What sort of a tale have we fallen into?

What sort of a tale have we fallen into?

“Yes, that’s so,” said Sam, “And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo, adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on, and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same; like old Mr Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?”

So last week I had a late starting day.. after a long time of doing nothing, I finally got out of the house to go to a baseball game, Doosan bears versus Nexen.. I was incredibly late, but my friend was later.  More than an hour late, we arrived in the stadium to find out that the game was at 5pm and not 2pm like we thought.  After some samgyeopsal and walking to find the Olympic pool, we headed back, only to sit down and find that the game was cancelled due to rain.  We were supposed to go clubbing with my one friend after that, but being doused in rain has a way of making one not want to do anything at all, let alone being out in nice clothes and heels in the driving rain.  After a short time at our typical bar, I head home for some McDonald’s, a call home, and an early bedtime.

I have this typical American mindset that often says that if you’re going to bed before midnight, you’re a failure.  This feeling is amplified when in a foreign country.  There’s always this push to do more-more-more when you’re comparing your own experiences to those of others: “Oh I haven’t been to all of the cool bars yet,” “Oh I haven’t seen all the neighborhoods yet,” “Oh no I haven’t been to so-and-so festival so my time here in Korea will be a waste.”  Needless to say, my regret that I didn’t go clubbing was eating me alive.

Here’s the rub, though: I don’t even like clubbing.  I like dancing and drinking, but the whole high-class $100 bottle of champagne lifestyle and stiletto heels really puts me off.  Why did I feel like I was doing myself a disservice?  I had been told that Korea is all about clubbing, but really, Korea is all about a lot of things.  Korea is all about food.  Korea is all about coffee.  Korea is all about hiking.  Korea is all about drinking.  Lots of things.  The lesson is that there is no one way to experience Korea, or any country.  There is no “Gettysburg Tower,” as my parents call the must-see thing in any given destination, not really.  And it’s possible to have myriad different experiences in a year.  A year is a long time.  It’s all about everybody writing their own best life.  I came across an Airbnb ad that summarized this sort of sentiment succinctly: “Don’t go to Paris, live in Paris.”  And the way to live can be different for each person.

Nonetheless, the concept of time here is really different than in America.  I was trying to find a brunch place today and ran up against that realization.  Koreans work hard and play hard.  Whereas the Americans get up early and go to bed early, Koreans do everything later.  Cafes don’t open until 10am but then are open until 10pm or midnight.  People are eating dinner at 8 and 9 and then go out clubbing until midway through morning.  They don’t have time for brunch when they’re still sleeping off hangovers.  Still, I’m here in this cafe this afternoon and there are still scores of students hard at work studying and writing papers.  Somehow, I’m jealous of these kids who still get to have so much free time to sit around in cafes rather than working 10 or 11-hour days..

I’m still trying to figure out how my experience here will be.  It’s hard to overcome that nagging feeling that I’m not doing what I “should” be doing, that I’m missing out on one thing or another any time I cancel plans or have a too-late start to one of my weekend days.  I’m learning to stop comparing my experiences to those of others, just be confident in my own choices.  It’s the best gift I can give myself at this point.  We’re all still learning and growing.

A toast to living your own best life and writing the best version of your story.



And if there’s time, I hope it’s fun.

I feel awful that we couldn’t meet up in person.  But as the old pirate saying goes, “When things go wrong, bury the treasure.”

… I hope your time in Seoul is beautiful, and scary (because scary means you’re following your destiny.)  I hope it’s full of novelty, and if there’s time, I hope it’s fun.

I had been in Seoul just shy of a month when my hyung, Aidan, was supposed to visit.  It was fun planning to meet up, figuring out which subway stop he would get off at, where we would go, what we would do, what we would eat and explore.  He was coming back from a trip to Cambodia and Lao, see.  But a week before, he texted me and said that instead of Sunday meeting, it would be Monday instead, and would that be okay?  I work all day Monday.  And all of the weekdays, for that matter, at an English school south of the river near Gangnam.  So no, Monday would not be okay.

Then, a week of radio silence.

That Monday came along, and I was stressed all day thinking that he would be walking around lost and hating me or attempt to get to the school and miss his flight out.  Still, nothing.  A few days later, I get another text saying that he made it back alright, and that he hid something for me in Tapgol Park (which is near Insadong).  Imagine my relief to know that he made it back alright, even if I didn’t get to see him.

The next weekend came and my friend Chris and I went out to see if we could find whatever it was.  Tapgol Park is small and centered around this small stone pagoda-tower that is housed in glass, but there’s a nice little path for the ahjusshis to stroll around and admire the monuments there.  After some searching, as the instructions “.. under a brick” were a bit difficult, we finally found the parcel behind one of the monuments under a literal flagstone that this hyung somehow pilfered off of a street somewhere.  It was a metal box with elephants on it that he’d gotten from Cambodia, inside was a note (some of it is transcribed above) and a necklace.

Words cannot describe how much this meant to me (ironic because I’m now going to try to do just that).  As in, so much so that I almost broke down in tears in that park.  It’s been really rough the first few weeks here, with a lack of teaching experience, apathetic coworkers, a language barrier, and few friends in the city making forming connections seemingly impossible.  Uprooting everything I knew and knocking down any expectations that I might have had, the first few weeks were tough.  But finding this small token of love from home was just so, so reaffirming after so many weeks of questioning what I was doing here.  Why did I do this to myself when I had it so easy back home, I’d been thinking.  But seeing and talking with people who believe in me, even for a short while, makes all of the doubts go away, bolsters my resolve that what I’m doing is the best possible decision.  It’s not always easy, and I’m going to be forever changed by the experience, however long it is, but I’m glad I’m here, after so many weeks of mind-crippling fear and anxiety.  My confidence comes and goes, but all it takes is a kind thought or word to put me back on the high road.

A toast to hyung, thank you and godspeed.