photo by michael-kay.
Somewhere in the archives of the crudest instinct is recorded the truth that it is better to be endangered and free than captive and comfortable.
— Tom Robbins, Another Road Side Attraction
AFTER MORE THAN FOUR years of living back in the U.S. — the majority of which I spent carving out a new life in Madison — I don’t know why I expected leaving to be easy. I suppose some part of me bought into the myth that “real travelers don’t get homesick.” And while I had carefully tried to mentally prepare myself for the fact that the experience in Seoul this time around would be much different from my previous adventure, nothing but a direct dose of this new world could make me fully appreciate the changes not only in the cityscape, but in myself as well.
Readers have no doubt noticed my prolonged absence from the keyboard here, as well as my divergence from the semi-normal format of analyzing world news and issues to dwell upon some common themes about life here in Seoul. I’ve realized that before I can begin to move forward with business as usual — here, or in any part of my life — I must take some time to let the dust settle.
I came here in a whirlwind: the day I left (a Saturday), my fiancee and I drove out of Madison by 3:30 AM. I departed Chicago at 8 that morning, stopped over to see my folks in Seattle around 11 and by 2 that afternoon had taken off over the Pacific. Many blurry hours later, I was eating kalbi for dinner in a Seoul suburb…on a Sunday. The physical and mental effects of that journey have convinced me that human beings were never meant to travel at such speeds.
At first when I arrived — indeed, as evidenced in a previous post — I was under the illusion that I had stepped back into my old shoes, so to speak. I remembered the streets, the food sat well and I met with good friends. It was only after moving into a dingy one-room back near the university I attended in 2004 that the changes became more palpable. Surrounding me were restaurants and alleyways full of memories but vacant of familiar faces. I noticed a good amount of non-Koreans walking around, no doubt here to attend the very program in which I had once been enrolled, and seeing them reminded me of how distant that time was. I walked around campus and caught a whiff of the reminiscence I had anticipated, but mostly just felt out of place. It wasn’t where I belonged any more.