It’s Not Smog, it’s Yellow Sand from China

When I was in Korea in 2000, I was standing on the balcony of the
top floor of a building in Seoul. From the balcony I could see dozens
and dozens of tall, multistory buildings with the mountains a good
distance behind; it was a sunny day that was mostly haze.

My friend and translator asked me if I’d noticed all the "smog" and
I had. I was surprised when he informed me that it wasn’t smog that I
was seeing – every year in the spring, yellow sand from China is blown
in to Korea. That’s what I was seeing on this sunny day.

The Sofitel was the hotel I was staying at during the time I wrote this poem. A hanbok is a traditional Korean dress, and Namdemun is a market.

It’s Not Smog, It’s Yellow Sand from China

It’s quiet up here in the Sofitel
Up on the hill
With the billowy folds of Seoul
fluffed out before me
Like the skirt of my hanbok.

To the morning vendors setting up shop,
I must look odd,
Walking the still
side streets of Namdemun without a purpose.

Sometimes I forget I’m a stranger in my homeland
No one stares at me, or tells me
"Go back where you came from".
Or if they do, I can’t understand them anyway.

I’ve tried at times to be bitter
but I guess I just don’t care.
It’s as if I wash you out of my hair
Along with the yellow sands of China
Which blows in this time of year,
and settles on me in a gritty mist.

Up in the sink at the Sofitel
This hilltop hotel,
I wash out the dust of my forefathers
Before I fall asleep each night.

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