Like Riding a Bike
This is hard to admit (and some of you will find this implausible): yesterday I rode a bicycle for the first time since I was a teenager. Some of you who know me well will know how many decades that is (rest assured, it is at least one more than I would like to count).The occasion was an event for all the SAP artists in the residency project, its staff, and volunteers. An environmental expert would give us a tour of the Anyang River renewal effort, from Seoksu to where it meets the Han River, about 10 km from the sea.
I had heard about this event for weeks and tried to hide my dread. All the bicycles came on the back of a truck. Each bike had a post-it on the seat with a name in Hangul characters. I was shown my bike. Then suddenly everyone was taking off out of the lot. I held down my hysteria and hopped on my bike and hoped for the best. After a few pumps of the pedals, I found that I had still not fallen down. And thusly I followed my companions through the sidewalks of Anyang to the river, passing unsuspecting pedestrians who did not know just how out of control this particular cyclist was.
There is a popular bike path along the Anyang River banks. The serious cyclists are dressed in full bodysuits, helmets and face masks. It is not unlike being passed by Spiderman or the Green Lantern. More traditionally dressed riders wear broad-brimmed hats and bandanas. You can decide for yourself what it feels like to be passed by them. I am proud to say I did not cause any accidents or have any spills myself. I am proud to say I kept pace. There was only one pile up. Interns were involved.
The terrain is mostly flat with only a few short, slight inclines along the way. The entire ride to the Han River on my poorly-fit bike with the hard-as-marble seat was a little over 20 km. Yup. Twenty kilometers. My arse hurt so much by the time I got to the confluence. I had provided only a pint of water for each of the Americans. The water did not last long. Lance Armstrong would have fired me.
When we got to the final destination we were handed a candy bar each and given a long lecture about landfills and fish and how the Seoul Olympics had caused some bad development along the Han River.
“Fine,” I thought. “Where is the truck for the bikes and the bus to take us home? Maybe I have to hail a taxi.”
“Okay,” someone said in English, “it is time to take the bikes back to the nearby train station where the truck is waiting. It is just a short ride.”
“Why don’t they give us water,” I think. But instead, “Do you know which way we are going?” I ask one of my American companions.
“I don’t know, I just follow the crowd. That’s how I’ve always survived.”
So I follow the group along the path to the other bank of the Anyang River. “Oh it’s okay, no problem, I’ll be on a train in five minutes.”
“It’s not far,” someone says. But at the 4 km mark, I am thinking, “These damn liars, ‘not far’ my arse! They are making us ride all the way home.
By now it is DARK. We left the market parking lot nearly four hours ago. I am swearing under my breath, which is the only thing keeping me alive. The beauty of the Anyang River is not lost on me: the glimmer of the city lights on the water, a fish occasionally jumping, big clouds and the moon rise, the newly reclaimed banks of wild flowers and grasses…just fucking lovely. But I need a glass of water and some food. If a wild animal had run by, I would have stopped and eaten it.
What seems like years later, I see a Lotte Mall and a train bridge crossing the river to it. About 5 of our group are waiting at the bottom of a ramp to a parking lot. This final leg has been at least another 10 km. WTF! And then we have to take the metro back; none of us have our metro passes. Some of us have a bit of money. I buy us some tickets home and the boys buy beer. I choose a refreshing pine needle flavored soda. Mr. Park buys each of us a thing about the size of a Slim Jim that, when I manage to unwrap it, reveals itself to be the color of a raw hotdog. It is, however, the consistency of…um…well…just imagine if American cheese and a hotdog fell in love and got married and then had a baby. Not the most attractive baby, but a very smooth baby. Well, imagine that consistency. Like most junk food, intellectually I was repulsed, but my body wanted more.
On the train ride home, it was decided by Jasmina that we should have Sam Gyup Sal. So we went en mass to the Paradise Grill.
When I stopped by the studio, what followed was another adventure involving the 108 red pigs of desire, a parking lot, some 1 x 2’s and lots and lots of electrical wire. But that is another story for another night, my children.