Category Archives: seoul

Coffee Shop

One night, after working out at the gym, I walk into the newly opened coffee shop nearby in search of fresh fruit juice. The lights are dim, and the chairs are hanging upside-down, legs in the air, off the tables big enough for only two or four people. Two women, one old enough to take the role of the mother, the other young enough to play the daughter, pop theirs heads up from behind the counter. I stumble for words. Because I’m in Korea and I think they won’t understand me. After a moment, I say, “You’re closed? Finished?” Synonyms help, and Koreans seem to be more familiar with the word “finished.” But the women give no answer. I glance around the small room, ready to leave, then I see the young boy sitting on the only chair with its legs in the proper place at the table near the window and door, where I’m standing. A workbook lies open in front of him. He’s 10 or 11 years old and doing homework at 10:30 at night while his family closes up shop. His doing homework this late is normal here, so normal I’d never think twice about it. He looks up at me and says with the confidence of a native English speaker, “Yes. Finished.” The women behind the counter smile and laugh quietly. I smile, too, and say to him, “Thank you. Bye.” As I turn to leave, the mother says, “Annyeonghi ga-seyo.”

No fresh fruit juice, but I walk home in the cold, grinning all the same.

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Life until now


(The Han River, Gwangnaru District, Southeast Seoul)

Let’s get one thing straight, I’m not making apologies for not updating in such a long time. I’m no longer making apologies, silent as they have usually been, for anything period.

I’ve been in South Korea for one year and one month to the day. A month ago I would have said, I can’t believe I’m saying longer, but now that I’m pretty much settled in my new one room apartment in Seoul, I can and do believe it.

I will say that so far, save for my new place, most of the basic things were better in Daegu. I realized that some of this has to do with the buildings. For example, my gym in Daegu was in a nice, new building, whereas the gyms I’ve looked at here have been in what seem to be fairly old buildings. Same goes with the building my new doctor is in. I also feel like my teaching situation was better at my first school, though it’s not terrible at my new one. I simply appreciate my old school and co-teachers a whole lot more. Let’s put it that way and leave it at that.

Speaking of my old school, the ending was a lot like the beginning: one big celebration, aka, my principal’s retirement ceremony/celebration. Except instead of trading a soju glass and taking shots with my principal, as is Korean custom, I was up on a stage in front of every teacher in my school dancing like a crazy fool (mind you, I had had nothing to drink except cola). My principal was right up front, a big dumb smile on his face, eyes glazed with glee, swaying with the song my co-teacher belted out. For my last night with the teachers at my first school, I went all out. It was a great night, and I wish it hadn’t ended.

I also gave my main co-teacher, the one who treated me like a son, a hug when saying goodbye. You won’t really realize how big a deal this was and how much this meant to her not having lived here. Hugging is not common. No one hugs in normal situations, no hug hello, no hug goodbye, not unless the situation is emotionally intense. But I hugged her. She put her hand out for a handshake, and I went for the hug. She almost cried.

And now here I am, living in one of the largest, densest cities in the world. I can’t say I love it here, not yet anyway. I miss the chillness of Daegu and I often wonder what it would be like to live way out in the country. I can see myself finding out — but that will come later. For now, I’ll take and enjoy the city at night, and the sound of rain right outside my window.

Love Affair

dpp_001839Sprawling city, circa 2009.

I found this photograph, among other items of interest, in a box, a box I had tucked away many years ago. I am surprised I printed out many of the photos I took then, then being such a revoltingly slow start of the digital age.  Sprawling Seoul City, I remember you well, if only because my memory is so thoroughly entangled in my desire to make things up. (This, if nothing else, has not changed, and for that, I am thankful.) I remember how I was so amazingly impressed at first glance. I was floored; I was enthralled. Dear Lord, have mercy, I would say, at the slightest thing, because all of it, from the women to the traffic, took my breath away. It was all so new. Three days felt like…like nothing at all. Three days could have been three weeks, or three years. I had no sense of time’s movement. Too caught up, as I was, in the gorgeous magic of arriving in the city for the first time. No shock then, that at first all my reports consisted of synonyms of the adjective amazing.

Sorry, dear city, for I left you for another. And, yes, by the time I made it back, I perhaps had had too much to drink to notice you in the ways I did during that first week. I felt not that same jump in my chest, and I noticed none of your subtle qualities, those things which may in fact give anyone more weight with which to call you amazing. Forgive me?

By my third trip, the third in only six months, the one during which I had taken this newly found though tragically old photo, I had realized what I had missed not only on the second outing but on the first arrival as well. In short, I had missed everything. I was in awe again, I remember this well, so as to not let in any doubt, but this time it was not because you were so new to me, city of mine. It was — and if you yourself wish to disrupt this new perspective of mine, try as you might, but I will believe nothing else — it was for one reason alone: I found myself in the places I traveled. I remember once again being struck with amazement, this time without the religious utterings. No, this time, when struck by the slightest things, I saw them for what they were. I saw, sprawling city, circa 2009, that I could have found happiness surrounded by your cosmopolitan air.

So one question remains. After all this time, will you have me back again?