Sensing a Sense of Place

Today is two weeks and two days since I moved to Gimhae.

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“Gimha Fo You,” their rejected slogan.

Located northwest of Busan, connected by a lightrail that serves as the defacto fifth line in the Busan subway system, I thought I was just moving to another part of the city I have called home for over a year. Slipping into Gimhae-si would be like slipping into an old pair of shoes. No problem, I thought as I left the United States, New Jersey, after only 12 days…

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…which felt a little short but not as short as I might have believed it would feel when I left a year before. I was ready to come back to Korea, because Korea’s home now, for now.

Fourteen time zones later, I was home. But, home didn’t have quite the same taste that home had in 2013, in Jangnim, the place I had complained about many times for being too dirty, too inconvenient, too rough around the edges. But, it had been home. And home has a familiar taste. Even failed relationships leave a lingering pang of nostalgia with me on occasion.

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Homecoming.

So did Jangnim and, by extension, Saha-gu, the inconvenient, rough around the edges “Gu” that isn’t Seomyeon, Gwangan or Haeundae. And, we liked it that way. My friends were there. As of this writing, they still are.

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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A view from the window of my current apartment.

The latest hurdle has been adjusting to Gimhae, to Samman-dong, a walk to the Inje University lightrail station, or in the opposite direction to where I need to catch the bus for my new job. It seemed like such a devastating problem.

“Remember how you always think the worst in a new situation.” -Amanda, my best friend and regular voice of reason. Sometimes, I need time to adjust. Or, maybe just a good slap to the back of the head.

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Getting my bicycle back doesn’t hurt, either.

Over the weekend, the temperature climbed into the 60s (F). I went riding in Changwon, now much easier to get to since I live between it and Busan.

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On Sunday, getting my bicycle from my old home, in Jangnim, I felt a little pang of nostalgia as I slipped the key into the bike lock, wrapped it around the seat and relocked it, rolling it out from the parking garage below the apartments, into the sunlight and away from Jangnim-dong for the last time.

I stopped by a friends’ apartment in Hadan, one of those aforementioned friends who will be leaving in six months. Eventually we’ll all be leaving, so it’s better to not allow those nostalgic pangs more weight than they deserve, right? I already had plenty of weight to carry in my bag, stuffed with more of what remains of my old apartment that I did not want to throw away or give away, leaving it at various friends’ apartments around the city.

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Then I took to the trail along the Nakdong River to Sasang. With each revolution of the pedals, Jangnim went with the sunset. 2013 is already months gone.

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And then, the lightrail toward stop 13, “Inje University,” and home.

Tonight, two weeks and two days since moving to Gimhae, I sit in a coffee shop close enough to my apartment I could probably shout from it in full throat and make out my words from where I sit.

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Except for the glass windows.

Despite the comfort I’m feeling at this moment, I will still move forward with looking for another apartment, in a more central part of this city. This is mostly because my current location adds about one hour of additional travel time every day to where I work four of my days of work a week–an unforeseen hurdle when I agreed to this particular apartment. This inevitability–of moving, again, possibly tomorrow, possibly six months from now–makes me somewhat reluctant to begin planting roots, fearing they only will be dug out again at some point. But, like the seeds that blow off trees every fall, it’s going to happen anyway.

It’s happening now as I think about sitting here in this neighborhood coffee shop, predicting how reluctant I will likely feel when the real estate agent finds a tenant replacement and I have to move again. But, I felt hesitant leaving Jangnim, a place I was once eager to escape. I felt reluctant living here, and I’m now starting to warm to it, as soft English-language acoustic guitar pop mingles with the Korean language coming from several seats in this warm coffee shop. And what do you suppose I will think and feel when I uproot once again? I guess you can say it’s complicatedly uncomplicated.

Two weeks and two days after moving to Gimhae, I am starting to sense a sense of place. I welcome it. I’m home.

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