Home Alone 5: A Very Covid Christmas in Korea

I never meant for this blog to be so in my feelings or covid-heavy. But here we are. Feel free to switch to another tab.

The strange thing about being in Korea this year is that covid started early, back in February, so we’re very much covid-fatigued, but it’s only getting truly dire now, so the stricter social distancing and the copious home baking and being alone with your own thoughts too much of the damn time are still somewhat new to us.

The aloneness and isolation that covid brings presses up hard against some very old but still tender bruises, such that, if I find myself alone on an eerily quiet Saturday night (as all Saturday nights currently are in Seoul), I try to soothe the panicked voices in my head that want to cry out, “See! You are an unwanted, emotionally diseased being!” with something like, “There, there. This is not necessarily how it will always be.” Learning to be with myself in a way I never have is like the piece of fruit I used to find at the bottom of my Christmas stocking as a kid—I didn’t want it, but it’s good for me, I guess.

I’ve been weirdly seesawing between self-care for survival (Routine. Exercise. Daily Sunlight. So. As. Not. To. Go. Mad.) and grasping about wildly for distraction (How many small parties of four people or less can I host this season? What do I need for mulled wine? How many more books can I finish by the end of this year? How many conversations (mostly unexciting) can I maintain on bumble?).

I organized a zoom workshop for the adoptee community of Korea—motivated by a combination of self-care and distraction—entitled “Making Sense of 2020”. During the reflective exercise of the workshop, I realised that my year had more hard, bruise-y moments than joyful ones. And that 2020 still doesn’t make much sense to me. Perhaps it never will. And that’s ok.

2020, a mood.

And then, enter Christmas.

I’ve known that Christmas in Korea was coming for months now, and yet it didn’t make it easier. I’d been dreading it all December. The week leading up to Christmas felt particularly heavy, each day falling like a leaden weight. Two days beforehand, my Dad texted me to say “Making the scotch eggs”, a Christmas tradition that we usually do together, “Wish you were here xxx”, and I burst into tears on the subway on my way to work. I know holidays away from family are just part of the expat experience, a common malaise, but to me, Korea can be enjoyed on exactly 364 days of the year. And not on Christmas. 

On Christmas Eve I decided that the ideal Christmas morning breakfast would be warm cinnamon rolls (in lieu of fresh croissants with shaved Christmas ham and champagne). Because Cinnabon doesn’t deliver to my area, I decided to make them myself, and because I don’t have a stand mixer (my beloved baby pink Kitchenaid is back in Melbourne), I had to knead the dough by hand. But slapping the wet dough onto the countertop for 30-40 minutes can be quite cathartic (and take that, Sally from finance!).

On Christmas morning I had a video call with my family and then went for a run (eww…covid has turned me into someone who runs on Christmas day). Back home, I popped the cinnamon rolls into the oven and started the coffee percolator while I took a shower. Emerging from the bathroom, I found the whole apartment filled with a deep, intensely cinnamon-y fug. It was heavenly. I would almost make them again just for that scent. 

FYI I used Buttermilk Pantry’s recipe!

I think there’s something kind of sexy about cinnamon rolls. The bouncy, squidgy texture of the dough. Lemon cream cheese frosting slathered thickly, meltingly across still warm rolls. The way you can gently unravel the coils with your hands. How your mouth and fingers get all sticky from the frosting and the cinnamon-butter-sugar filling. 

I’ll stop before this gets more weird. 

That night, I had three friends over for dinner—no more, no less, as per covid restrictions (and if you are someone who thinks covid rules were made to be broken, please switch to another tab). The evening didn’t start smoothly. The ice balls that I’d excitedly bought for our whiskey cocktails were too big for my drinking glasses. The Coupang delivery of canned beans for the chili was late. When it finally arrived, I realised that I’d need a can opener (oops). Two of my friends teamed up to pry the cans open MacGyver-style, using tiny furniture assembly tools—not real tools—and my espresso pot as a makeshift hammer. The other friend couldn’t look, in case they sliced open some flesh, and went to lie on my bed. 

2020, a metaphor, as one friend said.

But the beans were finally released. The chili was finally served. This Australian had no idea how many different toppings were required (seems like another way for Americans to eat corn chips for dinner?) but it was a lot of fun. The whiskey cocktails flowed. I laughed so hard I almost peed. Everyone got so full that they had to lie down on the ondol (heated flooring), just the way Christmas should be. 

My friends are also expats in Korea, missing family and traditions and freedom, but they brought Christmas cheer and multiple desserts, and this day that I’d been dreading actually turned out rather lovely.

Today is Boxing Day, and by the end of the day, after I cleaned the house and took a walk and did some grocery shopping, I felt lonely and unsure of what to do with myself again. I have not yet mastered the challenges of 2020: being alone, self-compassion in the face of failures, and optimism for the future despite disappointments and heartbreak. But I can try to appreciate what I still have and can do.

On their family’s Christmas zoom call, our friend’s mum shared this quote, which she then shared with us:

“we already have the things that can complete us

they just aren’t things

they are people

and laughter and connection

– irreplaceable”

Rupi Kaur, Home Body

Wishing you more of the things that can complete us and the sweet aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls for the coming year~

x Hana

3 thoughts on “Home Alone 5: A Very Covid Christmas in Korea”

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