Sunday, October 22, 2006

Dear Korea, Wish I was there...

In light of my recent slew of nostalgia-or-something-like-it, some have apparently wondered just what it is I miss about Korea. This is an interesting thing to ponder. So, let's see...

*I miss my weekends of random independent galavanting. After the arduous work weeks of DingDingDang-ing it up from Mon-Fri, I was SO ready on the weekends to explore, breathe, be outside, travel, and so on. Especially during my first few months, as soon as the weekend rolled around I would head to one of Daegu's bus or train stations, my Lonely Planet Korea book tucked safely in my backpack, and go somewhere. Anywhere! The entire country beckoned. Sometimes I would literally decide where I was going while in the cab on the way to Dongdaegu Station, or even change my mind at the last minute at the counter, if there happened to be a bus leaving soon for a dsetination I hadn't considered. Which brings me to another thing that I miss...

*I miss the extremely cheap, extremely plentiful public transit, which was not limited to the cities. In fact, I daresay this explains why I don't just randomly independently galavant every weekend while here in the U.S. I mean, I do randomly independently galavant lots of weekends, but it costs a lot more here. And let's face it. This country was made for driving. Now, I always was a huge fan of road trips, and I've been all over the lower 48, but in the last few years I have become quite content living life without a car. This life is easily led in Boston and New York. And it is even more easily led in Korea. Because, as I said, they make it easy to get anywhere via bus. Here's an example: national parks. Let's say you want to visit a national park in the United States. You're probably going to do this in a car. Unless you're on an organized/chartered tour. Not so in Korea. I could hop a bus in Daegu that would drop me off at the base of a random mountain. I hiked all the time. I went everywhere. And might I add that these bus trips sometimes cost about five dollars.

*I miss the scene. I really do. I miss the expat English teachers. I like them a lot, just in general. These are people with a demonstrated interest in travel, escapism, or both...and they aren't afraid of things like grammar, syntax, and adverbs. What's not to love? I was in heaven. Sometimes I was sad while I was over there that I hadn't gone ahead and done this teach-English-in-Asia thing earlier. I was 30 (despite all Korean notions to the contrary). Some of these people were 23, 24, 25...I was super-jealous! If I had gone then, I could have embarked upon the life some of them led, of teaching for multiple years in various countries, and then still gone to law school by age 31. I don't regret that I got to have all the life experiences I did have here in the U.S. throughout my twenties, but it was interesting to ponder over a beer or the commune...

*Commune. Sigh... That beloved foreigners' watering hole. Gathering place for English-speakers and Koreans who weren't afraid to hang out with English speakers. It wasn't the only gathering place we had, but it was the first one I went to, and it was where I met many of my friends over there. It was dark and quiet and at the bottom of the stairs. It was a place of refuge. The owner was one of my favorite people in the world. He was so good to us. We had SO MANY good times there. Weekly Wednesday open mic nights were just the beginning...

*The Daegu Renaissance. Three cheers to Greg and everyone who launched it and participated in it. Rather than just sitting around drinking all the time, a bunch of us foreigners made art. Greg launched that co-op artists' space, and my winter/spring were filled with poetry slams, music, fiestas, new creative friends, and of course the play. It was amazing. I will remain forever grateful that I was there to participate. May it live on and on!

*The biggest thing of course is a very general thing: I do miss living abroad and the daily learning about yourself that comes with it. I consider myself to be the reflective, "finding myself," analytical sort at all times. But when you're living in a foreign country, especially one as jarring as Korea, you kind of are forced to reckon with yourself and your life and the world on a daily basis. An hourly basis, even. It's intense, it's grueling, and it's wonderful.

So that's just a few things off of the top of my head. I might also add that it wasn't bad having my rent paid for ("free" isn't really the term I'd use: sure, the school I taught at paid for my apartment, but I would definitely consider that a "cost" to my sanity if nothing else). And even apart from the English teacher scene, I met some phenomenal people. Like the aforementioned owner of the Commune. Like my "Dunkin' Donuts friend." Like Bryan and Robin, my Army and spouse-of-Army couple friends who are two of my favorite people on the planet. Like Eun Mi, who ran the Amnesty International foreigners' chapter I joined. Like Munjin Park and the others involved with the Korea Democracy Foundation who brought us to Seoul for Speak Truth to Power.

Yeah, I guess this is definitely something like nostalgia. I had a great experience there!

But, back to the present. Here I am in Hempstead, attending Hofstra law school and learning many things. Now that I'm not out of town to Boston or D.C. every other weekend, I have a new Sunday routine. It consists of waking up in the morning--that's the first step, and much preferable to sleeping in way late after being out carousing 'til all hours on Saturday nights. After the morning routine I stroll across the parking lot to the Hofstra Student Center where there is NO ONE around on Sunday mornings and I can snag a chance to play the piano in the lounge room that is almost always previously claimed by a television viewer. Next, I walk a few minnutes down Hempstead Turnpike (it's not really a freeway turnpike here, just a normal busy road that our campus is on, so don't be alarmed that I'm strolling it) to Starbucks, where I read my book and relax and enjoy a latte and some fruit. Afterward I walk through the quaint neighborhood between Starbucks and campus, enjoying the cute houses bedecked in Halloween decorations and the leaves scuttling along the sidewalks.

Finally, I end up at some cultural event or other offered on campus that I can attend free simply by showing my current Hofstra i.d. card. Today's offering was part of the months-long celebration of the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth. I watched a chamber ensemble perform and it was fabulous. I sat in the auditorium of the Monroe Lecture Center that has already become the sight of many of my Hofstra moments: law school orientation events, a play, John McPhee's reading, and more. I listened to the most amazing clarinet-piano interplay and I reveled in the strings. It was good.

It's ALL good.

"May you live all the days of your life." -- often attributed to Jonathan Swift

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I currently live in Korea. I live in Sacheon, not far from Jinju. Maybe you can give me some advice as to where to go, as I am clueless.