In the past few months, a lot of people have been asking me why I decided to come to Korea. I’ve given a lot of different answers in order to hide the fact that I don’t really have an answer. Sometimes I said it was because I wanted to travel. Sometimes I said it was because I wanted to try my hand at teaching. Sometimes I said it was because life would pass me by if I didn’t take the opportunity (my stereotypical yuppie answer). Sometimes I made up other reasons in order to make myself sound happy & accomplished or something like that. Sometimes I just tried to back away from the conversation.
Actually, I always tried to back away from the conversation – because – why does anyone make major life decisions? You might as well ask me why my eyes are green. I think these sort of things just happen, and you deal with the outcome. I was never entirely sure I wanted to come to Korea until I had invested a thousand dollars into a TEFL course and had interviewed with an organization that pretty much guaranteed me a job if I just got onto an airplane and closed my eyes. The rest came naturally after that, of course.
As I write this I’m in my 200 sq. ft. studio apartment, still kind of wondering what I’m doing here. I don’t even have a chair to sit on. I’m kneeling next to my foldout kitchen table with my comforter separating my knees from the vinyl floor. I’m 19 stories above ground, windows open, listening to high-speed trains whistle by on the track across the street. I’m also sipping on a random German beer from the 711 across the street. Because, duh, of course there’s a huge variety of German beer in Korea?
So how do I feel now that I’m here? Honestly, I can’t say, and you probably don’t care that much either way.
But for one thing, I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut nearly 100% of the time. Whether I speak English or Korean, nobody can really understand me. To have no voice is incredibly difficult at times, but it’s also taught me a lot about myself and my surroundings. Instead of hearing a couple gossiping on the bus, I see the sun retreating over a misty, nameless mountain. Instead of seeing frowns and strange looks on the street, I hear the crosswalks chirping with their signature boom-bips, reminiscent of a Diplo beat on a slippery dance floor. Sometimes I have to stop myself from undulating across the street on my way to school in the morning.
It’s moments like these when I notice how happy I am to be here.
For the most part, everything has been good, and even if it were truly bad, I wouldn’t really let you know. Because who likes people that just whine about moving to foreign lands?
So, on that topic, perhaps the most inspiring thing that’s happened to me so far was getting caught in a monsoon.
I was walking around downtown Gimcheon like a proper idiot, just straight rubber-neckin’ around every corner. I was gawking at the most elementary of things, like even the sewer caps are breathtaking here, I swear. All of a sudden I look up at the sky, and I notice it’s about to pour down rain. I’m a little hungry at this point so I decide I should probably park myself at a restaurant in order to eat/drink during this downpour.
I’m still rubber-necking around downtown, and it starts raining, so I casually duck into a doorway to what may or may not have been a church. I honestly have no idea if it was a real church, but there was a cross on the door, although the building looked semi-abandoned (so probably a church, actually).
But now it’s absolutely pouring down rain, and like the total bozo that I am, I have no umbrella, so naturally, I’m in a dark doorway during a rainstorm. I know for a fact that I was frightening people, because I’m a bearded foreigner posted up in this odd little crevice, beer-in-hand, kind of smiling and saying hello in a foreign language as people scurry to and fro, just trying to get the hell away from me.
However, after a while, the rain didn’t stop. I was like, “Oh, damn, this crevice isn’t as nice as it was when I originally came here.” Then I also notice a spider in the corner, like 8 inches from my face. This is also the point at which an elderly woman limped by, and naturally, I terrified her by trying to say hello – because I am a bearded foreigner drinking alcohol in a dark doorway during a rainstorm.
About 10 or 15 minutes later, this same woman crosses my path again. She sees me and I kind of smile, but I feel bad because I have already scared the bejeezus out of her like less than 10 minutes ago. She limps off in the other direction. I just stand there, because that’s basically all I can do at this point because I’m an idiot stuck in a rainstorm without an umbrella while drinking flat beer in a dim crevice. I assume she is alerting the authorities or gathering some sort of squad to come and beat the shit out of me. I then finish my beer and prepare for the worst.
A few minutes later, the same woman walks by and hands me a poncho. I quickly tell her ‘thank you’ and she laughs herself off into the rainstorm with her umbrella, as if she did not just purchase a poncho for a potential highway robber.
I stood in the dark little doorway for a few minutes and laughed at myself so hard that I almost peed, and then I almost cried. Next, I ran to the nearest restaurant, where nothing remarkable happened. I just ate a lot of Korean fried chicken and then went home.
All in all, I feel very welcome here.
It’s still odd for me to think that I’m here. This is no longer just a late-night promise at Alderman’s after a round of Irish Car bombs. As a self-admittedly lazy person that generally doesn’t set goals, bringing this reality to life is nothing short of astonishing to me.
Just goes to show, even if you’re a pile of crap, you might be able to accomplish your dreams!
Okay I’m done now.
This one is dedicated to Maddie Doran for believing in me and stuff.
Peace and love,