Korea is the off-off yellow of a winter morning.
The bus jerks and rumbles across the rural landscape, waking me up on my early morning bus ride to school. My breath floats in front of me in a white cloud. My neck held up stiffly in a forward position with the layers of my winter coat and three types of scarves over numerous layers hidden underneath, feeling as snug as an upper-body cast. I manage to slowly crane my head left to look out the window. Behind the fog-kissed pane, I see a silhouette of a dark landscape on the horizon. It’s all shades of a cold off-off yellow. It’s a foreign color, not the warmth you associate with a shade of yellow, and it’s what I’ve come to associate with the alien landscape that welcomes me on these cold Korean winter mornings. The sun just now cresting over mountains giving way to the day and revealing the rice fields I pass by as we rumble through the shallow valley.
This is what I’ve come to know Korea as and on these mornings this yellow pours out across the landscape coloring my world. It’s like a time-worn photograph that I’m trapped in; This is Korea to me. My hands escape inside my coat pockets so they don’t turn a deep purple in this cold bus. I press my nose down into my scarves and close my eyes.
After a long bus ride, I’m awoken to the sound of a dying bus engine, turning off as it reaches the end of the line, which means I’ve missed my school by two stops. The bus driver looks back and grumbles something – we’ve been through before. I hop off the bus and walk to my school. It’s only a ten-minute walk in the tiny five block village before I reach my school. I walk across the dirt soccer field between the school and I. The dirt is frozen and glassy with a warmer brownish-yellow, however not quite a warm tone because the coating of ice keeping it a harsh tint, creating just another unpleasant shade of off-off yellow. The sun sits low over the mountains southeast of me, the deep shadows playing on the uneven and divited dirt creating a field speckled in blacks contrasting this new shade of off-off yellow. With all the layers on me separating me from the cold landscape I feel as if I’m taking a spacewalk on the dark side of the moon. My vans crunch the dirt beneath it, the uneven ground holding its form as I approach the school. I leave no footprints.
I leave the school an hour after it ends, every other teacher long gone due to not having to work on the rural bus timetable. Daylight is rarer in winter, evidenced by the sun going down over the mountain that shoots up behind my school. The sky only gets a warmer tone at this time of day, but never as warm as I remember sunsets in California; Maybe because the Korean sky is always blanketed in a fuzzy gray with only the sunset cutting through the thick atmosphere to give anything color creating a cold atmosphere. The dirt on the ground is actually softened underfoot, lacking the harsh tone of the morning and snow that came earlier in the day. I walk to the quiet bus stop at the center of the sleepy village, the Mexican jazz of Diana Gameros’ ‘Para Papa’ plays in my headphones. Its music is a soft warm yellow to my ears. The cold still bites me to remind me it’s here. It’s an off-off yellow.
Forty-five minutes later I reach my small city. The almost warm colors of a sky where the sun recently set betray the frigidness of the air. I walk to the river a block over from my home and I stare at the frozen block of ice snaking its way beside my town. I skip a rock on the ice. The yellow of the sky refracts off the thick icy surface. I think about walking across it but I don’t quite have a Jesus complex and I decide not to test my faith.
My shower is where I block out the cold winter days at the end of the day and create a vacuum where the outside world can’t enter – it’s my cone of silence. I stand in its water and steam fills the room, the fluorescent light overhead making the room glow, bouncing off the steam.
The off-off yellow stares at me, the outside world invading this space. Refracting off the steam filling the bathroom, making a hazy box of this sickly yellow color. It all stares at my nakedness this cold evening. I stand still in the cone of water jutting from my shower head. I stare at this cabinet. It’s a rainbow of off-off yellow shades. I can’t know it’s original color but I doubt it was any more pleasant than this to begin with. From this cabinet yellowed lines stretch out in a web of squares, folding around me, reaching above and below me through the time-worn grout between the tiles. I’m enveloped by this color. My world is off-off yellow.
I stare at this cabinet. I do every time I’m in the shower. the same color as the ear wax sitting on a q-tip on the top of a bathroom trashcan. It stares back at me. On top of it lies the bathroom light cover in its own personal shade of off-off yellow. The light above, coverless, floods the small room with a harsh white light. It’s a permanent status because the long oblong fluorescent bulb is larger than the ancient light fixture and its cover. The off-off yellow floods the room encircling me with the tiles outlined by the grout of a different shade of that off-off yellow. I look around me. I notice the Verbena Aloe shampoo has a faint off-off yellow to its liquid although not the bottle itself which is simply white. To the left of my periphery in the tiny bathroom I see the Korean body towel, under the fluorescent flood light is also a shade off of white, with a tinge of yellow. It betrays me. Or more accurately, absorbs the color around it, probably helped by the sterile fluorescent light.
The knobs of the cabinet and of the sink break tradition and some find it in themselves to be of a brighter metallic character, but still, by way of fluorescent light fail to be any more joyless. I look again, at the sandalwood body wash, with a packaging of brown, and small smatterings of deep yellow highlights. They’re pleasant. I think for a moment never to use this body wash again just so it could be a permanent room ornament for the bathroom. I then think how I must have too much time in the shower to think these thoughts.
After a shave, the shower ends being draped with the warm embrace of a large ruffled stone blue towel I brought from home. It envelopes my body and fights off the ugly colors that make me homesick.