One year ago today, I landed at Logan Airport in Boston, still drunk on Tokyo, 13 hours with Japan Airlines, Natalie Portman in The Black Swan, twentysomething hours without sleep and a glass or two of wine. I fell comfortably into the arms of my family; the young children — who had not been told of my pending arrival — fainted on cue; lasagne and Girl Scout cookies were fed to me and I fell into a deep sleep for exactly one week.
I knew then that it would be a good long while before I returned to Asia. My father had suffered a 1-2-3 punch of illness and injury during my last two years in Korea, and small children were growing at alarming rates among my brethren. I loved living in Asia; it treated me so well. But I’d outgrown the distance separating me from my people. The distance separating me from ovens and microbrews and not-needing-a-translator-for-everything. So when a friend offered me a position as his Art Director at a small agency in a small New England town on the New Hampshire seacoast, I jumped.
What I didn’t know at the time was that I would stop writing in this space. I had stockpiled stories and photographs; I had plenty of adventures still to share. But transitions, they take a lot out of you. Complicate matters with transcontinental moves and culture shock, and you can simply multiply that by one hundred. Also, it turns out that when you’ve been 14 timezones away for a number of years, people get a little grabby upon your return. I’m certainly not complaining. That was what I had wished for. My people being close and grabby. But when your social sphere has long been condensed into a very manageable circle of precious people and suddenly it quadruples in size, a girl’s free time to write in her diary begins to vanish. And life gets busy and you have to run a marathon and next thing you know, it’s 2012.
This last year has been very good to me. I have learned a lot, I have done a lot and I have laughed a lot. Returning to the US was much easier than I’d anticipated, and I can truthfully say that I have not once regretted moving back. In many ways it was too seamless, too quickly forgotten, too happy to be home. But there is a wistfulness and homesickness for Asia that is marked in unexpected milestones and odd markers of time. Stumbling on a plastic LOTTE bag* that transported gifts back in my suitcase, now carrying my lunch to work. This time last year I was walking through Apgujeong with Youngdoo, Mel and Hyunyo snapping photographs. Discovering a full pack of makeup remover cloths from the Faceshop, their aloe scent transporting me to my Sinchon bathroom every time I use them.
When my tube of Wah-Eee-Tuh Suh-pah-kul toothpaste ran out (that’s Korean for “White Sparkle”), I spent days trying to extract every last drop. It’s not even Korean toothpaste. It’s Arm & Hammer. But those everyday products hovering around me, lingering in corners and pockets and new apartment drawers, made me feel that I wasn’t so far away from my life in Korea. That my days of wonder and magical discovery hadn’t been replaced with normal, ordinary everyday.
I’m not done with Asia; not even close. But there is also the whole rest of the world. And now I’m embarking on another grand adventure, closer to my people. I’m not sure yet how these pages will transform on US soil, but I have an idea. And lots of stories left to tell.* You’re welcome.