There is one thing, I have to talk about, especially since it's winter. Air pollution.
Some days, the sky looks dark and grey, and the European inside me says that it looks like it'll rain, but it's winter, and it won't rain. It's just air pollution, my phone tells me. Just pollution.
Well, actually my phone buzzes in the morning and tells me: don't go outside, or be careful, because the air pollution is at this or that level today. The reason it gets so bad, is both because of the heating systems here, but also, and more importantly, because a lot of air pollution gets whipped this way over the sea from China, and that's when it gets bad.
Overall, it doesn't feel as bad as in Europe. When I'm in a big city like Paris or London and come home, I find that when I blow my nose, or wash my ankles that have been exposed to the elements, it's all black. None of that here. On a daily basis it's easy living and doesn't feel like living in a huge city. But that's on a regular day.
Today it was pretty bad. My body is not reacting well to it. Yesterday morning I woke up with a headache. A strange sort I hadn't felt before, and I am about 80% certain that it was an air pollution headache. Mainly because my body isn't used to the pollution and I wasn't being careful enough. Today my one eye and nostril are both crying. Pollution...
Most days in Seoul, the air pollution is at around 58, which is on the lower end of normal. And sometimes it's on the good side, under 50.
Today the air pollution peaked at 187, when I monitored it, and that's a lot. That is in the Red zone called unhealthy and on the way to the purple zone called Very unhealthy. The air pollution is hazardous if it's over 300.
I have bought facemarks to take the worst of it, and am making efforts to not be outside longer than half an hour even with facemarks if the air pollution is in a bad zone. Today is the fourth day since my arrival that it has been outside of the good or normal area.
So although it was Friday yesterday and it's Saturday today, the air pollution and my face's severe reaction to it, means that I I tried to stay inside as much as possible. But I did need to go to the bookshop. So I went to Gwanghwamun, where there is a huge bookshop, right by the subway.
I couldn't remember which exit it was, so I had to go outside to Gwanghwamun, because I knew which direction it was in. Out there, I was surprised to still see booths displaying altars for the 304 people who passed away on the Sewol Ferry, over three years ago, on the 14th of April 2014. The photos of the six people whose bodies have yet to be found were plastered all over, and the tents were larger and in larger number than the Olympic celebrations at Gwanghwamun.
I made my way to the bookshop and looked around for a while. I finally decided to buy two books in Korean that seemed to be my level of complexity: "The Alchemist" and "The Giver". Linguistically I can understand them and still be challenged by some words and grammatical choices, so they seemed to be perfect. I began reading one of them on the way back in the subway and I have already the word for sheep herder.
Yesterday, before heading out, I also bought an Ewha jacket. Ewha Woman's University is the name of the University where I take classes, and each season they have a variety of products that they sell. Their varsity jackets are especially nice, so my roommate and I both bought one of those.
Today I went to the supermarket with my roommate to buy some things. We're going on a trip to Busan tomorrow to celebrate Christmas day, and do something special, so we needed a few drinks and some fruit for the trip.
We get to Seoul Station (where the big supermarket is), and as we head out of the station, there is a loud event going on. A sort of protest. South Korean flags flying all around. Older men in cargo clothes and military uniforms plastered with Korean flags. And slogans flying around.
I immediately realise what was going on, grabbed my roommate and told her we had to hurry to the store and away, and when leaving we would have to go quickly too to avoid a bad situation.
I read one banner, and knew that we had to leave as quickly as possible. We were wearing clothes that could get us into trouble. My roommate and I were proudly wearing our new jackets, which has the name of our university written in large letters on the back.
It was a protest demanding that the impeached president Park Geun-hye be reinstated for having been illegally and wrongfully impeached, and the main people who made that impeachment happen were students from out university. Not a name you'd want to throw around at a place like that.
Thankfully I realised quickly and got us to walk away as quickly as possible, before we got more than angry stares, and we're home safely. This isn't Europe. South Korea is mostly a peaceful country so I doubt that we would have gotten attacked or anything of the sort, but it could still have turned out less than pleasant, so I hold my political awareness in high esteem for getting us safely out of a potentially sticky situation.
Tomorrow the air pollution will be back to safe and normal numbers, and even better in Busan, so we will be fine, and I will still bring my face masks to stay safe.