Since moving to Korea, I have felt decidedly, un-at-home. I do not belong, in every way one can conceive of. I look different, sound different, behave differently, think differently. My cultural circumstances are obvious to anyone and everyone, and the ironic thing, is that those are the reasons I was asked to come here and do what I am doing. I feel envied and alienated at the same time. It’s odd. At the risk of sounding redundant (and….like…….duh……), I have never before felt so far removed from what I know, like, love and understand. And when one is faced with a situation as thus, I suppose it becomes a natural reaction to gravitate towards things, places and people that remind you of where you have come from. Living in Korea, as amazing as it has been so far, has had its fair share of unpleasant moments. Like being smoked by the handlebars of a speeding scooter while your walking…on the sidewalk. Like getting gawked at in an ungracious way on a very regular basis. Like wanting nothing more then to talk to your mom and getting the answering machine and realizing there is no way for your mom to call you back. Like having some kid tell you, you have a fat face.
There are times you realize just how far away you really are.
So it was with anticipated relief that I accepted the invite from Ashley to go and party with her, Jamie, and a bunch of their friends, most of who, would be foreigners like myself. (See previous blog) Aside from the fact that it would be refreshing to be surrounded by English for more then a few hours, I had been looking forward to reuniting with an old friend, someone who knows me from my “other life”. I was excited about letting loose and feeling like I actually belonged.
Funny things was, that didn’t happen.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast, and it is wonderful to have a good friend here to catch up, hang out and have fun with. But the sensation I has been wanting was lost to me as I danced and partied, surrounded, for once, by people who could actually speak to me. It shocked me that I still felt so out of place while sipping a beer, chatting about the upcoming Flames season, and listening to The Beatles. I still didn’t feel anything close to familiar, anywhere closer to home.
The morning, or afternoon, whatever, came sooner then expected and as I left Ash’s place and headed back to the subway station, the sun was warm, but the air was pleasantly cool. I could even swear, though I know this is a scientific impossibility, that the air smelled cleaner, better then I remembered. I felt strangely calm, light, as I maneuvered through the streets Seoul, a city I fall deeper and deeper in love with every time I am there. I was heading towards Insadong, a beautiful market/area that has a distinctly European feel, to me at least, with it’s cobblestone roads, art galleries, tourist shops and (of course) rows and rows of restaurants and caravans lining the streets. As I waited in a coffee shop for Dave to meet me, I got to thinking. About my life back in Canada, and what I missed the most about it, and what I was happy to have left behind. About my life here, what frustrates me, and what I’ve already come to love and appreciate. About how it feels to be an alien. About how it feels to belong. And the fact that, for the first time in my life, I could actually understand both. I started thinking about the idea of home.
And then , home walked through the door wearing khaki’s, glasses and a lululemon hoodie.
My boyfriend and I sat in a window seat in a tearoom in Insadong for an hour or so before venturing out in to the busy streets of Insadong. The café was tiny and looked like a garden with flowers and plants spilling out of every nook and cranny in the place. There were candles on all the tables which were low to the ground, small and cozy looking. We talked about our respective Saturdays, about what we were looking forward to, or not, about the week ahead. The streets were busy but not overly congested. We meandered from shop to shop, stopping briefly at an Indian restaurant to eat. I picked up a few things to send back to my family for Christmas. We walked with purpose, but without direction…kind of the story of my life really.
But it was nice. Really nice.
There is a river that runs through Seoul. Until recently, it was something of an eyesore to the city, much like Edmonton is to us Albertans. Unlike Edmonton however, it has been cleaned up, refurbished as it were, and Dave and I managed to find our way to where the river begins, in an area called Gwanghwamun. As we walked along the path running beside it, passing people, families and couples out for an evening stroll, stopping here and there to take pictures, rest or simply enjoy the evening air, an idea began to sink in for me. Something that had been pushing at the edge, finally fell through.
I was home. For better, for worse, in all its weirdo insanity, and all consuming energy.
We stopped under a bridge, lit from underneath and sat by the running water. I looked around at the unfamiliar faces surrounding me, so unlike my own, and for the first time, didn’t feel like hiding or running away.
I think you have to be a little but kooky to come over here and do this sort of thing. I’ve always been a little different then a lot of the girls, hell people that I know. I think the difference is, here, my differences are on display. I can’t pretend to be anything but what I am. Sometimes that can be frustrating. But being forced to confront yourself, who you are really, in the long run, it can only be good. Being made aware of the things that make you different, and being comfortable with those differences, even if sometimes you’d rather run away.
I held Dave’s hand and didn’t run away. Where would I go anyway? Sure, it didn’t look how I thought it would at this point. But what did I expect anyway? Here I was. This was it. Funny how I had to go away for a little while to find out.
I was home.