So, it’s been a year, as the title indicates. As of only a few hours ago, I’ve been in Korea for one full year. Which means a few things, I guess. Lots has changed. Lots hasn’t. I spent my first night in Korea in a shady love motel, and thought that I was in some sort of Seoul red light district, due to the fact that my hotel came equipped with an abnormally large number of massage oils, condoms, and two crappy porn channels. I’ve since learned, of course, that this was simply a yogwon, a small family run motel, and that such motels are almost as ubiquitous in Korea as are internet cafes or convenience stores. As for that red-light area, it turns out my motel was actually in one of the highest-rent districts in all of Korea, a 20 minute walk from Apgujong, Seoul’s (and really Korea’s) land of Prada and Gucci stores. Of course, when I first got here, absolutely nothing made sense, ever. Now, I would say, I can generally go at least an hour on most days without being completely bewildered by something.
Am I where I want to be? I signed up for a year, so this seems like a good time to, you know, take stock. There are many positives. I can read Korean script (slowly). I know enough Korean to order at restaurants without an English menu. I can order a beer at a working class dive. I can direct a cab. I can’t have a conversation, by a longshot though. Oh yeah, positive. I can tell the difference between good and bad kimchi. I’m pretty adept with the chopsticks. In a crowning achievement, I once placed a take-out order for a pizza over the phone only in Korean, though it may have only worked due to the fact that the pizza place may have recognized my voice, and I always get the same thing anyway. I’ve paid off my credit card debt. That’s a big one, I guess, and a major reason I came here. I’ve also, including coming here, been on 13 different trips, which is especially impressive considering how little vacation time I’ve had. Yeah, some were day trips, but I’ve been on 8 overnight trips and 7 that involved airplanes (on 4 different airlines). My bigger trips were to Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Tokyo, which isn’t too fucking shabby. I’ve had, by Chicago in 2005 (or, who am I kidding, 2002-2006) standards, astronomical success with the ladies. I had the longest successful pursuit of a girl in one night of drinking in my, or maybe anybody’s life - 12 hours. I had the shortest successful pursuit of a different girl in a different bar in my, or maybe anybody’s life - 10 minutes. I have some good friends here, which I suppose is what matters most. I bought a computer. I wake up at 12:47 p.m. every day, which is certainly a perk. I’ve had, almost undoubtedly, more nights where I was out, not just up, but out, until well after 7 a.m. than I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve been to two Disneylands. I’ve climbed two mountains, one twice. I had, unquestionably, the best spring of my life (by the way, best fall - 99, best summer - 92 or 99 or 02, best winter - 05-06 or 96-97). Despite drastic information and time zone disadvantages, I made my fantasy football league’s playoffs last year and I’m first in my division so far this year. I’ve become respectable at darts. I write, which was one of the top three reasons I came here to begin with. My last year in Chicago, I never wrote a fucking thing. I don’t sell phones. Lots of times, I actually even enjoy my job, there’s some awesome kids. Also, there’s chocolate-covered sunflower seeds. I just discovered that 10 seconds ago at the convenience store patio I’m writing on. And yes, they kick ass.
There are, of course, plenty of negatives too. The most glaring, of course, is what the hell I’m going to do when I’m done with this. This is really a whole other blog, but I still don’t have a clue. Suggestions are welcome. I also don’t exactly have a nest egg, not that I thought I would. Lack of easy every day life (familiar cable system, unencumbered communication with locals, decent record stores, food that isn’t Korean, McDonald’s, or pizza) certainly wears on me. In that same vein, the two biggies for me in the food realm - lack of Taco Bell (or Mexican food in general, other than 2 places an hour subway ride away) and the epic quest necessary in order to acquire an overpriced bottle of ranch dressing. Vast distance from friends and family, particularly right now while my grandma is ailing. That’s definitely a big one too. Paying double US prices for simple commodities like jeans and shoes. The never-ending foreignness. By this, I mean, France was foreign, but one I got a decent haircut and some cool French clothes and knew may way around and understood the subway, French people would approach me by speaking French, and would only realize I was foreign by my dumbstruck look or piss-poor broken accent. Here, there’s nothing cosmetic that can be done. My foreignness is pretty fucking evident the second I walk into a room. That’s definitely an Asia thing, but I think a Korea thing more than anything. Though I can’t speak or read a word of the local language, I feel much less foreign in Japan, Thailand, and Hong Kong than I do here. The only reason I can think to explain that is that Japan, Thailand, and Hong Kong have lots of western tourists and quite a few western immigrants. Korea has zero. Korea has English teachers and soldiers. Oh, and let’s not forget the still massive language barrier.
Still, It’s hard to say my objectives here haven’t been met. I came here to pay off my credit card debts, to write, to travel around Asia, and to have some cool girl adventures. Really, check, check, check, and check on that tip. Had things worked out according to plan, I should actually be on a plane home, literally this very minute. My buddy Don asked me earlier tonight if I wished that I were in fact on that plane presently. I didn’t have an answer. Which, I guess, means no. Maybe it’s because I don’t have everything figured out yet. Maybe it’s because I think the extra 3 months of pay will make a big difference. I can certainly say this - if I were on a plane right now, that would mean that I would have stayed at my original school for a year rather than changing three months in. And, though being forced out of my old school (via conspiracy, really) seemed like a crushing setback at the time, it’s the best thing that could have happened. On my list of positive things, every single one of them applies to the last nine months in Nowon, and I am sure my life would have been exponentially worse had I stayed at my old school.
Sorry about all the introspection here. Next time will either be good old dick and fart jokes or strange shit I saw in Japan.