For the last month, I have been composing some sort of overdue update to celebrate a variety of things: the mark of my third month, a really wonderful Korean holiday, my first 100 Days, and the end of the first term, beginning of the new. I have started a hundred posts and abandoned them all. I have saved up a thousand things to say, all of which have lost their relevance and newsworthiness.
And now I find myself here, officially four months from the day I stepped off a plane onto Korean pavement. Four months from the moment that everything was overwhelmingly new, overwhelmingly foreign, overwhelmingly Asian. Again time does its warping thing and does not seem to live up to the the real time I am actually living. When one’s existence becomes such an immediate and active affair, it is possible to cover much more ground than we normally tread in our everyday lives. February seems a hundred months behind me, not four.
Somewhere in the last month, there has been some sort of subtle yet tremendous shift. A few weeks ago, I was in a phase I described to Mary as my “Three Month Hrrrmmmm” phase. It was weeks of allergies, illness, exhaustion and overworked teaching burn-out, complicated with feeling lost and confused. As the newness wore off and Korean life became normal life, the existential quandries with which I am expertly familiar came hurtling back to the forefront of my brain. You know, the What the Hell Am I Doing Here? phase. I was not un-prepared for this episode…I had been properly warned. “The third month sucks,” I was told. I thought this preparation would keep me immune.
But it came and knocked me sideways regardless. I wrote this, then:
I am feeling restless and the homesickness has taken on new flavor. I am never homesick for home. And I am OK with being far away, OK with being on my own…a little time of solitude. What I am suddenly not OK with is being in a temporary situation. I have been in a temporary situation since I left Austin, and I am craving like never before to settle down and stop. Consumed with wanting to resume my life…feeling like so much of it is on hold and packed up in boxes. I have had to shift my focus away from some of my greatest joys and am missing those parts of me right now. The Suzy Homemaker, The Social Butterfly, The Cook, The Baker, The Candlestick Maker. I am homesick for those.
And just like that it was gone, as if saying it outloud was all it took to make it go away.
The few weeks since have been an entirely different story. The new summer term has me teaching six hours fewer and one day less per week; finally, I have a full weekend. I have moved from tourist to resident, as the subways become second nature, other parts of Seoul begin to feel like home and acquaintances turn into friends. Being less brain-dead helps.
There’s been a new bang each week: DVD bang first, noraebang last week and jim jil bang this week. DVD bangs are a good way to kill time and get some sleep between the end of your night and the first subway home, especially if you choose something long and nauseating like Memoirs of a Geisha. Noraebang is just an extension of my cover band days, except this time I get to sing Kelly Clarkson. And jim jil bang is simply a night in heaven, in my humble opinion.
I’ve toured 13th Century Palaces and modern shopping districts. I have been to lively festivals and parades. I found a lake I am in love with and a stream that is best visited in the middle of the night. I have unearthed favorite coffee shops, tea houses, tofu restaurants and neighborhoods. Long Saturdays exploring the city leave me feeling full and satiated, like a delicious meal that takes hours to eat, spilling over the top with brilliant conversation, perfect lighting and good wine.
It helps that the language is beginning to roll off my tongue with greater ease and I am finally starting to take an interest in reading Hangul. Like those moments in “A Beautiful Mind” where Russell Crowe sees the numbers and codes come together from their floating in space, the language is beginning to form itself into something concrete and tangible rather than a random assortment of sounds. I can have actual, albeit simple, conversations now. These conversations mostly relate to ordering food, but it is a huge achievement to be able to both understand and answer a question in Korean 37% of the time.
Missing my other parts has not gone away entirely, but I am OK with it now. I still want to buy plants, proper bedding and a variety of things that will neither fit in my suitcase nor make it through customs upon my return. But I am OK with scratching that itch at a later date, when things are less temporary. I still don’t know how long I will be here or where I will go next, but I do not need to answer that question yet. There is a whole country to discover around me NOW, here, right this moment. And what I was looking for all along — to be completely present in my surroundings — has found its way into my lap without much convincing. Now I can better focus my energy on amazing street food, cheap shoes, green mountains, weekend train trips and laughing until my sides hurt.