Wednesday, May 6, 2015

All Together Now

Here it is, the "Goodbye, Korea!" post!

It's kind of just a compilation of the highlights of December, culminating in the last show we went to.

This is/was Amy and Patrick's band. She did some interesting improvisational stuff - like rolling around on the floor and taking off her shirt -that ended up on the cover of broke 19, the punk zine produced at varying intervals by a professional editor and lifer. 

I'd come straight to the show after getting off work at 9 and was super tired.

Some awesome vegetable stew I made, complete with brown rice crackers and 
pan-roasted pumpkin seeds.

I was told it wasn't snowy and didn't need to bother putting tracks on my boots.
-narrows eyes-

Right, sure. 
This was the first snowfall of last year, on December 1st I think it was.
It was also the first day of my short stint at the Gangnam office, I think. It was.

The City Hall office was so cute and cozy and nice..
But they had to send me all the way to the other side of town to the shitty office instead after mine closed down -_-

Hannes' Christmas package from Germany was obviously great. Little did I know 
that it was but a small taste of what was to come!

My Christmas package was pretty substantial, too. 
I never did make pancakes and ended up giving the maple syrup to Hannes' dad to use on his kartoffelpuffer, because he'd always wanted to try it.

My mom also sent Hannes a Snuggie!

No joke, he had seriously been like, "You know what they should make? A blanket with sleeves. That'd be perfect", and instantly I thought of the shitty late-night infomercial from 15 years ago where the idiotic family at the football game looks like a gathering of druids.

We needed another blanket, too. The floor heating in my apartment was so grossly inefficient that I didn't use it, for fear of racking up bills in the hundreds. Going into my joke of a kitchenette was like going outside minus the wind, because Koreans don't believe in insulation. It got especially third-world that time the lightbulb burned out.

We had to sleep like this and could see our breath in bed.

Hannes' going away party for the unpaid internship he'd started when the one 
he'd come to Seoul for ended turned into this.

Roasted dark chocolate sunflower butter

One more wheat-free order from David's Delicious Desserts - the 
chocolate chip cookies were especially good!

I met Henry and Mr. Kang, the hilarious dudes from the Incheon lumber company 
contract I'd worked all summer, at Everest for a goodbye dinner. 
We had plenty of drinks and a really nice time.

Speaking of drinks, nothing screams "Christmas" like soju-melon milk..

And at last, the end-of-the-year punk show at Badabie.

We had an interesting conversation with Eddie thoughout the night, a cool guy who's one of the scene's fixtures. He'd always struck me as kind of a mystery, though Hannes had met him and learned a fair bit about him very shortly after arriving in Korea when he was sitting on a curb outside a venue and Eddie spilled out of a taxi and plopped down in front of him, already smashed from celebrating his baseball team's win that afternoon.

Eddie always loved running into Hannes because he'd studied linguistics and German, spent some time in Germany, and managed to surprise on more than one occasion with his proficiency. 

I'm making it sound like the guy's dead or something, but actually, he just acknowledged the revolving door fact of life so characteristic of Seoul that we'd almost assuredly never see each other again. I ended up finding him on Facebook by chance - after all that time of not knowing anything about him or getting any contact details - when his wife joined my 'Wheat and Gluten-Free in Korea' group.

A drunken stumble through Hongdae to one of the cheap Korean BBQ restaurants, 
because that's how it goes.

JP and Punkie (who are French and adorable when wasted) were with us, 
and I feel kind of bad that I couldn't get a more flattering picture of them, lol

And of course, Patrick. I ended up seeing him and Amy again when I had them come over the night before we flew out to take apartment stuff I hadn't been able to sell, but this was our last time hanging out.

Like I mentioned in the Seoraksan post, I had some pretty dark and lonely times in Korea, but all of the bad shit that happened and the problems I had were mostly my own fault (which is pretty much true of everyone's problems, right?). It was personal stuff. There are a lot of things about the country I don't like or agree with, and I honestly just don't like nearly all aspects of the culture, but that doesn't make it a definitively bad place, and the negative aspects don't negate the positive ones. Just like any other place, there are some really awesome things, and some really shitty things. Most people are some degree of asshole, but a lot or others are good, kind, normal.

I've read a few reflective blog posts that similarly attempt to describe these kinds of conflicting feelings (about doing the English teaching thing in Korea, specifically), and I think you just kind of had to be there for it to resonate, though the general point is a universal one. 
Maybe these juxtaposing things all conveniently fit into the atmosphere of the place itself, like it's just the predominant motif.
So typical of east Asia is that mixture of ancient and brand spanking new; kids sitting in the shadow of an ornately-painted temple while battling someone in another, equally strange land on their expensive handheld game console, that kind of stuff. Old ladies foraging for roots on the side of the road with kerchiefs tied on their heads and later getting take-out, franchise fried chicken. False exoticism out the wazoo.

Maybe it's because it's so much dramatically opposing shit trying to coexist. Either way, it was immature of me to complain constantly, even if both places I worked for failed and shut down and the last 3 weeks of both contracts were huge clusterfucks. It could've been at lot worse; at least I got paid and still had places to live. 
Even if Korean-style dating to me is mind-blowingly absurd, and Korean weddings are even less personal than things literally mass-produced in factories and sold for slightly-too-high prices. I went on one date with a Korean guy who assumed he could just follow me home and try to get into my apartment, and after that I washed my hands of it, so none of that even applies to me. The cultural differences are too extreme and inherently incompatible for most people, and that's it. 
Not believing in insulation or central heating is something I have to deal with in Japan, too, and I've just had to get used to it. The list goes on and on. 

Moving out for the first time comes with countless unforeseen challenges, and going to the other side of the world obviously isn't one of the easier ways to do it. You can tell yourself you're open-minded, tolerant, and patient, but I think know I failed those tests many times while I lived in Seoul. It's different when it's your everyday life, and not just an amusing week-long vacation where you can write things off and walk away with vague, casual impressions of people, cultures, politics, traditions, and other interactions that've been largely decontextualised.

If nothing else, I firmly stand by the facts that 1) the excellent, simple, cheap public transit, 2) the insanely fast and easy ATM transactions, 3) the bibimbap, 4) the low low pries, 5) the casual outside drinking, and 6) the awesome combination punk/hardcore/other alternative scene are uniquely awesome and amazing. That and it's also one of those super safe places where you can, as a woman, walk down a dark street alone at night and feel no sense of menace or foreboding whatsoever. 
All in all, I would consider going back to visit, especially since I never saw the major vacation spots of Busan or Jeju, and I'd tell most other people to consider doing the same. And I mean that.