11-month update: Springtime in Seoul

Signs of the spring season have been popping up within the Filipowski household this past month. Highlights include more visitors from the States, showers and sunshine that yielded beautiful blooms, major milestones for our sweet Sophia, and a special expat Easter celebration. Low lights include records in poor air quality resulting in some mild respiratory issues for the whole family.

Spring in her step

Ready to conquer the world: Sophia goes off the beaten path near the Hangang in Yeouido Park in front of iconic Building 63.

Sophia has officially become a walker!

She went through a period last month when she would alternate crawling, cruising and walking. But just after turning 11 months old (two weeks ago), she has only walked to transport herself. She is more confident and surefooted in our apartment, but a bit slower and wobbly on uneven ground like grass and gravel.

She just recently has been figuring out steps: When she precariously goes down a step into our guest bathroom, she will sometimes just drop altogether into a half-slide/crawl. When going up steps on a slide at daycare and in our apartment complex’s playground, she was more adept.

Spring is in the air

It seemed to be the perfect timing for Sophia to start walking as the weather has been getting warmer and we’ve been able to visit parks/go outside so she has more room to roam and explore. Not to mention, it’s cherry blossom season so we can have beautiful scenery while we stroll!

However, springtime in Seoul is also synonymous with bad air quality.

The air traps us indoors and has caused headache and persistent cold/allergy symptoms like runny nose, sore throat and cough that will also force us into quarantine. On those days, we tend to be cooped up in our apartment and we all go a little stir crazy from the cabin fever. When the rain comes to clear all the pollution away, we bust out and take advantage.

The air quality and the weather magically aligned when we hosted our friends Tara and Scott from Chicago, who we originally know from undergrad at Michigan State. As it was their first time in Seoul (and first time traveling through Asia), we were excited to be tourists in our own town.

On the other side of the river: Taking a stroll along the Hangang near our house on a clear day when college friends were visiting.

We enjoyed walking around the nearby circular path around Namsan (Mountain) Park and on the trail of the Hangang (River) Park. Sophia joined us on all these adventures, going from stroller to carrier. On those days, the skies were a crystal clear blue that I hadn’t seen in months, and while higher up on the mountain, it felt refreshing and invigorating to breathe in the crisp air.

Spring showers bring flowers

In the last couple weekends, Michal and I planned outings to see the cherry blossoms with Sophia. We visited another section of the circular path of Namsan and a new section of the Hangang on the other side of town – Yeouido.

Spring flowers: At the peak of cherry blossom season in Namsan Park!

Flower petals softly fell as the wind gently blew through the trees in Yeouido, making it feel like a scene out of a romantic K-drama. Sophia enjoyed picnicking and getting some time to try out her new walking skills. After getting out all her energy, she fell asleep in the stroller during her nap time as we navigated through the crowds of people among the cherry blossoms on the main road circling Yeouido.

Out of death, comes life

To cap off springtime in Seoul, we celebrated Sophia’s first Easter the only way we knew how: With traditions from back home, enjoyed alongside some fellow expat families who could relate to our homesickness during holidays.

Easter is largely not recognized in Korea. Christmas has commercial appeal as it’s presented to be a “romantic, couple’s holiday” here so we could at least find tree decorations, wrapping paper, etc. during the winter season. There is virtually no sign of the commercial or the Christian meaning of Easter (unless when attending a church service). No Easter bunny to visit. No Easter egg hunts, nor Easter baskets full of candy.

Babies’ first Easter baskets: Replaced the traditional candy with teething crackers.

Growing up Catholic in my big Filipino family, I have vivid memories of the Easter holiday and the entire Holy Week leading up to it. I remember washing the feet of another church goer during Holy Thursday mass like Jesus did with his disciples during the Last Supper, following the Stations of the Cross during Good Friday service, and then lighting candles at night during Easter Vigil mass on Holy Saturday. On Sunday, we would dress in our “Easter best” and attend the largest mass of the year as people overflowed into adjoining rooms and had to watch all the action on a live TV feed.

After Easter mass, we’d return home for lunch to a Filipino potluck as my parents hosted all our relatives who were based in metro Detroit and the Toronto area (four hours driving distance away). But the moment all the kids anticipated was the Easter egg hunt in which the adults (and later the older teens) would fill those classic plastic eggs with candy and hide them all over the front and backyard.

Michal grew up with strong Polish traditions associated with Easter as well. The supper was a labor love, with dishes often taking several days of preparation. One standout dish was the stuffed eggs. Think: Fancier and more tasty version of deviled eggs. After cutting the hard-boiled eggs in half, with shell in tact, one would scoop out the insides (whites and yolks). This would be chopped up and mixed with fresh herbs and stuffed back into the shells. After putting breadcrumb on top of each egg half, they would be fried.

Filipowski family recipe: Polish Stuffed Eggs, only made for Easter. Michal made them for us!

Another intricate and time-intensive Polish tradition for Easter was egg decorating. These were not the kind dyed with a kit from the grocery store. Michal’s family’s eggs were dyed with the natural color obtained from old red onion skins steeped in water. And the designs were etched through the dye and into the shell. They are incredible works of art that actually last years.

Bunny Ears: I’m wearing Michal’s Halloween costume from last year, bought at Target during a home leave visit, along with a recently purchased headband from the local Emart. (Fun fact- The costume is actually an elephant in the form of adult onesie pajamas.)

At any rate, Michal and I wanted to recreate these special moments for Sophia and our friends and their children in Seoul. Last Sunday, we attended mass at the international Catholic parish in our neighborhood, color-coordinated in pink. Afterward, I dressed up as an Easter bunny and passed out baskets I pieced together from fun items I found at a flower market in Seoul’s Express Bus Terminal and a nearby Daiso (similar to Dollar Tree back home), along with some baby treats I previously ordered online through iHerb (almost all children who came over were under two years old). Michal painstakingly made the stuffed eggs for guests and ordered a mouthwatering lamb dinner from nearby, foreigner-friendly High Street Market.

On that day, we were grateful for so much as we were able to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus with delicious food, meaningful fellowship and some of our most treasured family traditions.

Happy Easter and Happy Spring to you and yours!