Sunday, April 23, 2017

Four Days in Denver

Earlier this month, I surprised Brian by inviting his family to visit us in Denver for his birthday. We were secretly planning the visit for two months. When the day finally came, I started getting nervous about how to get him outside in time for his parents’ arrival. I told him that we were going somewhere special, but wouldn’t tell him anything about it. When his parents were a few minutes later than expected, I kept making up reasons why we didn’t need to leave right away. After I got the text saying that they were ten minutes away, I informed Brian that I was playing a game of Sudoku on my phone and that we couldn’t leave until I won. I told him that it was his fault for getting me addicted. When they texted to say that they were outside the house, I pretended to be completely fed up with the game and quit playing.

We walked outside with Kiki and found his parents standing in front of their rental car. Brian was confused and shocked. It took him a minute to comprehend that his parents were in Denver. He was very calm and collected on the outside. However, throughout the next two days he kept saying, “I can’t believe my parents are in Denver.” Little did he know, his siblings and their families would be joining us two days later. We kept it a secret and they showed up while we were getting ready for dinner at his parents’ rental place, which just happened to be big enough for the entire family. One of the reasons why we moved back to the US from South Korea was to be able to visit our families more often. Brian has a niece who is about six months old and a nephew who is almost a year old. I know that it’s important for him to be a part of their lives and I was very happy that his brothers and their wives were up for the visit.

Since we moved to Denver, we’ve often talked about what we would do when we have guests. We talked about where we would take them and activities that different friends and family might enjoy. I even brought it up again as I was planning his birthday surprise. We had a running list of favorite restaurants, museums, parks, and general tourist attractions. The thing we look forward to the most is someday having visitors during camping season and sitting around the fire after a full day of hiking and enjoying the mountains. However, having visitors for two days in a colder part of the year with babies in tow calls for a different set of activities to accommodate everyone’s needs. Regardless, we were very excited to show off our beautiful new city and our new life here.
The sun was out when Brian’s parents arrived that Thursday. It was in the 70s at the end of March and we were expecting snow that weekend. It’s what I like to call “summer-winter” in Denver. We took advantage of the warmth and sat outside at Vine Street Pub, a brewery and restaurant down the street from our apartment. Kiki came along and relaxed on the sidewalk just on the other side of the patio fence. Vine Street Pub has great burgers, vegetarian or vegan food options, and a large selection of beer, much of which they brew on the premises. The little row of restaurants and cafes near our apartment is one of the reasons why we’d like to stay in this neighborhood. It’s a residential area where houses built in the early 1900s have been mostly turned into apartments or businesses such as a law office and a literary arts center. The streets are lined with trees and the houses have unique architectural features. After living in Korea for the better part of ten years, I can sit on Denver patios and stare at surrounding houses for an entire meal.

For our first weekend adventure, we drove out of town to Red Rocks Park. If you don’t have enough time to drive into the heart of the mountains, Red Rocks Park is a nice drive out of Denver with a view of the mountains and a short hike at the park itself. The rocks are a very cool natural phenomenon with an incredible view of the plains, including the Denver skyline and beyond. We went up to the amphitheatre and walked around for a short time. It was a last minute decision to go there and we weren’t prepared for hiking. Our goal for the summer is to go on at least five local hikes and Red Rocks is definitely on our list. After enjoying the park and the drive, we went back to Denver and had dinner at the rental with Brian’s parents and my friends who were visiting from the mountains. The rental had an amazing backyard that we can only dream of in our 300 sq ft apartment. There was a patio, a firepit, and a lush expanse of astroturf. We sat on the patio with beer and pizza and caught up with my friend Ashley and her husband Josh. I hadn’t seen them for years and was eager to hear about their nomadic lives driving tour buses in Alaska during the summer and working at ski resorts in the winter while traveling the world in-between.

On Friday we drove further south than we had ever been. The weather was not our friend that day and had us questioning whether we should be going anywhere at all. It turned out to be a good decision as we were able to take in the landscape of Colorado beneath a rare misty, rainy sky. We went down to the Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs to take a look at another set of Colorado rock formations. At first we were all disappointed that we weren’t able to see them with a beautiful backdrop of clear blue skies, but we soon realized that the mist and the rain made them seem even more majestic and otherworldly. There were also not as many people around as there surely would be during peak tourist season. Although we’re more likely to seek out trails and wilderness in more secluded areas in the mountains, we added the Garden of the Gods as another place that we would like to return to this summer. If we can handle the crowded hikes and sidewalks of South Korea, we can handle whatever Americans consider to be a crowd at the height of summer.

We drove back to Denver and it was time to prepare for the arrival of Brian’s siblings. His parents didn’t have the two months of practice that I had in trying to keep the secret. They almost mentioned the others coming at a few different points during the two days that they were here alone. Luckily, Brian didn’t notice. We were all going to rest and meet up again for dinner at the rental. It was the perfect excuse for giving his dad the time to get the others from the airport. Brian was getting antsy to go as I woke up from my two-hour nap. I had been texting his mom and knew that they needed more time. Although I was able to stall with a leisurely trip to the liquor store, we still arrived before Brian’s first sibling. We were in the middle of getting dinner ready when they walked into the house. Again, Brian was shocked and didn’t show it on the outside. It was then that I told him his other brother was also coming. I couldn’t handle any more secrets or scheming. When the last sibling arrived, we all had a short visit while enjoying some local beer before we went home and went to bed exhausted from travel and socializing.

For the next two days, I had planned activities that would give Brian’s family a good introduction to Denver while not being too strenuous or inconvenient with the babies. Our first stop was the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, where I worked for six months last year. It’s big enough to be interesting and small enough not to take too much time to make your way through. They always have interesting art on show in a beautiful building. I could go back to the same exhibit time and time again. Although it was a busy Saturday, we were able to find a table in the cafe on the rooftop after our leisurely walk through the galleries. It was my first time back in the cafe after my last day in late October. I ordered one of the most popular cocktails for the few of us who were interested. It has whiskey, lime, ginger, and basil. The rooftop of the MCA has a great view of the city from downtown to the Highlands. They often have fun events that are worth checking out even if you just have a layover in Denver and want to take the lightrail from the airport to Union Station just a few minutes away.
Our next stop was Union Station. It’s a beautiful historic building with an open seating area furnished with cozy couches and lounge chairs. There are two shuffleboard tables in the middle and the entire place is surrounded by restaurants, bars, and shops. It was a nice place to relax and chat with the family while we decided on dinner plans. We ended up going to a restaurant not far from our apartment on Colfax. For the population of the Denver metropolitan area and the constant influx of tourists, there really aren’t that many restaurants. There are enough to choose from, but they are often packed to the brim and a reservation is a necessity if you don’t want a 45 minute wait. Our restaurant was attached to the Tattered Cover Bookstore on Colfax. It has a patio that we have our eyes on for the hot summer months. We enjoyed our dinner and celebrated Brian’s 30th birthday. It was nice having family in town, even if just for a short visit. It made Colorado feel more like home, being able to show people around.

A visit to Colorado wouldn’t be complete without a good view of the mountains and enjoying a bit of nature. It’s what draws so many people here in the first place. For the last day of the weekend, we took everyone over to Dry Creek Trail in Boulder. We were excited to bring Kiki along, as Dry Creek Trail is known to be a great place for dogs. Someday we’ll go to the voice training class and let her run around freely, but for now we have a long leash that gives her some freedom to explore. Sunday was the hottest day of the weekend and we were all getting too much sun despite being slathered with sunscreen. We made it to the view of the lake and the mountains before the heat got the best of us. Ready for lunch, we headed back to Denver. We went to the place where Brian and I had dinner on our first night in town. We sat at Mockery Brewing and got dinner from the food truck at Great Divide Barrel Bar. Brian’s oldest brother and his family had to get a taxi to the airport soon after we arrived. The rest of us went on to Infinite Monkey Theorem before the rest of his family had to drive back to the airport. We found a little nook with sofas and sat enjoying wine with Kiki on the couch between us. It was a little sad to see them all go, but we both felt that we had given them a good taste of our life in Denver and we were already making plans to visit later in the year. Although Colorado has mountains aplenty if that’s what you’re after, there is also much to enjoy in and around Denver if you are here for a short visit and don’t have time to make it that far into the Front Range.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Cheesman Park

Not enough time has passed for me to stop comparing life at home to life in Korea. One of my favorite pastimes was escaping my tiny apartment and traveling by subway to one of the many lush parks of Seoul. This often saved me from the crushing weight of the Sunday blues or Hongdae hangovers. Rather than drowning my sorrows and lining my stomach with a comforting bowl of cheese ramyeon, I basked in the sun with dear friends and cemented a bond that was destined to be ripped apart when we all left Seoul for our next adventures.

Brian and I have been going out to parks in Denver every Sunday since adopting our dog in January. Today we took Kiki to the groomers for the second time since adopting her and weren't planning for a day at the park. Luckily for us, two friends from Seoul have also moved to Denver and recall days spent at the park with the same amount of fondness as I do. They invited us to the same park that we went to last weekend, which also happens to be a ten minute walk from our house. With a grand pavilion, vast green grass, and those blue Colorado skies, Cheesman Park has become my favorite Sunday place and another reason why we desperately want to stay in this neighborhood.

We usually tie Kiki up with a paracord and let her chase her squeaky tennis ball. After a long day at the groomers, she wasn't as excited or energetic as she normally is. However, our friends from Seoul were enchanted with her as always. We're very happy to provide them with vicarious pet ownership. We sat in our little spot in the shade until I could no longer keep my eyes open. Last night we made a failed attempt to attend a midnight madness viewing of a Studio Ghibli film at the Esquire Theater. We weren't able to make it to the end of the film, but it was still late enough to leave my eyes drooping today not unlike the magical scrotum of the tanuki in Pom Poko.

The park was filled with dogs, frisbees, volleyballs, hammocks, picnics, park games, and camp chairs. The people next to us were slapping a frisbee thrown by a teammate into a plastic bucket. Some of them were also bouncing a ball back and forth on a trampoline with their hands. I have no idea what games they were playing, but it looked like a good time. While it was nowhere near as crowded as the Han River Park on a summer day, there were enough people to create the cheery park atmosphere that I crave. I plan on spending as much time there as I can this summer. There's not a convenience store nearby or silk worm larvae roasting and for sale on the sidewalk, but there is that Colorado sky. Although I still often point out the differences between living in Seoul and living in Denver, I find myself once again escaping a tiny apartment and fending off the Sunday blues with good friends and acres of grass.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sidewalk & Highway

Thinking of a name for this blog kept me from writing for weeks. I had no idea what I wanted it to be, so I started brainstorming. One of my first choices was ‘The Gravel Pit’, named for my childhood camping spot in the mountains of southern Washington State. It brought to mind summers spent with family, camping for weeks on end, and picking huckleberries in the rainforest surrounded by evergreens. It spoke to me of nights around the campfire and it represented where I came from — the mountains along the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. I still go back to visit those moss-covered woods every time I am home. The air is crisp and smells of plants. It is one of my favorite places in the world. However, I then discovered that ‘Gravel Pit’ is a song by the Wu Tang Clan and is also a slang word for vagina.

The next idea was ‘For Lacey — My First Cat’. She ran away or was lost the year we moved out of the trailer park and into a house across town. I always felt sad and guilty that I didn’t try harder to prevent this outcome and I didn’t even want to think of what had become of her. Naturally, I moved on to something more cheerful: ‘Turf for the Lark’. This comes from a line in one of my favorite fairy tales about a lark who is captured and put into a cage. He is dying when they bring him a piece of turf adorned with a single daisy. As he complains of a burning throat and expresses his desire to be out in the beautiful world once more, the daisy longs to comfort him. The lark shoves his beak into the cool earth in one last attempt at relief before he is so cruelly ripped from existence. It turns out that I couldn’t stand the thought of being faced with the dying lark and the cruelty of life every time I opened my blog.

I moved on to ‘Sidewalk and Highway’. Sidewalk and Highway were two plants that I had while living in South Korea. I named them. Eventually, they died. I somehow couldn’t get away from the sad death of plants and pets, or plants that I treated like pets. I embraced this and let it sit for a while. I thought about how highways bring us together. They connect us to other places and people. They take us on journeys to far away. Highways represent big changes and rare vacations. Sidewalks connect us in a closer way. They are the face of our communities. In cities around the world, there are sidewalks. Sidewalks are planned carefully. Houses are built in a way to make the sidewalks more welcoming and comfortable. Children play on sidewalks and neighbors say hello as they pass each other in the evenings while walking their dogs. Restaurants have patios on sidewalks where patrons sit and people watch, chatting about their lives and admiring the trees that line the streets.

Having moved back to America from South Korea approximately one year ago, neighborhoods here are still a place of fascination to me. The American neighborhoods that I know are so vastly different from the 32-story apartment buildings, the glitz of neon signs, the buzz around local subway stations, and the overabundance of coffee shops in fast-paced urban Seoul. While my feelings for Seoul still feel a bit like a broken heart, it has been a pleasure of mine to enjoy the fresh air and greenery of American neighborhoods. I’ve been gawking at the old houses and apartment buildings in Denver with their ornate trim and their front porches and their sun rooms on their second floors. Sidewalks and highways in cities and countries around the world bring you to their own unique kinds of places — they carry the pulse of the culture and determine your experience there. Wherever I may go in the future, I know that I will always experience a sense of wonder driving to new cities on vast highways and exploring neighborhoods by sidewalk. And I am sure that my long-lost pet plants would be glad to know that they now have plant siblings who will live to grow another day.
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