When I returned to Korea from Canada, I felt particularly frustrated in returning, which worried me. “Have I had enough?” I asked myself? “Should I live here longer? Am I burning out?”
It’s not too surprising, mind you. The bus ride from the airport was like a mental trial. The bus driver refused to open the luggage compartments on the side of the bus, so we had to haul everything up into the bus, which was a lot of baggage. (Compare that to the bus drivers in Montreal, who actually helped carry our bags onto the bus for us.) The bus driver was blasting the radio, while some jerk was blasting the audio from his handheld video player (I swear, I have seen too many people using these things without headphones, and it’s not even a popular technology yet!), and at least five people (including, to be fair, one foreigner) were yakking on their phones loudly the whole time. Finally, I put my headphones in and coccooned. So yeah, I had my doubts about being back.
But today was one of those good days when things here are okay, things work, people are nice, and so on.
Lime and I met in Hong Ik, which they’re now rebuilding after the banishment of the horrible, evil American soldiers. (See here if you’re wondering what I’m being sarcastic about.) We had Mexican food, and while it was a little pricey, and the food tasted, well, more meaty than spicy, it was good, and seemed relatively authentic. (Which means, didn’t seem like Korean fusion food, since I don’t know Mexican or Tex-Mex to save my life.) And since I finished my anti-biotics, I was able to have a beer–Negra Modelo.
Then, going home, I picked up some nice bread at a cool little bakery in Hong Ik, where the bread is actually passable. The woman who butted into line ahead of me was informed that, since I’d come first, she would have to wait a moment, and she was totally cool with it. The girl ringing through my purchase (and she was a girl, almost certainly a high school student or college freshman) warned me that the loaf of rye bread I was buying wasn’t sweet. (“This doesn’t have sugar in it. It’s not sweet. Is that okay?”) She didn’t get why I was laughing — for heaven’s sakes, I’m relieved that the rye bread wasn’t made sweet, because that means it was made right, and that’s why I’m buying it!–but she did understand when I told her that was fine.
There were annoyances, of course: Lime brought me onto a train headed in the wrong direction, because the sign on the train showed a destination that the train would arrive at in an hour, not soon, and when I left to change trains, I discovered that the station had been so badly designed that someone who was on the wrong side couldn’t get to the right side without paying again. (Well, unless he were to leap over the barrier and leap over the barrier for the far side, which I am not willing to do. Or risk a long, annoying conversation with whoever’s watching the gates.)
But soon enough, there were reasons to smile, again. Waiting for my correct train, I asked a guy standing next to me whether the train was going to the place I needed to get to. I asked him in Korean, and he replied in a very American-sounding, “Yeah,” and then we both just smiled at the humor in the moment. The train was quick, and not crowded, and every stop was loudly and clearly announced. I even managed to pick up a few groceries I needed on the way home.
This day has encouraged me. It’s like how I found when talking to my friend John (Ritu’s husband) who’s visiting from India. He asked me how the hell I cope with living in Korea, and then he answered his own question noting that he also deals with a lot of crazy business living in India, but since he lives there, he just deals with it, period. Maybe things are easier just after a nice little holiday?
Last observation. I was discussing with Lime how in Jeonju we used to get stared at more in the street than we do in Seoul. I went on to point out that, on reflection, I also realized that what I tend to notice is the small percentage of people who are staring, making weird or nasty comments, and otherwise behaving like jerks. I tend not to notice the vast majority of people who don’t give us a moment’s thought, but instead just go about their business as if nothing strange has come into their field of vision. Seeing the absence of the things that could easily have been, the things that would be much worse, is a good ability when you’re living in any society, I guess. Good for the heart and the blood pressure, anyway. I’m going to see whether I can cultivate it some more.