One hundred and something

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

11 Responses to “One hundred and something”

  1. Meera says:

    I’m only commenting so you know I read this and loved it. There really isn’t much to say beyond “you are a beautiful person and I am so happy you are taking so much from this experience,” and a girl can only say inane things like that so many times.

    Love these pictures. You keep your pictures in so many places. Why you have to be so difficult? :-)

  2. Meera says:

    Urk, scary smiley.

    Sorry.

  3. Liz says:

    what a beautiful post.
    and i hate writing comments after the ever-eloquent Meera because anything i want to say never, ever matches her words.
    however, i’ll say this… i’m glad you’re experiencing everything rather than waiting for it to end. i can’t say how long it would have taken me… perhaps i’d be home by now?
    xoxo

  4. Matt says:

    I loved the post too. I’d really like to give you a hug, but what with the distance between us (oh the poetry) that’s not so easy I guess. I’ll tell Ann to give you a hug from me.

  5. Stephanie says:

    Thanks girls and boy. I’m so glad considering it took me a month to write it.

    Meera, I have to spread the wealth.
    Liz, I fear writing anything anywhere in the vicinity of Meera.
    Matt, long-distance virtual hugs are fine too!

  6. steph — i’m in this totally funky mood and i’m reading your posts and they are making my heart swell and my soul have hope. you make korea sound like a dream. you are a brave girl with an adventurous spirit and i love getting little insights into your world.

  7. mom says:

    Steph—-
    I keep being amazed at how eloquent and profound you are in these writings…your comment that begins “when one’s existence… ” especially is almost like those quotes of famous people you see in the magazines. I have been waiting, not ver ypatiently for this posting….

    Love, MOM

  8. dad says:

    Stephanie – Do you realize it took me over five decades to get to the insights you’ve just expressed? In my struggle, I’ve often thought that if I ever really figured things out I’d be obliged to write a book – but you are writing that book, and it sure doesn’t hurt that it is illustrated with the most breath-taking photographs.

    xoxoxx dad

  9. tina miely says:

    My darling girl…such a brave face that is hard to have sometimes. Like your folks, I am proud and sometimes stunned by your writing…I enjoy each new entry and look forward to them. Love the strength you have….
    t

  10. Stephanie says:

    Marya, Mom, Dad, Tina…all of your comments make MY heart swell. Thank you a million times over.

  11. Julie C says:

    God, Steph!! You are such a terrific writer, one word: publish! (I’ve a read more than a dozen novels down here in the hothouse since Feb to pass the time, and your writing is as good as any of the great writers I’ve been reading)
    I too have been on a journey since Feb. 1st, in a new place, and I too can relate to the “temporary situation” syndrome (note to self: TSS as a new disorder, what will they pay me to make up the pill for it?). Altho Ken ordered me to unpack EVERY box as soon as we got to Delray Beach (new “temporary” home), I still feel completely “temporary” here, with one foot in Fla and the other back on the North Shore.
    Thanks for another inspiring post, and you are welcome here anytime my friend.

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