I lived in Korea the first time from February 2012-February 2013. I turned 25 here, which felt like a whole new era of life turning over suddenly. I actually felt like an adult for the very first time. This week I found out that (male) citizens of Athens at the time of Socrates could not vote or participate in politics until the age of 30. In all honesty…that’s not all that different from the current climate of over 60s dominating the political life of the US and UK.
But I digress.
I met my husband in Korea. I solidified my teaching vocation in Korea. I lived alone for the first time ever in Korea. I moved in with a boyfriend for the first time ever in Korea (and the only time, as we just celebrated four years living together this week).
I may have written a Thank You letter to China, but Korea and I have history.
Now that I’m back, some things that I had forgotten are coming back into full force.
Food is very cheap and also very expensive
You want 500g of ginger for 50 cents? Korea is for you! You want to pay $25 for a small block of cheese? Korea is for you! I could buy a feast at a cheap-ass restaurant for less than $10, but if I want to cook at home in my tiny-ass kitchen a small basket full of groceries at Home Plus often costs more than $50. Those are Whole Foods prices for basics.
Eating in Korea can be a paradox. Eating out is often cheaper than in, and unlike back home it is relatively healthy.
Cafe Culture is Pervasive
I’m writing this from a local coffee roaster cafe, which is just so very atmostpheric in the rain tonight. There is soft music in Korean and the hill outside is covered with people going about their afterwork business.
I could go to a new cafe every day and never be able to cover even just the ones in my local area. I could also go to the Starbucks down the road (a new addition when we lived here just four years back), but I like local. The couple running this place are kind and the coffee is genuinely great.
Oh God, Soju. I Had Forgotten Thee.
I’m such a lightweight these days. A single half bottle of soju and I’m hung over completely the next day. When I last lived in Korea, I admittedly never had to be at work before 2 PM (except during the craziness of intensives). But still, I was four years younger and I was able to handle my alcohol a little bit better.
Soju now is a rare occurance in our Korean experience. It has to be a special occasion. We had a very stressful week and on Friday went out for galbi. We shared a couple beers and a single bottle of C1 soju. I woke up feeling like someone had run sandpaper through my intestines. I mean, we still went on a hike and all (because Korea). But it was rougher than I remember soju being.
Tiger Moms Are Real
They are impeccably stylish, have impossible standards, and care deeply about the success of their children. It is hard at times to understand where they are coming from, but the truth is that I’m a little bit in awe of the Korea Mother. I honestly don’t know how they do it all. I hope that at some point I can befriend women my age and be able to speak to them in Korean, if only to gather a bit of their insights into how to squeeze so much into their family lives while looking like a professional did their hair and makeup.
Some People Are Genuinely Startled By My Eyes
Blue eyes are surprising in a sea of dark ones. To quote my students on the first day, “You are scary.”
It doesn’t bother me. Globally and historically, my colouring is ridiculous. Add to that my giant size and general penchant for clumsiness and I know I would stare, too.
We’re right on the precipice of the Three Month Slump here in Korea, a dangerous time for the mental health of any global nomad.
At three months, the magic (or in the case of Korea, happy nostalgia and vindicated homesickness) have worn off and the daily annoyances of living in a place grind heavily on one’s last nerves. At three months, you want to know why the motherfucking Post Office isn’t open at a reasonable hour. At three months, you pretty much want to leave.
But I know that this is temporary and that it appears with clockwork-like precision in every place I’ve lived in the last eight years (and it is nearly eight years now that I have not lived full-time in the USA). I do love Busan. I do love Korea.
I hope that I can stick it out.