Before I begin—the following entries are not intended to be a blog or something advertised, but instead a series of open love letters to my friends back home (I already miss all of you deeply).
I would feel arrogant if I wrote this assuming that you think that what I am doing is really important enough to be documented. An astounding amount of people teach abroad, especially in South Korea. Some come here just to drink and dick around. Others are looking for international experience for future jobs. Others still just don’t know “what to do with their LIFE” and are just kind of drifting around seeing the world. I’m not sure that I fall into any of those categories neatly, but I am just another way-gook all the same.
So, I will write this for my close friends, because when I see these new and awesome things, the first thing I think of is how I wish I could share my experiences with the people who shaped me into the person I am.
Anyway, I’m sure you want to hear a little bit about Seoul already . . .
I am sitting here right now in my quiet apartment, 14 floors high in Daechong Tower in Gaepo-do, Gangnam-gu, Seoul. The view outside of my window is (sorry to brag) spectacular. I can see skyscrapers for miles—and behind them, big green mountains. Yeonsoo tells me this is a very common view. Man, for this Missouri boy, it's pretty damn baller.
And . . .
Seoul immediately shows plenty of its own unique character. Everything is packed in so tightly that it overwhelms the eyes, much like the Korean written language itself. This is my first time off of the North American continent. I get this strange feeling now and again, looking around at the signs in neon Hangul and these skyscrapers, that I am watching a film rather than actually being here.
I've always thought that the city felt like fiction, like I was in a dream world when I was anywhere but small Missouri towns. Everything feels important here even though, with so many lives being lived in such a condensed area, nothing is especially important at all.
Every street is a bit like a Hieronymus Bosch painting, if he had done pop-art. There are so many things to see and yet none of them really have a solid context within its surroundings. The building I live in for example, has about 7 restaurants (one dedicated exclusively to grilled cheese sandwiches), a convenience store, a grocery, a bar, two dry cleaners, a sauna, a gym with a pool, a bank, and at least two small clothing stores. There is much more in Daechong Tower than this, but that is what I've learned about so far. Old and new, western and eastern, shabby and luxurious—everything collides here. Maybe this is typified best by the faded, Asian mountains sitting between massive stretches of sky-high urban sprawl.
Every single little thing was (and still is, as I write this) amazing. Some examples: 1) Public transportation must be sacred here, because everything is immaculately clean, expensive looking, and the people are as quiet as church while traveling via subway or bus. 2) My apartment lock is a keypad that looks like it’s from the future. I have no key, just a number on a console that slides and makes a satisfyingly sci-fi sound. 3) The floors are heated with an electric Ondol. This substitutes for a radiator. 4) McDonald’s delivers.
Yeonsoo keeps telling me that I look out of place here. I don't think she means this negatively, I just think she is picking up on the kind of surreal feeling I have about being here myself. Still, I find it hard to believe that anything can look out of place here.
The night before getting on my flight to Incheon, I was terrified. One moment I would be excited and optimistic—the next I would find myself short of breath, pacing so fast that I had made myself dizzy.
It was only after actually committing to this that I started to learn about the student suicide rate in Seoul—not an encouraging thing for a prospective employee to hear about his new work environment. And of course, I generally feel that I am a screw-up. I’m lazy and obtuse and have really only even achieved a college degree because of a blind infatuation for what I was learning. I have never been a good student or employee, yet here I am with the audacity to become the teacher in a country where a low A deserves shame. These were the things spinning in my mind as my mother and I packed my suitcases together.
Saying goodbye to my close friends made me feel even more self-doubt. I had everything I needed there. I really feel that I have a family back home. The idea of not seeing all of you every weekend made me panic. Really, the sole source of joy from living in Missouri was my friends.
Of course, Yeonsoo was waiting for me in Seoul. And besides, I had always promised myself to get out of Missouri.
Ah, ok. Being here actually has a lot to do with Yeonsoo. I’ll definitely never be able to explain the feeling of seeing her, finally, running full blast towards me. I can't help but remember saying goodbye to her a few months ago. It was hard to look at her as we sat and waited for her plane. But she told me, "Hey look at me--there is no Yeonsoo over there!" Inter-language between Korean and English creates some pretty comical expressions sometimes, but when she said that it really lingered in my mind. There is no Yeonsoo in Missouri.
She told me she felt a little bit awkward to see me again after so long, and in Korea instead of America. I think she meant surreal, but it is funny how when you wait for something so long it becomes almost unbelievable when it finally happens. I mean literally unbelievable. You know you’re supposed to have all of these emotions and express them, yet everything adds up to more of a sense of confusion than anything.
I'm still pretty confused right now, and still pretty scared.
I saw my dad cry waiting for me outside in the airport terminal as I walked towards my flight. It occurred to me that this may be the first time in my life I wasn't being an abject coward.
At this point it feels sort of like losing your balance on the diving board and deciding to just make the most of your fall.