Been pretty busy these past three days, re-adjusting to school after a short week long vacation. I’m not blogging/writing nearly as much as I’d like, so setting the intention to get back into it this week. I’ve also been just a bit exhausted lately. Yet, this week’s pretty important to me because it marks the beginning of a new season for me in Korea.
Just around this time last year I left Korea for Vermont. At the time, I anticipated I’d be back in 3 weeks, but due to a change of plans, ended up staying home for 5 months in an effort to find a teaching job (which I eventually did) and return to Korea in a more secure situation. I returned in late January and I’ve been here since. So, from now till January is a time period in Korea I haven’t experienced before. This will be my first fall and early winter here. It’s still amazing to think I only arrived here for the first time a year ago today. Considering all that’s happened and changed in my life since last August, it feels more like a few years than one.
I’m taking this time as an opportunity to clarify what I want for myself in my life the next year. I’ve had an interesting past few days, all helpful for me during this time, just to stay optimistic and positive as I move forward.
This past week I met with a new friend, Mao to get some drinks together in Sinchon, the area of Seoul I live in. It was great meeting up. He’s a fellow American, yet Korean by family. Mao’s also taking Korean through the same program as me, in the class on the other side of the wall from mine. We met in Sinchon station, to my surprise, as he caught me off guard on my way back to my apartment. From there, we went to a few self serve beer bars in the area. I’m really familiar with Sinchon, having lived here for close to a year, so it was fun showing him a few places I know well. Mao’s a beer guy, like myself, with an appreciation for microbreweries and heftier beers. Our first stop in Sinchon was a good choice, due to the selection. This kind of bar is always fun for me. It’s a large refrigerator, like at a convenience store, and you walk up and select the beer of your choice. Afterwards, you put your empty bottle into a bucket. At the end of the night you bring the bucket to the counter and pay for each bottle. It’s a bit of a trust system, as you could leave a bottle at another table, hide it, etc. but, having lived here for a while, I’ve noticed they’re usually keeping a close watch throughout the night.
Mao and I hung out for a few hours, chatting over beers. We went to another one of my favorite beer spots in Sinchon, up on the 7th floor of commercial building, overlooking the main shopping strip. The night was quiet outside, but it was relatively busy. Often when I come, it’s a few businessmen drinking post-work or a few guys shooting darts together. Mao is just at the beginning of his time here, 2 months in. It was nice to speak with him as someone whose also very new to the culture, but has some experience behind him. I’m amazed I’ve gotten this far and doing so well, because the first few months here were very challenging for me. I could understand some of the culture shock and loneliness he’s experienced, but also the excitement and joy. I was reminded of my beginnings here and given an appreciation for how far i’ve come since then. We walked home late at night, passing by many passed out people, lying alongside the street from too much alcohol. Once you reach a certain hour in Sinchon, this is a common sight. It’s both sad and funny to me.
I’ve made many friends and acquaintances during my time here, the newest friend of mine Mao. It’s just hard to have relationships that last, when it’s often the case of someone living down the street from you, then a month later, half way around the world. I do my best at long distance communication, but it’s tough. We’re all either in passing or here for the long run, figuring it out one day at a time. Thus is the expat life, in “semi-permanent status”.
Among my friends recently has been Kim Kyeong Han, or “Samchon” (uncle in korean) as he prefers to be called. Our friendship has developed from hiking buddies to recently getting lunch and dinner together sometimes. We share an interest in korean history and culture, but otherwise are extremely different. The more I’ve come to know him, I’ve learned how strong a personality he is. He’s a high level manager for Daewoo shipbuilding, having worked for the company for 30 years. This explains a lot of his behavior. He has confidence, and a lot of it. He speaks with authority and passion and has no problem telling people what he wants. This past Friday, we met in Nonhyeon, in Gangnam area, where he works. I was expecting to meet him on foot outside the station exit but he pulled up in a really fancy car, in full business suit and took me to a nearby meat restaurant.
On the drive back to the station, I accidentally left my phone in his car, which led to a long day of “detective work” on Kyeong Han’s part. I realized too late that I left my phone with him, but was reassured of being able to recontact him because he had You Jeong’s contact information. Sure enough, I got a message from You Jeong when I arrived home that he’d called her 5 times to try and explain the situation. She said he spoke so quickly and loudly it was difficult to understand him. She was slightly upset, and I told her not to take it personally, it’s just his way and most likely he was just worried for me. I was given his number, but I told her to tell him I will call him soon but to hold onto my phone until Monday when we can next meet, since he was leaving at the time for a family trip. I was hungry, so I went for some pizza at a small pizza shop nearby. To my surprise, the woman at the shop said “Eban shi? Eban shi?” Eban is my Korean name as there are no V sounds in korean (B is the closest sound) and shi is an honorific term. I realized she was referring to me and I had a phone call. I answered the phone and heard in response “Anyeong haseyo, kim kyeong han oui anae yaeyo”, “Hello, this is Kim Kyeong Han’s wife” She was calling to tell me Kim Kyeong Han had my phone and ask what to do. We arranged by phone to meet on Monday so I could pick it up. During the conversation, however, I kept thinking “How did they get this number” I asked her and she told me that they were able to find out through my debit card transaction. Every time I make a purchase with my card, I’m notified by text message immediately after the details of my purchase. They were able to find the restaurant number and call. Funny enough, on my way home, a girl from a nearby coffee shop Iv visited earlier came running to me asking “Did you lose your phone? Are you Evan?” The coffee shop received a call as well.
On Monday I met Kyeong Han and, to my surprise, his wife. In Korea a lot of things happen last minute, so I guess I’m getting used to last minute surprises like this. He said she’d wanted to meet me, so we were introduced and then drove to a nearby chinese restaurant. There, we talked over food. It was tough at first, because she couldn’t speak any english, and my Korean is still in development. There were many failed attempts to connect and many mistakes on my part, but as the dinner progressed, my confidence grew and communication happened more smoothly. Kyeong Han’s english is also improving fast…I’m attributing his quick development to his lack of fear in speaking..So we spoke some english as well. They were a really fun couple to eat with, very lively, big laughs and lots of jokes. At one point we talked about my phone incident, and Kim Kyeong Han said very proudly “I’m a detective! I’m a good detective” I suggested afterwards he consider detective as his next job after Daewoo. He laughed and we continued to eat. After a full belly of chinese food I was dropped off at the station and crashed at home.
Today’s been a long day as well, the details I won’t get into, but had a great time with You Jeong cleaning my room and buying new room supplies. Not the most romantic, but You Jeong enjoys these practical things and it’s a good influence on me to do these things together. We talked for a while as well and shared a Vietnamese dinner in Naksapyeong, part of Itaewon, the foreigners area of Seoul.
It’s late now and the end of a few interesting days. I’m finding my time here increasingly interesting as I reach out and meet a variety of people. Meanwhile, my relationship is deepening and progressing, and through the language I’m feeling more connected to this culture and pace. I’m learning through my interactions and study lately to really embrace the moment here, choose presence and learn as much as possible. I’m not sure what lies ahead for me in Korea or what the fall will bring, but I’ll continue to choose openness to new experiences as the way forward.