Most writers have their fair share of irrational fears and insecurities. However, none are as compelling as the fear of losing one’s ability to put words to paper — to build stories from nothing. Can you ever forget how to write? This question plagued me during the course of the last 3 years. Do you know that feeling where you really want to do something that you thought you were decently good at and then self-doubt just found a way to creep in? It’s been over 2 years since my last post and I wonder if the words will flow as they used to. Or will I get sucked into that blank page in front of me? I’m going to be brave and see where my thoughts take me. It’s my shot at catharsis. If you’re going to stick till the end; please, be kind.

“A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.”

Franz Kafka

I had written my last post (on Busan) during the summer of 2020 (a year that we’d all like to delete from our lives). Although, South Korea had earned a lot of praise during the early months of the pandemic, by summer, the cases started to rise again. We did manage a week-long trip to the East Coast (I will write about it in the coming months) and resumed our dental work soon after. We had spent most of 2020 getting our dental treatment done — that also included complicated wisdom teeth surgeries as well as an implant. Given that we weren’t going to be travelling outside Korea (or Seoul) — we tried to rationalise the cost of the dental work on our pocket. We never had a lockdown, but we chose to stay indoors, unless we went grocery shopping or for a walk. Most classes at the regional centre were shut and meeting friends was always virtual. By autumn, we finished the first level of our Korean Course and shifted to the next level online. Honestly, I stopped writing because I couldn’t cope with everything that was happening around me. I turned my energies to DIY crafts and tried to keep sane — in a mostly insane year.

Winter (December 2020 – February 2021)

By December, winter had set in. The autumnal leaves had fallen and everything was bare. The cold temperatures didn’t do anything for our gloomy spirits. Christmas, New Year, and our Wedding Anniversary was low-key. We had finally figured how to use Coupang Eats and that was one silver lining in a largely grey Seoul sky.

January is the coldest month of the Korean Winter. Sunshine is rare and sub-zero temperatures are the norm. The cold winds from Siberia don’t do anything for that chill inside that heavily padded winter coat. The pandemic was showing no signs of receding and we were soon going to complete a year of making masks a part of our identity. Winter, is also the perfect breeding season for flu or a virus that no one seemed to understand. Acceptance was our new bliss and we stopped trying to wonder when would it all pass.

Food became our new comfort. After a while you tend to get bored with restaurant food and though we had our favourites — we started experimenting with our culinary skills. Nothing tops a warm noodle soup or Russian Goulash on a chilly winter evening.

When the temperature dips below – 20°C, chances are the Han River will freeze. It was worth the 30-minute walk from Gongdeok (where we lived) to the Hangang Park in Yeouido. It wasn’t the first time we’d seen this marvelous spectacle, but it was fascinating because we had rarely stepped outside our neighbourhood in months.

By February 2021, we were considering moving back home for good. We never knew when that would happen because most flights were grounded and we’d just have to prepare whenever the time was right. In 2019, I had taken a couple of classes in soap making and during my process of inventory/house item listing — I found a lot of DIY material. I had some old tea from our 2018 Shanghai trip as well as coffee powder that had expired. I put it together and made some soaps to gift friends or use ourselves.

Puzzles are quite the craze in South Korea and I was totally into them during our early days in Seoul. I found a Van Gogh puzzle that put my rusty skills to the test.

Spring (March – May 2021)

By early spring, the cherry trees in our neighbourhood started bulging with the first buds of cherry blossoms. Inside our apartment, our little lemon plant bloomed with white flowers. It was a sign of hope. I’ve always appreciated spring after a long and bitter winter.

There wasn’t much to do outside and the situation of the pandemic hadn’t changed either. We stopped reading the numbers every morning or hoping for the situation to change quickly. It was going to be a long wait and I had plenty of time — given that I had given up writing. During my spring cleaning spree, I found a kilo of dental plaster that I had bought in 2019. I had extra moulds that I hadn’t used and tried experimenting with plaster. When I was reasonably satisfied, I watched a couple YouTube videos on getting more creative. I used surgical gloves to create a mould for the hands. Our old leaf from our favourite plant doubled as a mould for the clay leaf.

While I explored my creative side in art and crafts; my hubby tried experimenting in the kitchen. Our small oven was perfect for a beginner. Every weekend was an opportunity to eat a different kind of bread — in the hope that one would eventually become edible.

We missed our spicy curries and naans. Our cooking could never match the authenticity of the food back home. It had been more than a year since we had visited home and our apartment was soon becoming the only place of familiarity that we knew. By late spring, I had managed to clear a lot of clothes (either donated to a local charity or friends) and tried finding homes for our house plants. It still seemed like a lot of stuff (and a lot of memories) to give away and it was hard letting go. It was harder to be grateful for the life we had built and would have to let go.

By April, tulips and other colourful flowers of our local park started to bloom. I had got a new phone in March and I was happy to take some outdoor shots for a change.

Our lemon tree was pregnant with the cutest lemons we had ever seen. Hope got a whole new meaning. It was a particularly difficult month of May, especially since the Delta strain was raging back home, and it was hard to stay calm in the midst of the storm that would come.

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”

― Salvador Dali

Without a doubt, food is a great comforter when you’re feeling down. It was our only constant at that time other than Netflix. In a couple of months, hubby was baking quite a delectable variety of breads and pizzas.

Summer (June – August 2021)

Although, it can rain in any month in Korea; June — is the wettest of them all. Grey gets a whole new meaning during the rainy days. The roads don’t get slushy and it is possible to still go on walks and it’s better than feeling dull at home. June was also when we learned that my cousin had contracted the Delta Virus. The pandemic suddenly began to look real and not like a scene from a sci-fi movie. Our entire family was worried and hoped that he would make it through. That was a particularly long weekend.

We heard news that my cousin was stable — not out of danger though. We needed to get out of the apartment and distract ourselves. It had been over a year since we stopped taking the subway or bus. We used to either take a cab or walk wherever we had to go. We filled air in our bikes and decided to checkout the roses along the Hangang Park. Normally, we used to cycle till we could (about 26 KM) and then take the subway back. This time, we had to go till the point we knew that we could cycle back from.

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” 

― Allen Saunders

Sadly, my cousin didn’t make it through. We had lost his father, my uncle (my mum’s brother), just two years back. We were all in shock (still are) and didn’t know how to process our grief. He is survived by his wife and two kids.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” 

― Albert Einstein

In the first week of July, I got a message from dad saying that mum had fallen on the floor and couldn’t get up. The next three days were an absolute nightmare. My siblings and I were all abroad (in different continents) and weren’t able go back home. Due to the pandemic, we couldn’t find people to help, and the risk of infection at the hospital was also high. Fortunately, a family friend was able to lift mum to the bed (she hadn’t fallen but just sat on the floor and couldn’t get up) and the doctor would treat her from home. Mum had neglected a wound as well as her sugar levels. It was the hardest period of the pandemic and hope was hard to hang onto. Mum spent the next two months on the bed and thankfully her levels stabilised and the wound healed.

While the rest of the world had got both their vaccine shots, we were still waiting for ours. The government had announced that it would open phone bookings for the vaccine as per the birth date of a person. This was to avoid clogging the system. It was a particularly tense moment and we had no clue how we would make a booking. Fortunately, our friends volunteered and a work colleague made the booking for us. We were scheduled for our first shot in September and the next in October/November.

That summer was painfully hot and we spent most of our time in the living area. It was the only room with an air conditioner and a view of the Gongdeok’s officescape. It came at the price of hearing honking cars, fire brigade sirens, ambulances, and other sounds that would trigger my panic attacks without warning.

There wasn’t much to do in August other than wait for the vaccines and schedule our annual dental check. We both didn’t have any major problems and I decided to get a tooth restoration done on the recommendation of the dentist. I started punch needlework to keep myself occupied and avoid overthinking everything.

Autumn (September – November 2021)

September was when things truly started to turn. Mum sat after a period of 2 months and prepared to stand on the ground (in a bid to walk) — in the coming weeks. It was the best gift that mum could give me for my fortieth birthday. My Korean friends sent flowers and other gifts on my birthday. We didn’t do anything other than order Japanese takeaway and I was happy — moreover grateful — for everything that patience had got me.

By late September, we had taken our first shots of our vaccine and started going for longer walks along the Han River. We had to now focus our energies on the move back home and set timelines for shipping, moving out of the apartment, and booking tickets. The quiet of the Han River was perfect to de-stress and stay calm.

Just before autumn sets in Seoul, there are a number of flowers to spot along the banks of the river or parks spread across the city. Cosmos Flowers are an absolute treat to the eye and can be found in abundance along the Han River.

Autumn makes its presence felt in phases across the country. We weren’t traveling outside Seoul and thought of visiting our old haunts to pay homage to the life and memories we had created over the years. My friends knew that I would be leaving and it was time to start meeting them to say a bittersweet farewell. There was good food, fond memories, long conversations, and a lot of tears shed. As an expat, you know: once you leave — chances are that you’ll never meet again. For me it was harder, because I met them after a year — only to say goodbye.

By November, chaos was taking over. There was a lot of giving away to be done and not many places that were accepting. My good friend took most of our plants (about 50 or so) to share in her family. Another friend took our small appliances, plants, and furniture. I had to make a fourth round (in a year) to the donation store to drop clothes that we didn’t need or could not ship back. My hanji work (above pic) was donated/gifted to local Korean organisations/businesses. We found buyers for our bikes and it was one of the toughest moments of the move. My bike was the only thing that I found hard to give away. A lot of my DIY craft was gifted to friends. Despite it all there was a lot more to give away.

The realtor of our apartment managed to find a new tenant (a young Korean couple) within a week of serving our notice. It wasn’t surprising given that gorgeous view and the proximity to Gongdeok Subway and AREX (Airport line). However, it was tough for us to let go of our safe space and sanctuary — during the toughest parts of the pandemic. This apartment had become home over the past two and half years. It was our only constant in an ephemeral world and you could say that we did have a bit of Stockholm Syndrome. It was time to move on.

Within a month we moved into an Airbnb in Mapo. It was the fourth space that we had moved into during our six-and-half-year stay in Seoul, South Korea. We didn’t hire movers this time because our boxes had been shipped back home. All we had was two suitcases and two backpacks. The rest was grocery supplies for the last few days in Seoul. Our Airbnb was small but the view made up for the space constraints. Our favourite restaurants were within walking distance and the Han River was a stone’s throw away.

It was late November, and although the ginkgo leaves had long fallen, traces of autumn could be found lingering in the city. I had said my farewells to most of my friends who stayed in Seoul. We made a trip to Chuncheon and Incheon to meet with our Korean friends. This was the first time we had left Seoul in over a year. We will always have a special place in our hearts for Chuncheon and Incheon because during our early days, we’d always travel there during the annual holidays.

December came without a warning and brought with it a gust of heavy winds. During the last week, our friends sent us food or goodies by local carriers. It was stressful right till the end because we had to clear our COVID tests and hope that everything worked like clockwork. To our luck, Omicron was just making headlines of the local newspaper and travel rules started to change again. I can’t express in words what was going through our minds back then. But, I’m grateful that it all worked out (for the best) and we made it to the other side.

Posted by:twobrownfeet

15 replies on “Four Seasons and A Bittersweet Farewell

    1. Hi Dave!It’s so good to hear from you. Hope you’re doing well. Yes, we moved back to my hometown, in India, to be closer to my parents. It’s been over a year and we’re still settling in and adjusting to life here. I hope to mix and write about our life/travel in Korea and India. 🙂 I don’t get as much time, so it will be quite a challenge. Fingers crossed!

  1. I just tried several times to post a comment on the blog post from today (Homecoming), but it kept saying it failed. I also, oddly, never got notified of this post from a few weeks ago.) Anyway, I will try to put it here even though it belongs on the other post:

    What a lovely surprise to find you here in my Inbox today! While I have not been estranged from my own country, I have lived through many of your other experiences in the last three years, most notably with my own parents. They are a 3-day drive from where we live (or an expensive flight or, during Covid, no flights at all), and I feel so tired traveling back and forth to help them out during illnesses, falls, etc. We have a mountain house near them, but try as I might, I can’t reconcile myself myself to leaving my warm climate and comfortable home to live in a cold place in the middle of nowhere. You are a good daughter! 🙂 I hope your return to India will allow you to find yourself again.

    1. Hi Lexi! It’s so wonderful to hear from you! I’m really touched by my blogger family who reached out to me through these two posts. Thank you for writing such a wonderful comment and sharing your story. It truly means a lot. I think we all faced similar situations during the pandemic and I know how tough the to-and-fro travel can be. It’s like juggling two lives right? I used to that before I left for Korea. Then the distance got longer! 🙂 I just reasoned that I don’t want to live in the big city anymore and I want to be closer to my parents. Basil’s working from home since the pandemic, although they want to send him/us to a new country (the US being on the list). But I’m done with expat life and even foreign travel looks tough right now. 🙁
      I shifted the blog to a self-hosted site and I’m still figuring out the tech stuff. I lost all my followers and that’s why you weren’t able to view my earlier post or comment. I need to fix the glitches. 🙁 Thanks for letting me know.

  2. Good to find your new post on the reader today, Cheryl. Yours is one of the few blogs that I enjoy reading; and I was missing. Thanks for sharing the “missing chronicles” of the past two years. As always, your pictures are beautiful. I enjoy the aesthetics. Hope you are well-settled in your home. Must be a happy feeling to be back home!

    1. Thank you for such a warm welcome back, Arvind! 🙂 Truly means a lot. It has been quite a challenge to start writing again. I can’t find my focus since we’re still adjusting to life back here. The three-year break made me question whether I should even blog/write anymore. My few close friends kept encouraging me to continue blogging and that’s one of the reasons I started writing again.:) I’m not sure how often I could post or how long the intervals will be. But I hope to keep trying. I am happy to be back home! 🙂

      1. I can understand the challenge, Cheryl. I guess even I’m also struggling in a similar way but I haven’t been away for such a long time. There is a lot to write but then it is about motivation and also there are so many aspects related to blog so it is not just writing. I think, I don’t write more than 10-14 posts a year, lately. I do think you should write. Writing a blog is also a therapy and it helps you connect with people. For some, blog is their identity. I’m sure you will be able to find a reason relevant for you. Take your time, I’m sure the reason and inspiration for writing will find its way, Cheryl. 🙂
        In case, you decide to visit my city, keep me posted. There is a lot that Rajasthan offers!

      2. Thank you for the motivation, Arvind. 🙂 Truly means a lot. Actually, we did cross the entire length of Rajasthan in April. But, we couldn’t meet any one on this road trip because we barely spent more than a day or two in any city. We stayed on the outskirts of Jaipur just to break the journey. Definitely, the next time.:)

      3. I can understand having undertaken long road trips (certainly, not as long as yours). It is okay. Will look forward to reading about your “adventure”, Cheryl.

  3. Cheryl! Your blog came up in WP today for the first time in years so I had to backtrack and see how long you’ve been writing again. Firstly, you haven’t lost your beautiful touch with words. Secondly, I’m so sorry about your cousin. It sounds as though the last few years have been a time of huge change for you. I know all about those challenges of letting go. We sold our home of over 25 years last year and are now officially travelling nomads. Anyway It’s so good to read you again and I’ll have to catch up on more of your posts. Take care and I do hope that life is settled and you and Basil are well. Sending lots of love from down under. xx

    1. Hi Miriam! It’s so good to hear from you! I truly mean it! I have been thinking of you. I hadn’t written a post for 3 years because everything was too overwhelming for me. I moved the blog to a self-hosted server and I lost all my followers initially. 🙁 It took a couple of months to get things working. It’s still a task to like a comment or leave a comment on blogs. I’m so glad you found me (again)! Thank you for your wonderful comment. This post and the next were written to explain the long gap in blogging. 🙂 Are both your kids off to University/college? Wow! You sold your home of 25 years! That’s a BIG step. We thought we’d be travelling nomads after returning to India. But Basil’s working from home and I have to be there for my mum (other than few intervals). We did a couple of road trips ourself but I haven’t been able to write as fast as we travel. Sending you warm hugs! Cheryl

      1. Hi again Cheryl, so great to hear back from you. Yes both my kids are grown up and independent now. My 25yo daughter is living with her partner (and 6 horses, 3 dogs and cats) in Queensland and my 22yo son is living in our apartment in Melbourne (but he’s currently visiting us while we’re house sitting). He’s working for an international finance company coding and programming so he’s been able to work remotely up here the past two weeks. It’s been great to catch up with him. So much has happened and changed, for us all, these past three years. So happy to be reconnected with you. Big warm hugs back my friend! 😊

      2. Wow! When did they get so big? You must be so proud of the two of them! Your daughter is truly inspired by you. 🙂 Your son is all grown up too! Congratulations on doing such a great job! All the best to house hunting. It never can be an easy job. I lost count of how many apartments/studios/airbnbs and houses that I’ve lived in the past two years itself. 🙂 I can’t wait to read your blog. Take care my dear friend. Loads of love and luck for you future adventures (on the road and off).xo

      3. Thanks so much Cheryl. I really am proud of them both. So completely different, polar opposites in every way but both with kind hearts. Big hugs to you for now. xx

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