THE AIR IN SEOUL IS NOT CLEAN. Even on the clearest days the horizon is painted with a faint, dusty brown. I make this observation not necessarily out of criticism, but as a simple a statement of fact. This is the reality I remembered, that I expected, but perhaps was not fully prepared to embrace again. And as spring burns into summer, the breath of the city becomes even thicker. Walking along the side of the Han river yesterday, dirt and gravel crunching underfoot with a million smells swirling in the air, I felt indeed very far away from the Midwest.
Taking shelter in the shade of a tree, a purer brand of breeze wafted through, and I was thankful for that. I took special pleasure in having ventured to a random riverside neighborhood, breaking the eat-work-sleep schedule I had ground myself into over the past week. But as I sat there, watching cyclists glide by — most of whom were inexplicably riding hardcore mountain bikes — a reality sharper than air quality set in: this would be the first summer through which I would consistently work.
No more part-time at coffee shops. No more “by the way I won’t be here for the next month” kind of notices. No more bike rides on Wednesday afternoons. Rough.
It isn’t that my workplace is so excruciating — quite the opposite, I enjoy my job. But for someone who values his time in the outdoors, stepping into a soft-lit, air-conditioned office on a halcyon bluegreen day is going to be murder. Especially in Seoul, where lush mountains jut above the cityscape, tempting me with offers of respite from the smog and constant bustle.
While I’m tempted to say, Such is life, I know better; so do most in the travel blog community. Life can be a juggling act between freedom and responsibility, but it often boils down to choice. And I’ve made mine. I certainly could have continued on the track I was on — slinging espresso, pushing freelance articles and eeking out a living. I was happy that way, and I definitely could’ve gone somewhere on that path. By coming back to Korea I’m almost starting from scratch; a familiar place seen through a different lens, a career where my fulfillment will only come with sweat.