlet to escape the isolation. I love long walks and sunny days. 🙂 Take care and stay safe. xo

  5. That tiny white flower in hand and the white magnolia are favorites in this absolutely stunning gallery. But I’m also just drawn into flowers right now during spring and the newness all around.

    1. Hi Bert and Rusha! Thanks so much for stopping by. The tiny white flower is a cherry blossom that I picked from the ground. We have pink streets once the flowers fall. 🙂 We also have tulips and by June, roses will take over the gardens. Love your tagline and it’s such an inspiration for us. Take care and stay safe!

  6. Stunning magnolias (one of my all time favorites) and cherry blossoms. Gorgeous! Interesting the Anne Frank quote as I was thinking about how she spent months in a tiny dark space with a few other people just in order try to survive and how much harsher that was than what most of us are experiencing now.

    Of course there are some terrible scenarios like in India Where social distancing is a luxury most people do not have.

    We have to stay optimistic and hopeful. I say this as my 84 year old mother has been sick for four days n n her assisted living home where she is alone and we pray that she will recover and hopefully only has her usual bronchial issues and not corona. But the elderly in homes are in a bad predicament right now.


    1. We’re blessed to have nature coexisting in a grey concrete jungle. 🙂 We keep finding small escapes from urban life. Spring flowers are planted all along the streets and in parks.
      I read the diary of Anne Frank in school and we visited Anne Frank House in 2010. It was a chilling experience. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the end of the visit. We do have a lot to learn from her.

      The situation in India is so complicated — even before the pandemic. It breaks my heart and I feel crushed. The daily wage workers have suffered a lot and many have lost their lives. I hope they find a solution to the chaos.

      I hope your mum’s better. I find positivity in your optimism. It’s what we all need right now.

      Take care and stay safe, Peta.

  7. I much appreciate your sharing the range of emotions that you have felt navigating through this crisis. I saw myself in so many of your words.

    I am glad that you are safe and well (even with Basil’s the tooth extractions in February #scary)

    And you are blessed to live in a neighborhood where you could experience some of the fantastic spring blooms despite the crowd control and mowing down of canola fields.

    Willian Ward quote is a sailors adage that I don’t heed often enough as I favor optimism over realism to a fault :-). But then I remind myself that Paul Coelho is always right. That quote from The Alchemist inspired me to lift the anchor from my desk in NYC and sail to where I am today. I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.

    1. Hi Lisa! It’s so good to hear from you. I hope you’re well. It’s been a while since I read your posts and I do miss your stories on your fantastic sailing journey. 😦
      Two of Basil’s extractions were minor surgeries and one was slightly risky. Thankfully it went well. We stopped the treatment because of the spike in cases. And he got a reminder from the dentist recently. 🙂
      Blossoms, azaleas, and magnolias are planted on every street in Seoul. I was grateful to be able to just take in all that beauty. None of the other plans worked out.
      Your story is so inspirational.
      Take care and stay safe my friend. xo

  8. The optimist in me thinks that life will never be the same again. The pessimist fears that we will go back to our old, destructive ways. 🙂

    This is such a wonderful post, Cheryl. I love how effectively you’ve used the quotes and pictures to give us a glimpse into your inner and outer turmoil. The pessimist in me suspects that it will take a lot longer than we hope for restrictions to be lifted. The optimist is a traitor and siding with the pessimist in this instance.

    1. I hear you, Jolandi! It’s hard to be an optimist these days, especially since we’re all playing the guessing game. I completely agree with you. Restrictions won’t be eased completely until there’s a vaccine or there’s significant breakthrough in antibody testing. It’s like playing dice. But, I also want to be a cautious optimist rather than spiralling in pessimism. 🙂

  9. This is a beautiful post Cheryl. Most of us can relate to these ups and downs caused by this ‘novel’ virus but we would not have been able to articulate it as you have.
    Here in France, we are already in our 5/6th week of lockdown – not just social distancing – and we are not allowed to venture more than 1km from our homes. The realist in me has pulled up her sleeves and is taking each day at a time.

    1. Hi Namz. Thanks a bunch! I was wondering how are you coping with life in a new country during these difficult times. Expat life is hard enough and a situation like this isn’t great. Take care and stay safe! Hopefully, we find a way out of this soon.

  10. I suppose being an optimist or a pessimist can often reflect circumstances as much as tendencies. I try to be pragmatic both in good times and bad. Current circumstances for us, while not optimal, could be worse. Our retired lifestyle hasn’t changed much – we just get out even less. So maybe it’s easier to abide.

    In any case, hang in there. I assume you’re at least you’re dealing with a government that doesn’t tell you one thing one day, then the exact opposite the next…

  11. Such a beautiful post. 💕 I tried commenting on an older post of yours the other day but my comment didn’t go through. I hope this one does. Take care.

    1. Hi Rama! So good to hear from you. Your comment came through, but was under moderation. Perhaps, that’s why it didn’t show in the feed. I’ve approved it. 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by. Take care!

  12. A very upbeat post, Cheryl. Full of hope and renewal for the future. It’s a bit boring staying at home but the good thing that’s come out from all this lockdown is Mother Nature healing herself and springing back into balance.

  13. Hey Cheryl, it’s funny that the optimistic me thinks that “things will never be the same again” and I fear that even after this huge event in everyone’s life, life goes back to what it was. I hope we can get out of this experience rethinking about our consumption habits, and respecting science a little bit more. We are living a tough (VERY TOUGH) political moment here in Brazil, and the pandemic chaos has just started (over 20.000 deaths, but cases still rising day by day). Personally, I’m suffering from the perspective of not having many professional improvement opportunities for at least a couple of years around here, but I’m trying to stay optimistic: “things will change” “this will change us”.

    1. Hi Maria! You’ve summed up so many of my thoughts. I was actually feeling very pessimist during many moments in this year and pandemic. It’s been quite hard. However, I wanted to write something to just keep the ‘hope’ for me ticking. I knew things would never be the same back in March. I guess, we just need to reset, think a little more, and unlearn (in this case) how we used live before the pandemic. I’ve heard about Brazil from friends. It’s one of the reasons I contacted you and Fernanda. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to live through a pandemic with bad leadership. The horror stories in different parts of the world (including India) have been so overwhelming for me. Professionally, I know it’s hard time for many people. Hang in there! Staying positive is hard, but you never know the future. Take care! xo

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