It’s 11:17 at night here in Seoul. I’m lying on my fold out bed listening to Miles Davis’s 1969 album In A Silent Way. I typically go to bed around 12 and wake up around 7-8, so I’ve got about 40 minutes till I’ll turn down the lights and turn on the AC. I’m hoping to change my habits and get to sleep earlier on weeknights, but I also enjoy these night hours. I enjoy the time just being alone with myself, doing nothing but listening to music or reading a book. Living in a city this size as an introvert, it can be hard to find the peace I often crave. These night hours are completely mine and I’m hoping to use them to dig deeper into interests I’ve been less involved in over the last 2-3 years…my interests in music, particularly jazz and electronica, my interests in film of all kinds and religion, philosophy, and social history.
It seems the longer I’m here, the more I continue to remember about myself, what’s important, what excites me, what drives me…I’m reminded of the things I really care about. The interests I’ve pushed to the side…The solitude of starting out alone in this country with few to no friends forced me to become comfortable with myself, walking by myself, going to cafe’s alone, hiking, etc. I feel part of my experience has been a lesson in embracing solitude. When I first came to Korea I had periods of extreme loneliness and homesickness. These days, I have my off days, but I’m more at ease than I’ve ever been. I’ve had to become more comfortable in my own skin. At first, walking around Seoul I felt exposed. I wasn’t used to being an expat in a country with historically very little diversity. I wasn’t familiar with being pointed at or being approached by high school students just to be told “hello!” and have them run away giggling. These things made me laugh but also feel strange. I’ve learned since then to find some peace with my foreigner status. I do stick out here, I don’t blend in, I’m different, and often it’s glanced over, but it’s still something that makes walking the streets of seoul different from the streets of Vermont. I had to become comfortable with this new social relationship, moving from majority to minority. My way of dealing with it was not to immediately surround myself regularly with expats but embrace my foreigner status, to embrace myself as a explorer of a new country, as an observer with a beginners mind on the culture.
I chose to go out and wander the city on my own, taking pictures and wandering down random streets. At first I’d often feel uncomfortable wandering around alone in public. I sometimes felt lonely or anxious or overwhelmed by the crowds and unending streams of passerbys. I often felt self conscious of my appearance in contrast to the highly fashionable young korean people around me…yet, over time, this anxiety and unease eased to a greater comfort with my own presence. The discomfort is by no means resolved, as resolution isn’t the goal. Whether I’m in Vermont or Korea, discomfort will always exist…Rather, being alone in Seoul has been an exercise in embracing discomfort, in embracing the unknown and the alien, in having so many questions and accepting not having an answer. It’s disorienting waking up and not knowing what anything says, what anyone is saying or having the faintest clue what a day in a life of a person around you is actually like. Over time, you learn to become comfortable with these unknowns and differences, merely as a way to sanely get through each day…but, hopefully without losing curiosity and interest. Rather than attempting to figure Korea out, I want to remain open and curious, really accept that there’s a lot I don’t know and practice being comfortable in this place. Like the title of this Miles Davis album, I strive to move here “in a silent way”, at ease, open and curious, continually learning while finding comfort in all the difference. I’ve always appreciated this album for it’s sense of peace yet persistence, somehow containing and balancing both an intensity and a calmness. I strive to be like that, persevering through all life’s changes and challenges in a calm yet strong spirit.