Published: September 23rd 2011September 23rd 2011
The night air is fresh and the sweat down my back is chilling as my legs pump me higher and higher until my toes hit the stars at the top of the sky. The teenage Korean girl next to me is also intensely kicking her legs in and out, as if we could really get somewhere by these movements. There is also an older Korean woman and her young son swinging on the swing set. I assume it's a family. I have my Ipod in and the band Grouplove wraps me in a California blanket as my mind feels giddy with the nostalgia of leaning my head all the way back like a kid and taking in the dark sky until I feel too dizzy to stand it.
The track by the elementary school had just enough light to see shapes of people running around the track. The large clock above the entrance shone pure white like a second moon. It was 9:00pm and eerie to see a big red cross hovering over an invisible church to my left and another white one high on the hill to my right. I felt like I was in Baz Luhrman's Romeo and Juliet. Running outside at night was something I had never done. At my old apartment, I would run in the late afternoon out through the trees and rice fields so running in a sea of black in circles at a school was quite different. There was about 20 people walking, running, jump roping, and hula hoping. This included old men and women, adults, and little kids. Even a baby in a stroller. Moving away from the running trail had me worried that I would lose that sense of community it gave me, but luckily I had found it somewhere else.
Running in Korea is the best way I've found to connect with other Koreans, which is funny because we hardly ever speak. We speak through a high five, a smile, a laugh, or a cheer. Koreans are always very supportive of me running, maybe because it's rare or amusing to see a blonde girl with her hair up on her head like a samurai. They are in their fancy running gear not breaking a sweat and I'm in a Beatles shirt with holes in it and my face is bright red. But we are the same in our enjoyment of the outdoors and exercise. I've had many Koreans be rude to me or not want to bother helping me in my day to day activities, but when I'm running or on the outdoor gym all they seem to want to do is help. An older man with rippling muscles shows me where the hidden mat is for sit ups and how I can improve. An ajumma races me down a hill laughing the whole time. A young woman gives me a high five and a guy my age shows me how to do his stretches. It seems that the running trail and track have a language all their own.
I jump off the swing and the Korean family and I walk our separate ways. It's 9:30pm now and most people have headed home. I jump on my bike and peddle down the unlit street with the feeling of unadulterated happiness and endorphins rushing through my veins. I may not speak Korean but I do speak the language of running and I think I've found some new friends.