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.