40 Days Later, a Reflection

Happy 40-Day Anniversary in South Korea, me. Tip your cap, were you wearing one. Celebrate this Monday morning with folding clothes and cleaning the kitchen area (it really did need it).

An old photo, but the camera batteries are dead again. The kitchen may be even cleaner today. At least, the stovetop is.

What is such a big deal about 40 days? Anyone with me since the beginning will know that this number is the first major milestone of this over seven-year-series of false starts. Of half-hearted attempts. Or, just, of “not-quite-readies.” It was on the 40th day, in December 2005, that I left South Korea for the first time.

My first day at work in Jinju, November 2005.

I wish I had a photo I took of myself on Dec. 24, 2005, as I waited outside my apartment for  “Emily,” my director at the hagwon, to pick me up to take me to the bus depot, which would then take me to Incheon Airport, and home. It, paired with the photo above, and shows pretty well how I handled my first trip here. But, the photo’s long gone. I could have sworn I had saved it. I may have deleted it.

It’s a selfie of me, 7am, a background of the mass of endless power lines supporting my apartment building and those surrounding it. The sun is rising from somewhere behind so my face is particularly shadowed. And, I am exhaling a long pull of a Dunhill cigarette, which I am pretty sure were about 2,000 won a pack at the time (they’re up to 2,500 and 2,700 now! Thank God I stopped smoking).

I had cracked. At a time before ubiquitous Facebook, before Skype, before I owned a laptop to “call” home with. Having never been away from home except for two years at college, now on the other side of the world, I had never felt more alone than at that moment I took that photo. But, when I took it, I knew it wasn’t long before I would be back home.

Thinking about that photo makes me sad. Perhaps it’s for the best it’s gone.

It’s not like the other photo was from a particularly bright and sunny moment in that first time. I dated a girl in the states that I broke up with because I was going to South Korea. And yet, I could not let go of her, or was it the familiarity of home?, at any point in my new world.

She told me I was trying to get back on the plane ever since I got off it. Forty days after arriving, I did just that. I didn’t try again until 2009, and didn’t actually get back here until the following year.

The “not-quite-readies” I kind of like. It’s kinder. I don’t think I was very kind to myself and how I was feeling all those years ago. It’s something that seems to have finally begun to stick over seven years later. I found a replacement, via Dave’s ESL Cafe, who was asleep with the TV on in my old bed when I got back to the apartment to hastily pack after spending the night out with a guy from Ireland and a girl from Canada whom I had really liked. She never caught the Korea bug and left a few months after I did. I’m pretty sure she never tried to go back. She got married several years later, I learned through Facebook. I hope that’s turned out well for her.

One of the kinder things I look at when reflecting on those 40 days is what they are teaching me now. And, what they, 2009, 2010, and every moment that has come before will hopefully continue to teach me on my 55th day, two months, six months and, eventually, one year.

Happy 40-Day Anniversary in South Korea.


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