I’ve been a bit hesitant about writing this post, but it appears that I woke up strangely early this morning and now find myself in an empty cafe, hopped up on a bit too much coffee, relying on too little sleep, and, well – here we are.
It’s been almost a month since I arrived in South Korea, and while I’ve yet to actually move in to my permanent residence (one more week!), this is essentially my home now, or at least, my home for the next year. Sometimes adding the time stamp makes this move feel less permanent, and as I venture further into adulthood at a catastrophically quickened pace, the idea of the temporary I’ve found is a small comfort worth reveling in. As my friends discuss their return dates back to their respective countries, I am left feeling inevitably lost. My flight is this Saturday, yet I won’t be returning anywhere – I will be in route to a different part of South Korea – not my hometown – not America – and be temporarily dropping the crisp, warm, and familiar word: home. If I had the opportunity to purge the word from my vocabulary entirely, I would. I would bottle it up and throw it across the ocean, let it wait patiently for me, and reacquaint myself with it at a later date.
Someone earlier this week mentioned how he was still in the process of finding “home.” He, in a moment of inevitable Disney nostalgia, ended up quoting most of Hercules’ “I Can Go the Distance,” then ended the ballad with a note loud enough to get everyone around us to pause and take a second to stare. Foreigners. At the end of the day though, that’s what everyone is trying to do post-graduation, right? But does where you are play a role in defining who you are, or who you want to be? Why South Korea? Why anywhere for that matter. Yet, at this point, I’ve begun to ask myself, why not Austin? Did I reject my hometown as an option for fear of being seen as static, or did I leave just to prove to everyone that I could?
Regardless of these questions, I’m here.
Am I homesick? Yes, and no. It’s a complicated feeling, tangled and twisted among various cords that all speak to a fundamental lack of something that is weighing heavy. Maybe it isn’t so much that I’m in desperate need of my home, but there’s something, some component, that’s missing.
As badly as I want to rephrase this sentence to say something other than “they were right,” I can’t find any way around it and must type out that phrase over and over: They were right. They were right. They. Were. Right.
My time here has been short, but even in the few weeks I’ve spent in South Korea, I’ve grown fonder of America, the good ol’ U.S. of A. Now, that’s not to say I can dismiss everything wrong with America (toxic masculinity, police brutality, blatant racism, gun violence, etc.), but I’m starting to appreciate some aspects of American culture that appear to be nonexistent in South Korea. So, do countries have their own personalities? Are there ingrained traits found in individuals unique to their respective homes?
I actually met someone at the cafe who spoke in such a way that was so fundamentally different than every other person I had encountered in Korea. It made me pause and reflect on why I was so taken aback by his demeanor. He debated, argued, explained, expressed himself, and used gestures that reminded me of the types of discussions I had in my undergraduate classes. He was eloquent, he was informed, he wasn’t, as he said, going to “beat around the bush.” He informed me later in the conversation that he had been studying English by challenging himself to watch and listen to stand-up comedians like John Mulaney, Kevin Hart, Aziz Ansari, Ellen, and whoever else he could get his hands on.
Do you know how rare stand up comedy is in South Korea? It doesn’t really exist. Apparently the sole amateur stand-up comedy club in Busan closed due to lack of popularity. Or rumor has it – don’t quote me on this, I’m just repeating the information I was told.
Why is that?
To be blunt: People don’t talk about shit here.
For the most part, people keep to themselves, stay relatively quiet in public, and don’t bring up unpleasant topics of conversation. I’ve tried my hand at bringing up some just to see how they go over at the cafe, but in South Korea, people don’t want to discuss politics, religion, sex, drugs, sexuality/gender, or race at length (or at any desirable length where I get to actually learn something new). Fun fact about me: I only ever want to talk about these topics (Do you find the education system in South Korea restricting for creative thinking? Why do you think the LGBT community is essentially non-existent in the public spectrum, and do you agree with the fact that people feel they need to hide their sexuality? Why are sex cafes so prevalent, yet never spoken of, or acknowledged for that matter?). People have to maintain an air about themselves – keep on a facade for the sake of appearances… but where’s the fun in that? Let’s get uncomfortable, let’s get loud, and let’s talk about some of this shit.
The real question is how am I considered loud in South Korea? For anyone that knows me, you know that I keep a pretty reserved demeanor overall. I’m shy, I’m quiet, I’m an observer before anything else. Yet, my laugh carries on the subway, and when I talk above a semi-normal octave, people pause and take note. When I shout back “What!” at an old man after he yells at me for the clothes I’m wearing, he looks at me as if I’ve committed some kind of heinous crime (Side note: I understand that the younger generation has to respect the older one, but I’ve seen some old people here get away with some pretty ridiculous things. They have the choice to be rude, sensitive, selfish, and act as if they are completely unaware of their surroundings while out in public – and young people just have to take it. The amount old people get away with here is incredible. Isn’t the rule to treat everyone with a certain degree of respect? Why are the older people skating by simply because they’ve been on this Earth a little longer? Why do we have to apologize to them when they are clearly in the wrong?).
Of course, where there are generalizations, they are always exceptions.
So, as I sit here, sipping on the remains of my cold, bitter coffee, I wonder about the weight of the word “home.” There’s a mentality there, an attitude that comes as naturally as breathing – a simple inhale and exhale that stretches the cavity of the chest. In its release, it speaks of the mountains, rolling hills, foods, footpaths, that section of the couch that cradles your body perfectly, that unknown treasure of where you’re from, that bit of Earth that you’ve walked for so long it feels as if its ridges and canyons match the ones that curve so delicately and so purposefully to create a fingerprint that’s yours and yours alone.
Can it be rewritten?
Can I burn off the pads of my fingers and carve new lines until I create my destination?
Can I even try?