Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Stop & Rewind vs Play & Enjoy

...or Im going through a quarter-life crisis, I told my friend. I was referring to the thoughts and feelings Ive been having over the past few days. I dont know if its the weather or? but Ive been feeling pretty agitated with life.

My decision to leave South Korea last year was based on many things. I didnt expect a red carpet to be rolled out for me coming back to South Africa, but I also didnt expect it to be *this* hard finding a job. I was positive that by this time, I would have landed something.

I moved to Cape Town in July and have started living properly here for a couple of weeks. I say properly because there were a couple of obstacles in my way before I could feel completely settled.

Over the past few days, Ive felt a sense of missing something and I realized I was actually missing South Korea.

But what do I really miss about it?

The food? My apartment? The efficient public transport? The students I taught?

Or is it my financial independence and the fact that I was a faceless being in an over-populated subway. No one knew me. There is something comforting about being a nobody in a foreign place.

I was feeling pretty listless this past week. I was doing the usual applying for jobs, sending my CV and application letters anywhere and everywhere, receiving e-mails of rejection or not even at all.

Over the last 2 or 3 days, I had a thought: If I didnt just commit myself to an apartment lease and move to Cape Town, I would have packed up and gone back to Korea. I bought my first car in December last year and even after purchasing it, I decided that if I ever wanted to go back to Korea, I would. But things are different now, I have an apartment to consider.

What would life be like in Korea if I were to go back? I certainly wouldn
t go back to the same life I had. After all, I believe that the Korean government is cutting back on hiring native English teachers.

If I was missing Korean food so much, was it reasonable for me to commit to a 12-month contract just because my taste buds were longing the spicy tinge of kimchi again?

Was it reasonable to want to go back to Seoul just to go to Yong-san (digital heaven)? I so miss buying gadgets!

I started questioning myself about why I came back to South Africa when I did. At the time of my decision to leave Korea, my 3rd contract with the school had almost expired. I was at my peak. I wanted to leave on a very good note, where my relationships with friends were still healthy.

The other day I watched a documentary about the tsunami that hit Japan earlier this year. It was eerie, and the streets and people of the places hit reminded me so much of my Korean friends again. I missed them and wanted to hear their voices. So I decided to surprise them with a phone call.

Angelina Kim: My first manager and co-teacher. She also played the role of my nurse, mother and big sister. She was visiting family in Bucheon when I called. She told me that shed moved schools and is now working in Bucheon, closer to where she lives. Shes still doing the same after-school English program that she started in Siheung.

Kim Hung-joo: The head teacher of the 6th grade staff who I was part of. He always had my back and we loved talking about movies and current events. Some days after lunch, I would take the longer route back to my classroom and office so that I could pass his classroom and see him. He answered the phone saying, Sheetal Makhan! He told me that in six months time, he will move to another school.

Kim Hye-youn: My dinner, soju & clubbing friend who would meet me after work on Saturday nights. She and I traveled to Busan and Hong Kong together and had some crazy nights of clubbing where we would head home at 7am! It was also great fun going to concerts with her and she was a riot of fun. When she answered my call, I said: Julie! referring to her going out name. After a few seconds and a gasp, she replied back saying Chingu!! meaning friend. We caught up for a little bit and then she said to me, Chingu, chingu I have a good news. I will marry this year.

WHAT?! I said several times. Hye-youn was adamant that she didnt want to marry a Korean man, but here she was planning her wedding to a Korean man!

Lee Mi-hye: My co-teacher and Korean mother who treated me with so much love and adoration I could never forget her. She told me that she also received one of the hacking emails that was sent from my address in July. She told me about the governmentss plans to cut the budget of hiring English teachers. After many months of not working, Mrs Lee is now working as an English teacher at an elementary school near her home.

Mr Lee (Papa): At first, when he answered my call in Korean (yeo-bo-se-yo?) I said Hello! and he hung up on me! I called back and this time, I said Papa! to which Mr Lee replied, Ohhh Makhan! My is daughter! We continued our broken conversation for a couple of seconds where he asked about my family and health and also told me that he wants to come to South Africa in 2012. I is come to Nam-a-gong...South Africa He ended off the call by saying, Ok, Makhan ...I love my daughter!

Lee Joo-hyeon: My co-teacher and close friend who shared a ton of dinners and coffee dates with me. We used to spend hours talking about all sorts of things. It was so easy with Joo-hyeon, also mostly because her level of English was near perfect. She told me that shed been to Vietnam with her family recently. I asked her to come to South Africa to visit me. Really? Ok let me think about it. She told me about some other teachers who had been moved to other schools and that almost none of the old teachers who I knew were there anymore.

Mrs Ham: The sweetest woman I got to know and who, despite her very broken English, treated me like part of her family. I could feel her love. 

I told her that Im now living in Cape Town and said, My apartment...downstairs is Korean restaurant!

Jjin-jja? (Really?) Sheetal is happy, said Mrs Ham.

Kang Sun-hwa: A temporary co-teacher who worked with me while my regular co-teacher was on sabbatical. Sun-hwa is married to a Muslim man from Pakistan and she told me about their recent celebration of Eid. In a few days time, she and her husband will be traveling to her parents home to celebrate Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving). Sun-hwa is now teaching a few students as part of their home-schooling at her friends house.

Mrs Park: Mrs Park's 2 children were in my class and I got to know Mrs Park very well when she started her beauty therapy course. She invited me to her house where she did facials for me usually after work, and while I cleaned up afterwards, she had a steaming helping of my favourite meal waiting for me (dol-sut bi-bim-bap) and sometimes, if I was lucky, she used to make pa-jon for me (Korean pancake). At the beginning of our relationship, Mrs Park relied a lot on her children to translate our dialogues to each other. We soon discovered the English-Korean dictionary on our cellphones and from there, continued our broken conversations! She had her daughter speak to me and then her son, who I knew in Grade 2. Hes now in Grade 6. Sheetal! I miss you! he said.

Bae In-suk: She was the teacher who taught the junior after school lessons and after her coming to our English office to use the photocopier, we slowly developed a friendship. She loved going out to dinners and movies and if our schedules agreed, we used to meet up. I dont have another foreign friend after you leave Korea. Sometimes, I want to speak English to someone, but then I think of you. I miss you, she told me.

Every person I spoke to asked me the same question, Do you have plans to come back to Korea?

About an hour and a half later, I got to thinking about all the people I had just spoken to on the phone. Everyone had moved on to a different sphere of their life. Why was I wanting to go back in time? If I was longing for the comfort and familiarity of the old school I worked at, I was guaranteed I wasnt going to get that. Everyone I knew had moved on to another school some to greener pastures.

Friends who I relied on as my last-remaining single friends were now planning their wedding, while others (in their own words) were keen to have a baby soon.

Everyone was moving forward. And here I was - longing to go back. Would I be happier if I were to go back to Korea? To live in the same kind of solitude, surrounded by a language that I only knew little of? To where I had very limited choices when eating out (since Im a vegetarian?) to a place where I was continuously asked to produce my ARC (Alien Registration Card) reminding me time and time again that I am an alien?

If anything, I was very happy that I made all those calls to my Korean friends, as it helped put many things into perspective. I need to stop being so hard on myself for the rut I seem to be in. My time will come. The perfect job will come to me. I will be happy. I can't stop and rewind my life. I won't even try to fast forward. I will just hit play and enjoy it as best I can. 

Above all, God has a wonderful plan for me. This, Im sure of.

1 comment:

hungryseoul said...

I really enjoyed your post. Seems like you really miss Korea. When non-Koreans fall in love with Korea, I always assume its because of sexual attraction. Of course the culture, food, and nightlife play a part, but these are usually the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th reasons. So who was he? Any posts about your romantic life in Seoul?