Tag Archives: Korea

Going home

If you want to know the absolute dirty truth, I’m so scared of coming back to the states. The states itself. After two years away, I’m really like this person who doesn’t really know much about home except that people get shot and robbed all of the time.

Abroad, you can generally trust people. In my experience, (with some exceptions of course) generally you can meet people and spend time with them and it’s all good. You can step into a new country and onto the metro with your luggage and trust that you’ll be OK in most places (probably mainly because I’ve been traveling in east and southeastAsia, which is just generally one of the safest regions in the world, Manila aside).

I land in New York in eight days and I’ll take the subway to Brooklyn and it’s going to be after dark. I am terrified. There are guns in America, and people use them. Plus did anyone see that episode of girls where Hannah fell asleep on the train and woke up and her bag was stolen off her sleeping body? Ugh. I don’t wanna die!!! Haha.

I left Korea march 2nd, but I haven’t made it home yet. Right now I’m hanging out in Dubai, sleeping in and contemplating going to the gym (as one does).  I’ve got a lot of free time on my hands and I’ve been thinking a lot, and there’s no running from the fact that I am simply scared to come home. I’m scared of it all…scared of the good times ending, scared of being robbed or shot, scared of coming home and being out of synch, scared of coming home and eating crappy American food and gaining weight/developing digestive issues. I miss kimchi and Galbi tang. This heavy Arabic food makes my tummy hurt.

I know it’s silly, and that coming home also has so many good aspects, mainly seeing all of the people I’ve loved and missed for two years. Meeting babies, actually attending weddings. Going to birthday parties, watching wedding videos, and just hugging everyone I haven’t seen in two years that much tighter.  I know it, and I absolutely cannot wait for those moments with the people I love.

But it’s a mixed bag, is all I’m saying. Fear of the unknown, and I guess after two years away even your home country can become a bit unknown.

2015

I went to Hong Kong last week, and that’s where I rang in the new year. Oh, but it wasn’t glamorous. It was actually me being the fifth wheel, me crying a little, me rushing down 16 flights of stairs to catch the fireworks, me eating (authentic!) Chinese food, me drunkenly calling my aunt to whine.

It was great because it was honest.

You don’t always want to party and go nuts.

I rang in the new year feeling a little….prickly. A little uncomfortable, and a lotta bit in my head.

I’ve been traveling alone recently, but I went to HK with a friend, and I would definitely say that over the past year D has become a close friend, but still this trip taught me a lot about myself because it taught me how much I don’t want to show who I am.

I don’t have a problem with who I am, mind you. I’m me, and I’m a little morose, and I tend to overthink and I feel self conscious about my hair and I like to read a lot and I don’t always (or ever) want to talk, and that’s fine.

Things affect me. Things make me want to cry. Things make me want to hole up in my apartment for days, or at least for the rest of the night, and just sit alone in my own stuff and feel things through until I can face the world again with the face I’m comfortable showing.

But over the week of this trip I was so damned uncomfortable because I was with this girl for an entire week and over the course of that week I had to, inadvertently, unavoidably, honestly and truly show who I am.

I don’t mind being who I am.
And I don’t mind telling who I am–I’ve been doing that for five solid years with this blog.
But I do mind those moments when I’m stressed and overwhelmed and feeling ugly and feeling sad and feeling irrationally scared–I mind showing them. I mind when there’s nowhere for me to retreat, when I have to do the ugly work of knowing that it’s showing on my face, of knowing that there’s nowhere to run and how can I sort this out and will this person accept these feelings that I can’t help and don’t mean to hoist on them?

It all sounds way too intense, but that’s kind of the thing. For the past two years I’ve been playing at who I am, playing at a newer, lighter version of me: BryoneyLite, 2.0. Stay in my square, stay in my safe space. Funny how being in such a foreign environment, a place where everything external is generally uncomfortable, makes it so easy to stay inside my box internally.

I’ve been brave these past two years. I’ve traveled on my own, and I’ve faced down many fears. But inside I’ve stayed squarely in my box, stayed committed to the face I put on in public. BryoneyLite. Not prone to depressions or melancholia of any sort. Reader, “writerLite” (no actual writing done).

But that’s not me. I’m as cheery as I am morose; as motivated as I am depressed.

I want to be me again, and I want out of this square little box.

I think I did well in 2014. I’m drinking less, I’m eating more vegetables, I’m sleeping more. I go to the gym four times per week, I do face masks once or twice each week and I’ve saved a little money. I’ve even managed to get a couple things published that I’m really proud of, though I’m no closer to writing that novel (oh well).

But I’m going numb inside, and I’m losing connection. I’m losing my creativity, and I’m starting to really believe that there’s nothing about me that says my life shouldn’t be ordinary. More and more, I’m feeling like a face in the crowd.

So in 2015, what I really want, is just out of this box. I want to feel again. I want to feel intensely, like I did when I was 18 (but maybe not exactly like that because it was a bit much). I just want to feel. And i want to write. I want to write something for me, something that is beautiful, a story that is moving and touching, that I see through from start to finish. Something I can be proud of.

I want out of this box.

Well-Cared For Kids

I take it back.

I take it all back.

I think the universe is punishing me for ever having dared give up on this whole writing dream of mine. These children are awful. At any given moment at my job, there is the spittle of a student who has just the worst damn lisp in history all over me. On Wednesdays, we eat lunch with the kids and I can see the spit flying from his lips to my salad.

When he’s not spitting he’s screaming, either in outrage or excitement. Either way, it’s blistering to my eardrums.

I hear their voices ringing in my ears on the weekends, these awful children. They have a chant: “My mommy said that jajjangmyeon is not a delicious.” (Jajjangmyeon is korean chinese food, it’s noodles in black bean sauce–MSG loaded and actually quite delicious, but that’s not the point). In the dead of night, when all is silent and I’m drifting off to sleep, their shrill voices float by my ears. “My mommy said that jajjangmyeon is not a delicious. My. MOMMY. SAID. THAT. JAJJANGMYEON. IS NOT A DELICIOUS. YEAH YEAH YEAH.” It’s haunting.

When they’re not spitting on me, screaming at me, or chanting the chants that will imprint my soul and haunt my very being after school has finished, they’re fucking bickering.

Good gawd, I never realized how annoying bickering is. All day it’s TEACHERRR! and I DON’T LIKE JASON! and DON’T DO THAT PLEASE. All. Damn. Day. I remember fighting with my brother when I was a kid, and I remember how angry my mother used to get. I never got it back then, but damned if I don’t get it now–it’s the worst thing ever to be stuck in a room with: the sound, the sight, and the general feel of it all fucking SUCKS. It’s so draining.

Then there are the emotional issues. X student is friends with Y student, but he’s actually really competitive with Y student so can you manage X student’s emotions so he doesn’t feel bad? (uhh…?). T student wants to be friends with X and Y student and is jealous that X and Y students play so well together but actually T student is the screaming spitter, but still can you make sure they all play together? (uhh….?). Q student is actually cool as hell but the only girl so she’s gonna demand all your attention simply because you’re two girls lost among the madness so can you give your full attention to her whilst managing the three boys? (uhh…?). Ah, and finally, Y student is an overworked six year old who after this will go to piano, art and taekwondo; he’s moody and exhausted because of his grueling schedule, and he’s also a bit of a compulsive liar, so can you get a ton of work done while he’s constantly interrupting you with his swinging moods of extreme silliness and pissed offedness from thinking about his schedule? (uh…sure?).

I only have four students, not 20, so it’s not a lot to complain about really.

But the universe sure showed me for ever thinking of giving up writing.

Still, I can’t help but think, when I see these extremely cute little kids in their burberry coats, with their expensive lessons to which they’re being shuffled back and forth, that they’re so well cared for. And I’d like to have a couple of those well cared for kids for myself one day. Not the brats through.

Find something you love and…

2 hours ago, it was 11 something and I was excited about getting nine hours of sleep. I feel like my body needs it. My schedule has picked up a LOT lately, which is great, because I’m definitely still paying for Bali.

But now it’s 1:17 a.m. in Korea, and I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’m just not that tired after all.

I should be. I woke up early, worked out for an hour, worked a full day, and then did an hour class after that. On the way home, finally, I was thinking about how not tired I am, and how I regret having picked up dinner and depriving myself from the pleasure of cooking for myself.

See, the thing is that even though my days are long, I don’t hate them. And even though I spend my time working, really actually working, not deskwarming but actually interacting with students for 8-9 hours a day, I often find myself feeling energized.

I think I really do love being a teacher. They say find something you love and never work a day in your life, right? I don’t know. This doesn’t really feel like work. I mean, it’s a place I have to go every day, but like you can’t be too serious once you’re there. I laugh, like genuinely laugh, like caught-off-guard LOL because it was actually funny laugh like once an hour. Because these kids are crazy and hilarious. My kindies have gotten into the habit of sniffing me, and so they regularly get up from their seats to grab my arm and take deep inhalations from their little diaphragms. Then they proclaim to me that I smell “a lot good and a little bad.” It’s completely absurd. But it’s really funny.

And I never know where the day’s going to take me. I have two boys that I work with, and even though we have a textbook, a lot of times we stray from the curriculum. One day they broke down for me the politics behind the two-party system in Korea, and the attitudes of the older and younger generations toward Korea’s leaders. The next, they wanted to hear and tell ghost stories, then they ran out to one kid’s mom because they were scared, because they’re only 10 Korean age (which makes them 9).

In contrast to this, I have the fact that I had six solid months free and didn’t write a damn word. I write, but I feel tired afterward. I do it, but I power through it. I think about the environment I would have as a writer. I could work at a newspaper/magazine and be surrounded by sardonic, cynical, world-weary, oh so clever adults. Or I could work at home by my damn self and descend into madness in the dreary and silence of my own mind.

I honestly don’t think this writing thing is for me, not to make a career of. I feel like I made a choice a long time ago that I didn’t want to live in my head. That it was actually really important for me as a stable and happy person to get the hell out of my head. Looking back, that was probably the day I gave up writing as a potential career, realistically. Because where else would I reside, really, but in my head as a writer?

And here I have teaching. And it’s fresh, and new. And i’m up and standing and moving and laughing and sometimes being stern but other times chasing little children around a play gym. And i’m not being read and revered by millions, but I’m teaching a handful of kids how to think critically and express themselves and damnit, that’s fulfilling and satisfying as hell.

I really like what I do right now.

Friends

I think I have a knack for unhappiness, like how people have a knack for drowning unless they swim, float or tread water. For me to be happy, I must constantly tread the sea of “new” and “positive” experiences–if I stop for a second, or if the tide breaks, or if one tiny thing happens that interrupts this flow of outer-stimulated “happiness,” I begin to drown.

This past year has been different than the last. Last year I had a school that I hated (in some areas) with a boss who was mean to me. But I had a lot of friends, a huge apartment, enough money, and eventually a boyfriend (whom I still have at least. So one outta 4 ain’t bad I guess).

This year is different. I don’t hate my job (who could hate working part time?), but I have a small apartment and, I’m starting to realize, very few actual “friends” (at least in Korea).

I don’t know if spending so much time alone has made me too rigid, or if working in an office with constant gossiping and social politics has made me too self-conscious (I suspect both), but one thing I have felt, over and over this year, is that I mean very little to most of the “friends” I had last year.

In any case, this year is much different than last year, and I find myself spending much more time in my own company than in anyone else’s. This ought to be great–it’s kind of what I wanted, more time alone, more time to write. But I guess I wasn’t prepared to get it on the price of feeling rejected and blown off, and I mostly dread my own company and hate being alone.

Or maybe it’s all in my head. I’m about six months into my new year-long contract, and without constant new experiences as distractions–and I do mean constant, did I mention that I just came back from Bali Monday?–and a constant barrage of people telling me I’m wanted, I’m a good person, I’m loved and needed–and I do mean constant–the six-month blues is at hand, letting me know that I have to spend another half-year on the other side of the world from everything that’s comfortable.

I watched Eat Pray Love last night (because Bali) and there was a quote that was something to the effect of she believes that if a person is willing to leave their comfort zone, seek answers, and believe that everything along the way is working toward their good, they will be rewarded for it.

I guess the first time I watched that movie, I accepted that sentiment as gospel. This time, however, I just thought it was awfully “neat” that she left her hubs with no warning, took off, and got True Love and Enlightenment in a year flat.

My life has been much more messy than that, and I suppose it will continue to be. I suspect the lives of others are messier than that too, and I am increasingly upset by how dishonest things related to the universal human experience (things like heartbreak, loneliness, pain, joy, travel, budgeting, etc.) are portrayed in entertainment. Everything is too neat on TV, and even when it’s messy, it’s still too neat.

I mean, I get it in part. It hurts to read or watch something that portrays heartbreak honestly. Something that doesn’t glaze over it and make it syrupy and cute and funny. But that’s no excuse. Because heartbreak hurts, and it hurts for longer than two episodes. When you really love someone, or when you think you really love someone, does it ever go away?

How about when your friends find other friends and leave you behind? How does that feel? Is it ever even shown? And is your heart not allowed to break for the loss of these people whom you did love and did not think would reject you? And how about in your country, incidences of mass violence, or the economy, or feeling like you are a target, that you will never be allowed to have a good life? When does that stop hurting? In two episodes? Three? How much time before we move on because it’s boring and we need something slapstick to cover it?

This life is not easy and it’s not neat, but who will write this story now, in these days? I don’t think I can–it’ll take too long, and I’m too impatient, sadly. And I can’t get away from writing characters who are autobiographical, or essays, which are too direct, too unimaginative, and too damn boring.

Cherry Blossoms

I’ve seen plenty of cherry blossoms,
In Korea, no less.
Dc has a cherry blossom festival too
(Although I hear theirs is covered in snow this year).
I haven’t made it to a cherry blossom fest yet–
Haven’t traveled to any beach or island or forest to see them on bloom
Instead, I watch the spring snowflakes drift from their branches on my morning walk,
A swirling white that lands on my shoulders and warms me with hope instead of freezing me with more winter.
I think about when I leave as I move through the cherry-lined street,
And I wonder if I will regret never having gone to a Cherry Blossom Fest

 

This is my last year in Korea, and already the cycle is in mid-swing, and I am missing out on things that I will maybe never have the chance to experience again.

Part of me is starting to wonder what’s the point—will it matter that I never went to this or that festival? Or will the experience trump everything, overall?

Image

Cool-ass Korean women

A lot of people out here say it can be difficult to get behind the veil of Korean culture–if you’re not “우리” (pronunced “oo-ri”, meaning us/our) then in general you just don’t get to see behind the public facade.

I’ve met a few Korean people (and quite a few non-Korean people) who have been pretty conservative, or who haven’t let their guards down.

But I’ve also met some mind-blowingly cool, honest, down-to-earth Korean women and this post is about two of them.

I didn’t really have an easy time of working in Korea my first year here, but there are two women who made my experience downright bearable. One is Mrs. L, the school nurse at my high school. There were days when I would walk into school nearly in tears from the anger/frustration/depression of being isolated (the only foreigner; the only non-Korean speaker; boss/person I share an office with generally refusing to acknowledge my presence) at that school. “Literally no one in this school cares about me,” I would think. I would hear teachers talking and laughing in the other rooms and see them sharing treats, and I would sit in my office cold and alone (I’m thinking about winter here because Christmastime abroad is particularly lonely).

But over the course of that year, Mrs. L and I developed a true friendship. She is about 40 or 45, and she married young, but she is a free spirit at heart and quite honest. During the course of our year-long teacher class, we talked about beauty, health, plastic surgery, women’s rights, bullying, and a range of other topics, and she always surprised me with her candor and thoughtfulness.

More than that, though, it was to her that I would turn when I dragged myself into the office feeling like shit. In Korea, you don’t call out, so I would come to school feeling terrible and longing for my home country, where people would rather you come home than bring your cold to the office. 

I would go into her office and she’d comfort me, give me medicine, and let me lay in one of the clinic beds. It meant the world to me to be taken care of–to be shown care toward.

And it was her who, once my contract was over, organized a goodbye luncheon for a few cool beyotches (my word) where they told me that they didn’t like my boss either; that she is a strange sort and quite difficult to work with–I was blown away first by being assured that I’m not crazy and second by the level of trust we established for a Korean to somewhat-badmouth another Korean to a foreigner.

The other cool-ass Korean woman I want to tell you all about is my belly-dancing teacher, Ms. K. 

I want to ask her about herself; how did she end up having a career in bellydancing? And she’s really good–she can shimmy, wiggle, drop, bounce, and sway with the best of them. Plus, her splits are to die for. I find this fascinating, but we have a serious language barrier we’re slowly bringing down (we’re about the same level in each others’ respective languages–which is more than we’d originally assumed, because it’s easy to be more than none, but we still can’t have in-depth conversations).

Although we can’t really talk about anything, she cemented herself in my mind as a cool-ass woman today when I showed up to class with a bandage under my ribs from a new tattoo. I thought she would kind of freak–tattoos are pretty rare/frowned upon here. But duh. She’s a bellydance teacher. Of course she’d be more liberal right?

She asked me if I was hurt and I told her it was from a tattoo, and she just told me she wanted to get a tattoo on the back of her shoulder. Then she asked me if I would be OK for dancing, and we got the hell on with things.

So cool, and I really think that over time we will end up being friends, even if we can’t talk to each other much.

Anyway that’s it–I just wanted to update about these two women who were on my mind.