54 Days Later

It is 11 a.m., April 8, 2013 here in Jangnim, Busan, South Korea. It is the 54th day since arriving at Incheon International Airport on Feb. 13, since starting my third Korean adventure in a little over seven years. My refrigerator is full of food. My apartment is clean. I have a plain, ordinary but functional cell phone, which is slowly building a collection of numbers of new friends. I have a job I mostly enjoy, with the exception of the occasional student outburst, the occasional frustration of not being able to properly communicate with many of them, the occasional feeling of loneliness when the Korean teachers are all talking in Korean and the other foreign teacher is in a class. I am building up a social network, an “ordinary” life, if such a thing can really exist when you’re on a one-year contract in a country 7,000 miles from your home. Our neighbors to the north are rattling their sabers but life moves on in a country that has dealt with such things for over a half-century. Overall, 54 days after arriving, my life in South Korea is good.

The same could not be said after 54 days in 2010.

March 2010, Deokcheon, Busan, South Korea
April 7, 2010:
No more romanticizing of Korea?
Yeah. No more romanticizing of Korea.

So, you got it out of your system?

Yeah, I did.

My “vacation” is over. This morning, I go into school to sign off on my job, and then that is it. I am finished with Korea. For good, this time.

I still do not hate Korea. But, this time, the second time around, I realize that I do not like it very much. And, I still do not like teaching. Whether public school or hagwon, it’s not for me. And, I’m OK with that, to quote a friend I made here during orientation.

I will miss some of the people I met here. But, I’ll forget about them, just as they will forget about me. It sounds sad, but it’s actually not. We had fun, enjoyed each other’s company, and we’ll go on. And, that will be that. That we won’t cry over the other’s departure from our lives is a lot better than a tearful farewell.

I was unhappy, yes. But, it all couldn’t be blamed on Korea. I was in pain from a shitty little gallbladder that would be cut out about a month later. I lived in an apartment that was about half the size of the one I live in now. Claustrophobic, I would unplug the fridge at night (it’s OK, I didn’t have any food in it anyway) because the loud *clunk* of its compressor kicking in or out would either wake me up or keep me awake. If I did go to sleep, the foul fetid fecal perfume from Deokcheon’s questionable sewer system would inch its way into the apartment (through the sink? The toilet? Through the damn walls? I never did really find out), waking me up, making me want to find some place familiar, comfortable, safe. Mostly, some place that did not literally smell like shit.
It also made me want to call Amanda. Three years ago, we had know each other about a year. We had dated and broken up, mended fences and were relatively good with each other. But, that was three years ago. Since then, she has become my best friend. Then, she was dating someone else back home. And when my daily Skype calls would come in, he would ask, “is it Korea?” Sighing, she would say it was and she had to take it because I was such a basketcase. I’m grateful that she held on and didn’t write me off once I got home.
Time changes us, if we bother to listen to what it can teach us and allow ourselves to grow. It’s easy to panic and stay frozen mentally, even if our bodies age, our hair falls out, people grow up and die. Everything around us tells us that time marches on, and we can either march with it and learn from every mistake or awesome moment we experience, or remain frozen in no way but our perceptions.
A week before I left South Korea in 2010, I was finding out I needed a large stone removed from my gallbladder and that a hospital stay in Korea would be about three weeks.
A week before I decided to write this post about the first 54, 55 days in Korea in 2013, I was getting covered in paint and eating samosas on the beach.
On Day 52 in 2010, I tried to convince myself having surgery performed in a foreign country was OK and that I should tell my co-teacher that I would, in fact, get it done. I also probably smoked about two packs of cigarettes.
On Day 52 in 2013, I played drinking games, sang at a Noraebang and went out for snacks at 4am in celebration of a new friend’s new job and apartment. I did not smoke.
On Day 53 in 2010, I did flipflop about quitting my public school teaching job and decided to have gallbladder surgery performed in South Korea. A day later, I’d flipflop again.
On Day 53 in 2013, I had brunch.
Time has a way of helping us, as long as we are patient. There was a brief period even this time around with some of those crazy feelings. Of isolation and questioning whether or not coming back (again!) had been the right move. But, some of that glacial evolution Amanda told me about during those few days, over a month ago, has helped me see through the illusions of anxiety and unnecessary panic and lead me to where I am now. Not perfect, but open to letting this third time run its right course. Like exercise, you can’t just go from zero to 100 in an instant and expect not to pull something, lose interest or lose your mind. I’m working my way up and over hurdles and bumps in the road. There are many mountains, not just one, to cross.
It’s not without its occasional misstep. Some days, I don’t want random Koreans staring at me just because I’m a large white man with a beard. I want to socialize but after three nights of drinking in excess, my body and brain begin to hate me for the abuse. I often want to do more with the hours between waking up and going to school, but end up habitually checking Facebook and maybe watching an episode or two of Doctor Who instead.
And, I’m OK with that, to quote a friend I made in orientation in 2010. I don’t remember which friend that was. I’m OK with that, too.
Tomorrow, April 9, 2013, will be my 55th day in South Korea. I’ll wake up as usual, probably at about 8 a.m., check the time and go back to sleep for another hour. I’ll dilly-dally on the computer for a while and bitch in my head of how I’m wasting my life when I should be exploring this foreign land, even when I have to go to work in a few hours. I’ll open the curtains and cook up a couple eggs, over-examine my stomach overhang and wonder if I should sign up for another three months at the gym up the hill near the apartment. I’ll eventually shower, get dressed and walk or take the bus to Dadaepo, to GnB English, to start the next school day. I will likely do a combination of several or all of these things.
One thing I won’t be doing: getting on a flight back to the United States. 
And then, what happens on Wednesday, April 10, 2013? Day 56? I don’t know. There’s never been a Day 56 before.

One thought on “54 Days Later

  1. […] But, some left in February, when their year contracts with EPIK or at hagwons ran out and they did not renew. Some will leave in September, friends I made during my first consecutive year in South Korea, a challenge that once seemed like such a high hurdle. That was a long time ago. […]

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