The End Of The Affair
This is to be the final entry in my Korean diary. As I write this I'm sitting in an Internet Cafe (no longer a PC Room) in eastern China, having left Korea, probably never to return. I shipped out of Korea in secret - sent a couple of boxes of belongings home, threw a few clothes and necessities into a backpack, and without announcing my departure, I snuck off on a midnight run to Beijing. The reasons for all this cloak and dagger are a bit complex to go into just here, but suffice it to say its not a reflection of any hatred of Korea.
I spent just over seven months in this country (that country?), and reflecting on the highs and lows of the experience, I'm trying to think of some witty one-liner to sum it all up. Nothing comes to mind though.
When I go home, people will ask me
"So, how was Korea then?"
And I'll be stuck for a response. It's a pretty big question, and what will I say? I guess the saddest thing for me when I finally return home is that I can give people the two minute answer, or force friends to sit through stories and slideshows (yawn!), but at the end of the day, no one will really get it . Not that they're totally uninterested, or that I'm useless at explaining, but, to use the cliche, "you just had to be there".
Let me take an unrelated example...
Have you ever walked in a desert?
No. What's it like?
Well, it's very hot, and very dry, right?
Very very dry.
So, now, do you feel like you've spent a day walking through a desert? No, of course not. So, how was Korea? What could I possibly say that people would "get" the way I'd want them to?
In the end, what do I even think of the place? Have you ever read Conrad's "Heart Of Darkness"? In it, the narrator of the piece is sent into deepest darkest Africa to look for a man named Kurtz, who disappeared there some time ago. This disappeared man was living with some tribe in the interior of the continent, and his would-be rescuer comes across a document Kurtz wrote describing his life with the tribe. This is a carefully composed monogram detailing the life, culture, social structure, music, religion, songs, stories and habits of the tribe and praising their wonderful existence Later, in the margin, a hastily written note has been scribbled: "Kill them all!"
That's how I feel about Korea! There have been moments of hatred for Korea, Koreans, and everything about my life. Those are just moments though. In Korea, a day is longer than a week, and the weeks just fly by There were moments of depression and rage against the culture, but those were just lonely impulses, by and large, I loved the place, and hate to leave what I've come to think of as "my home".
Some loose ends:
- DVDs: One more definitely worth checking out, if you get the chance. "One Day" - probably one of the saddest movies ever made here.
- My boss: Initially I thought he was not a nice man. Then I learned that Korean employers act differently to Western ones, and the employees have different benefits and ways of dealing with issues at work. I began to reassess my hasty view of not unlovable Mr. Kim. Then I learned that even the Koreans at my school don't like him - so once more I'm happy to say the guy's a fool, and not feel like I'm just misunderstanding Korean culture!
- Names: Disliking the imposition of English names on all the staff (except the boss!) I wanted to make an effort to get to know the real names of the people with whom I worked I did indeed learn the names of the Korean teachers at my school - for the record: Ok HaeJeong, Keon HaeKyeong, U SeonYeong, Kim HyeonKeong, Le HaeWon, Cha YeongMi, Cha JaeYeong, and a very special Cha SoHee... without whom...
- Yellow Day: Remember Black Day and White Day? I was confused about what should be done on Yellow Day, but it turns out that people should eat curry... yellow curry. I'm still not sure why, and since it's so far away and I'll not be there... *shrugs*, email me if you know folks!
- Language: I forgot to mention some of the really neat little things about the bits of the language I've learnt. I'll just mention one of those here. The days of the week - the phrasebook will tell you what they are, but get a Korean friend to explain them to you and it's a lot more fun. Like our days are named after Norse Gods and so on, their days are named after what they see as the primal elements.. wood, fire, water, metal etc. OK, so not very useful to you on a regular basis, but it's the little things like that that make learning the language so much more fun than the phrasebook would lead you to believe. Also, if anyone out there is interested in a little more than Korean 101, there's a great book: "How Koreans Talk" available in English language bookstores in Korea. Even the Koreans I showed it to didn't laugh, so I reckon it's pretty accurate. :)
- Ex-Pats: I've been way too harsh on the ex-pats here. Initially I thought they were a pretty sorry bunch, but the longer I've been here the more I've come to resemble them - ah, does that make me worse, or make them better? In any case, there are some fools here, but also a lot of genuinely nice people that I'd be glad to have as friends back home.
- Kids: I've always thought I'd like to have kids. Having taught other people's children for a little while, I'm reviewing my previous position. I now want to have kids, if and only if:
- They're not dumb.
- They're not assholes.
- Dog: Well, I finally did eat some dog. My best friend in Korea took me to a restaurant she knew. How was it? Did it taste like chicken? Actually, it was the nicest meat I've ever tasted. It was really tasty and very lean and tender. If you get a chnace, give it a try!
- What I'm Going To Miss: I never never never never never thought I'd say this, but actually, I miss gimchi! (and lemon soju) ;)
And that's pretty much it for my life in Korea. There are loads of half-formed journal entries buzzing around in the back of my brain still, but since I'm out of the country, this will have to be the last word.
Did I get it all wrong? Did I completely misunderstand Korean culture? Did I do justice to the society, the history and the people? I don't know - but if you don't want to take my word for it, then don't.
Korea's right here - why not come and see it for yourself?