This is crossposted from my Matador Travel Blog, for no reason other than I like it.
“Wanna go for a walk?”
Freezing in mid-gnaw, tennis ball protruding from her mouth, my chocolate lab eyes me for a brief second. I reach for her leash, and she leaps from the bed, ball instantly forgotten.
After just a few blocks, Adi is panting heavily and my shirt is stuck to my back. Korean summers are hot and humid, and it feels as if the low, gray clouds and puddles on the street are releasing waves of moisture, trapping us.
I step around the globs of spit on the sidewalk, and Adi jumps over every grate in a superstitious doggie ritual. Ahead I see a group of teens lounging in front of a PC Bang, laughing and shoving one another. One of them spots me almost a block away- blonde hair tends to stand out in Suwon. I brace myself for the inevitable.
“He-llo–” he begins, but cuts off with a comical gasp when his gaze falls on Adi. At only 65 pounds, she’s actually a runt, but to Koreans she’s apparently a beast. The girls whimper in fear as we pass, and the boys keep their mouths shut, eyes wide. Adi glances at them, tongue lolling. The boy who called hello presses himself against the wall, and I smirk.
Children here were never taught to fear strangers. Without Adi, I have been followed by kids who seem intent on rattling off every English phrase they know to me. “What’s your name?” “I love you!” “What are you doing?” All this, of course, is followed by howling laughter. Suwon may be close to Seoul in distance, but there’s no comparing the two cities in worldliness. Foreigners in Suwon are common, but not normal. A blonde haired, blue-eyed stranger with a brown dog is a sight to behold, even after almost a year of daily walks in this neighborhood.
Farther down the street, we pass the pharmacy and a few kimbap restaurants and see a woman seated on a mat, oversized visor protecting her from the nonexistent rays of sun. She is leaning against the wall of a clothes boutique, surrounded by a variety of vegetables in plastic bowls. Her fingers continue peeling garlic, but her eyes follow Adi suspiciously as we grow closer.
The door of the boutique flies open and two fashionably dressed girls exit, shopping bags and cell phones in hand, chatting happily. One sees Adi and shrieks, stumbling back into the boutique and pulling the other girl with her. Adi watches them, teeth bared in a squinty-eyed grin, tail wagging hopefully. They wait until we pass, hands pressed to their hearts.
Adi has adapted to her new home faster than it has adapted to her. For the first few months she jumped every time a pizza delivery motorbike would zoom by. The narrow streets and crowds of shoppers made her skittish, and she often mistook grown men leaping to the side upon seeing her as an invitation to play.
But now she knows Suwon. She leads the way into the park and heads for the little bit of grass where she does her business. She doesn’t blink at the buses releasing their exhaust in a loud hiss when they pull away from a stop. She heads straight for the piles of color coded trash bags on the corners, sniffing at the small yellow ones filled with food. She doesn’t react to the cries of surprise and fear anymore.
We both pause, alert at the sound of her name. The large, smiling owner of a nearby fish restaurant is outside, hosing down tanks filled with crabs. He drops the hose, squats down, and pats his knees.
Scrambling, claws scratching the ground, Adi drags me down the sidewalk. When we get near enough she pounces, licking his rubber apron, his neck, his face. He laughs, wrapping his arms around her in a bear hug, and greets me too.
For a moment, at least, Suwon feels like home.