Tourist or Traveller?

I’ve been in Korea for a little over a week and I’m settling into my life here. On the other hand there are times I feel like a tourist, passing through. The other day, as Steve and I walked to a small Korean restaurant for lunch, he commented that it was so nice to know I wasn’t heading back to the states after one of my short visits.  That makes me realize I live here, and am choosing to be a member of the community.

 

I’m finding my way, both in the physical sense and also in the “spiritual” sense.  I realize that remaining a tourist would keep me separate from embracing the culture while being a traveler allows me to immerse myself in all this country and culture has to offer.  I was reminded yesterday of the movie “The Accidental Tourist” where the main character wrote books for tourists to travel anywhere in the world and feel like they never left home.  The books guided people to familiar foods, comfortable hotels, places where you would never really know the difference between one country and another.  The traveler, on the other hand, embraces the culture, the food, the language, the everyday experience of the people.  I hope to be a traveler and not a tourist.  With that said, it was really nice to sit at the bar of a lovely Spanish tapas restaurant in Seoul and have a glass of champagne and some wonderful cheese and olives.  So there is a balance of finding some comfort and leaving familiarity behind.  The thing that keeps me connected and bridges my worlds is all the technology.  For a year Steve was connected to the internet by luck of his apartment location.  Yesterday that gift abruptly ended and we found ourselves with no internet access.   How quickly we forget the days when there was no way to connect to anyone other than a hand written, mailed letter or an occasional expensive phone call.  This compared to the fact that in a few hours I will head to my new office with my computer and head phones and stream the Academy awards.

 

Steve and I are living together with ease in the small space we now call home.  There are flowers in the apartment and a new piece of kitsch art given to us by the curator of the Daegu Art Museum.  Last week we went to the museum which really isn’t a museum but rather a large three-floor art gallery with large installations.  There is no permanent art. We are going to the opening of the latest installation in March.

 

 

Friday I ventured on my own to E Mart, a large all-encompassing store with everything from groceries to sheets and towels.  I went to the university to meet up with Steve, navigating the subway to get there.  There was a lot of activity on the campus and lots of people walking by with large bouquets of flowers.  I realized it was graduation day and it suddenly looked like any University in the states.  There were proud parents, grandparents and siblings taking photos of their new graduates.  A young girl came running up to me.  “Hello” she said.  “Where are you from?”  “The US “ I said.  “Obama” she replied. She continued with more questions, wanting to use her English. She told me she practices every day.  I asked if she was graduating. “No, my brother graduated, I’m in middle school.”  At some point everyone between 12 and 25 starts to look the same age to me.  She was so proud of her English and so assertive to approach me, I encouraged her to keep up with her English and imagined her running the country one day.  Korea currently has it’s first woman president. 

 

I met Steve for lunch and we were walking to a small local restaurant on campus. There were three young men, new graduates with bouquets of flowers, in front of us. One of the young men, hearing us speaking English,  turned around and told us he was indeed a new graduate and he handed me one of his bouquets.  Each time this happens I feel more and more welcomed in a country where the people are kind and friendly. 

 

Saturday we went to Seoul to see a production of The Phantom of the Opera.  It was in a brand new, state of the art, venue, built by Samsung.  The production was every bit as good as a Broadway show, along with the ticket price. When we arrived in Seoul, after a two-hour high-speed train ride, we entered the Seoul station to transfer to the subway and the crowds seemed overwhelming.  Everything is relative.  There are more than 10.4 million people in Seoul, no wonder it seemed overwhelming.  This compared to the metropolitan area of Daegu with 2.4 million and our “small” city of Gyeongsan with 250,000 people.  A far cry from the 60,000 plus in Portland or the 1000 on Peaks Island.

 

I start work tomorrow with a two-day orientation for new faculty and classes begin next week.  The weather is turning from winter to spring here.  It will be in the 50’s this week.  I don’t miss winter in Maine and the smell of spring in the air draws me closer to my new  home.  The time is already moving very fast and I want to savor my time and experience and embrace the notion of being a traveller.

 

Stay in touch and I will do the same.

 

 

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Finding comfort overseas

After months of interviews, negotiations, soul searching, packing and saying goodbye to friends and family, I have arrived in Korea ready for a teaching position on the faculty of Yeungnam University. This blog will chronicle my adventures of living and working overseas at the age of 63.  Here is my first entry.  I hope you enjoy reading this and other entries to follow.  Pass it along to anyone you think might enjoy it.

 

The journey was a two day process of schlepping two suitcases, one backpack and a rather beaten up leather pocketbook from ferries, to taxis, to buses, through airports, on planes to more buses and taxis.  What is in these suitcases you might wonder? Stuff!  In addition I sent three boxes that miraculously arrived when I did.  I already know I have more than I will ever need.  I can only hope there’s an equivalent to Goodwill here.

 

Our small apartment was warm and a bit stuffy when we opened the door. As I look around at the small space I’ll be calling home for the next four months, I’m struck by how much space I have in my house on Peaks Island, which by American standards is considered small.  The apartment is one bedroom with a small kitchen/dining area and a living room with a desk and a somewhat uncomfortable “faux” leather chair and couch.  The walls have appliques of trees.  I keep wondering what the person who put these on the walls was thinking.  They are impossible to remove so somehow I’ll have to figure a way to incorporate these into our décor. We bought a closet for me and a bookcase and a nightstand that were delivered today. I spent most of the afternoon unpacking and trying to find places for all the “stuff” I have.  I’m struck by the loss of the comfort that I am realizing I surround myself with.  Not just the people I can call at a moment’s notice but all the other comforts of home. Not speaking the language is an immediate challenge and a great opportunity to practice humility.  Steve speaks enough of the language to navigate through airports, bus stations, grocery stores and trying to explain to the person in the used furniture store where to deliver the closet, bookcase and nightstand we just bought.  I smile a lot and am reminded about the assumptions I make about people who don’t speak English.  Do I think they aren’t smart?  Is it an inconvenience to try to communicate?  Do I have any patience? After spending over an hour in the phone store we left without activating my phone because as it turns out I’m not listed as a person living in the country.  It’s a bit how I feel so it makes sense that I’m a person without a country right now.

 

Then there’s the food.  Our neighborhood is filled with basic, simple restaurants serving everything from Korean beef soup to duck with delicata squash.  The air is filled with garlic and peppers. There is a coffee shop on every corner complete with an assortment of pastries that no doubt represent a western influence. I went grocery shopping this afternoon and here is where I encountered a new challenge.  All the comfort foods that I buy simply are not on the shelves. Clearly when I decided to come on this journey I knew I would leave all that behind. We did find some smoked salmon with a price close to gold bouillon.  We bought it and savored it for breakfast with bagels and cream cheese.

 

So my first few days have been filled with establishing myself in my new “home” and finding my way around without getting lost.  Steve is a wonderful guide and it’s so familiar to be with him in an unfamiliar place and that is comfort.  Surrounding myself with things internal may be challenging but it also creates lightness as I let go of the old comforts and learn what the new ones are and embrace those.

 

Last night as many of you watched the latest episode of Downton Abbey, Steve and I were finishing season three.  Since it has already shown in England it’s available for downloading.  This from two people who had never seen even one episode as of a week ago.  We are hooked. 

Please stay in touch and I will do the same.