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Week #7
Cherry Blossoms

“Are you ready?”

“No, but what’s the surprise there? We still have an hour before we have to leave. Plus, it’s just a picnic to see flowers that bloom every year. What’s the big deal… and why do I have to go anyway?”

 

I didn’t understand the fuss my sister, Amaya, was making over a picnic. I know it’s with her in-laws who are visiting from overseas but it’s still a picnic. It’s going to be boring and I had to spend my Saturday sitting around eating with family.

 

“Stop complaining. You know this is important. It’s their tradition and you are all the family I have here so if you don’t join it’s going to look disrespectful. You know how important tradition is to them.”

 

“But its all married and old people or tiny kids. I won’t have anyone to talk to. I’ll just have to babysit the kids. This is no way to spend my weekend.”

 

“I’m only a few years older than you. So, if you call me old then you are no spring chicken either. Now go get dressed. A dress this time. Nothing revealing and no rags. Only statement I want your dress to make today is respect and traditions.”

 

I wasn’t much for dresses. I had a few for going out but they wouldn’t fit Amaya’s definition of respect or tradition. I needed what Amaya calls a sun dress. Something flowing, colorful and possibly in a printed design. My wardrobe was mostly black and white with maybe a blue or gray here and there. Much like my personality… following that thought, I knew whose personality had all the colors of the rainbow and would have it represented in her wardrobe.

“Why are you going through my closet?” Amaya wasn’t far behind me. She needed to get ready to go as well.

 

“Let’s see… I figured you wouldn’t like my dinner dates and night club clothes and those are pretty much the only dresses I have. So, you have to let me borrow one of yours if you want me to fit in with your in laws idea of traditional.”

“Right, I should’ve expected that. I can’t wait for the day when you fall for a decent guy and have to actually become a grown up.”

 

“Yes… you and mom can’t wait for me to turn into boring you. I’ve heard it a hundred times before.”

 

“Very funny. I don’t want you to be me. I want you to be the best version of you.”

 

Every once in a while, Amaya surprised me with something actually sensitive, like right now. I always felt disoriented when she did that.

 

“Did you find something you like in there? We really don’t have a lot of time.” Amaya was back to business.

 

“I was thinking this light yellow one might work? It’s not all that frilly or colorful but its still a dress.” It was a light-yellow dress covered in white blooming flowers. The design was intriguing because it was a solid light-yellow satin slip dress on the inside covered by a see-through material princess cut dress on the outside. The see-through material had the white flower design.

 

“I had forgotten that one. I think I bought that like seven years ago and wore it only once for a derby party or something. I don’t know if I can even fit into it anymore. Try it on. I bet you’ll look lovely. You are one of the few people who can actually pull off yellow.”

 

It was a good fit. Amaya and I had a similar build, it wasn’t a surprise.

 

Amaya sat me down and did my hair in a French braid. I felt ten years younger. Like I was back in high school.

 

“I didn’t get to mention but Amma texted that they have some friends visiting them. I think the group will be a bit larger. It sounded like maybe some folks closer to your age so hopefully you don’t feel left out.”

“That’ll be a nice change. But it’s not like we’d have anything in common to talk about, will we?”

 

“Wow, you really have your heart set on being negative Nelly today. What about all the movies and music you like from over there? You can talk about the K-wave that's taking over the world and you should be fine.”

“Hmm… it would be nice to have a girlfriend to talk K-drama with.” I finally smiled.

 

We made it to the Potomac Park in the next hour. Amaya’s in-laws were already gathered around a picnic table covered in a white table cloth with a simple design of cherry blossoms on a branch. About 10 different dishes were beautifully arranged on the table. We quickly added ours to the mix. There was about fifteen adults and a gaggle of loud kids.

“Thank you everyone for joining us today to celebrate Spring. In our tradition, this is a time of rebirth and renewal. A time to reflect on the past but also reach for new beginnings. I hope you all enjoy the food, company and the beautiful cherry blossoms all around us today.” Amaya’s in-laws were always the perfect hosts.

I went to put our picnic blanket down a little away from the table, with a good view of the water. Amaya was doing her rounds as the dutiful daughter-in-law. I was excused as long as I kept an eye on the kids. I happily settled on the blanket. Despite the crowd the park was calm and peaceful and I could lose myself in my own thoughts without disruption.

 

“Looks like you found the best spot in the park. Mind if I join?”

 

There goes getting lost in my thoughts, is the first thing that crossed my mind.

“Sure. Please make yourself comfortable.” I responded without looking up immediately. I needed to wipe away any trace of annoyance that might have showed up in my face. This is Amaya’s family after all and I had to be nice.

I could see long legs clad in denim extend themselves next to me as he sat down on the other edge of the blanket.

“Are you a regular to the Cherry Blossom picnics?” he asked.

“No, this is my first time. I’m staying with my sister this year until I find a place.”

“This is my first here in the US too. Normally, I do this with my parents and sister in Korea.”

 

That peaked my interest given my job as an east Asian political analyst. Of course, all my work life was consumed by China but Korea had become the hobby. The nuanced similarities and differences between the East Asian giants were always fascinating and the emergence of South Korea in the power hierarchy had its own allure. I could geek out on this topic.

“I didn’t realize Cherry Blossom festivals were as big in Korea as in Japan.” I finally turned to face him since I could genuinely express interest. I didn’t expect the face that was staring at the horizon and reflecting his answer to be one I recognized.

 

“Japanese does have a more well-known tradition around celebrating spring with Cherry Blossoms but my family always did a picnic during this time. It’s one of the things I remember very clearly growing up. Those picnics were some of the more carefree times I remember.”

“Huh... to be a kid and carefree... those are the good times!" I wanted to ask a hundred questions about what he was like as a kid but that might be too much too soon. I decided to stick to the safer topic. "So, from everything I heard today, Cherry Blossoms represent new beginnings?” 

“Well, they represent lots of things. But because the flowers bloom in early Spring and Spring represents new life, Cherry blossoms by extension represent new beginnings. The thing is, the Gregorian calendar that we all use came from the catholic church. It goes from January to December and the new year comes in the middle of winter. But in most eastern cultures new year is celebrated in Spring, when everything comes back to life after Winter. It's a much older tradition than the Western calendar."

 

"Interesting... we always make new year’s resolutions because we think it’s a new start that can give us a chance to become a better, new version of ourselves. So, everywhere in the world, a new year is a new beginning… that’s the connection between cherry blossoms and new beginnings then.”

 

“But cherry blossoms mean more than just new beginnings too. The flowers themselves are a reminder of the fleeting nature of life. They are beautiful when they bloom but they last only a short time - less than two weeks in most places.”

“Hmmm… That’s deep – The fleeting nature of life… It is sad the flowers last such a short time though. Does it mean new beginnings will last only a short time?”

 

“Newness of a new beginning might last only a short time but I never thought of it that way. For me, it was always about the circle of life. Everything that begins, ends. That’s just a fact of life. Cherry blossoms to me is a reminder to enjoy the beauty that surround us while it exists. Because the only thing we get to keep at the end of all this is the memories we make.”

 

“So, cherry blossoms tell us to live in the moment!” I reflected.

 

“Exactly… to live in the moment and to treasure the opportunity given to us in that moment.”

 

“Hmmm…” His words had given me a lot to think about.

 

“Did I bore you to death? You’ve been silent for a good ten minutes now.” Oppa asked looking sideways at me.

 

“No. You didn’t bore me. It just gave me a lot to think about. I didn’t expect I would be talking philosophy at the picnic today.” I smiled.

 

That is when I heard Amaya calling my name. I stood up and waved to get her attention. She hurried towards us with a smile that made her look ten years younger. I decided to meet her half way just in case she had something embarrassing to say. I didn’t need Oppa to hear it.

 

“Guess what? You’ll never guess who is here… I haven’t seen him yet but I just met his sister.” Amaya’s eyes were twinkling in excitement and her voice squeaked like an overexcited kid's. She was on a roll.

“Shush Amaya. You are very loud right now and you are acting like a teenager. Big breath and pull yourself together.” I really wanted her to calm down before Oppa could hear. I already knew who she was excited about being here.

Amaya never liked me telling her to calm down. Big sisters never liked hearing that from their younger siblings. It was just the right thing to bring some dignity back to my sister. Once she was calm, I took her by the hand and walked over to our blanket without a word. It was time to make introductions to my philosopher friend.

 

“Amaya, I’d like you to meet Oppa. He was just telling me about the Cherry blossoms and what they represent.” My sister who never stops talking stood there completely speechless.

 

“Oppa, this is my sister. She’s married to Tea Ho. That’s how we got invited to the picnic.”

 

“Hello, it’s very nice to meet you.” Oppa spoke politely and bowed his head.

 

“Yeah… very nice to meet you. I just met your sister a minute ago. She mentioned you guys are here for a couple of weeks?” Amaya had finally found her voice.

 

“Yes. We have a bunch of events on the west coast coming up but that’s in about two weeks.”

“Well, great. I just invited her to dinner tomorrow. Please join us if you don’t have any other plans.”

 

“Thank you. That’s very kind of you.”

 

“Well, I was coming to check on the kids. It’s time to corral them together and get going.”

 

“They are playing over there with some of the others. You’ll have a load of laundry by the time they are done.” I pointed to where about six little kids were playing together under one of the cherry trees.

 

“Nice… well, let me go check on them. Why don’t you pack the picnic stuff and join me to say our farewells.” Amaya had been speaking to me for the last part. She then turned to Oppa. “It was very nice to meet you Oppa. Hope to see you again before you all leave.”

 

“Very nice to meet you too.”

 

As Amaya walked away, I knelt down to pick up the blanket and started folding it. I realized Oppa never committed to any of Amaya’s invites. For a moment, my heart protested a bit that this couldn’t be the only time I would get to see him.

 

“Why the long face? Don’t want to leave the Cherry blossoms today?” Oppa had collected the picnic bag I had sitting at the far corner and held it open for me to place the blanket in there.

 

“Yeah. Something like that... Just wanted to collect enough memories to remember them by, like you said.”

 

“Hmm…” Oppa watched my face for a moment before tentatively asking. “So I was wondering if you might be free to be my tour guide tomorrow? I have a long list of places I want to visit, but I don’t know the first thing about most of it.”

Week #8
Week #5
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