The company I keep


Day after relentless day I travel “home” to an empty apartment.  But after almost a year, the foreign landscape is becoming familiar, even though I am illiterate, deaf and dumb here, so I am becoming accustomed to this unhealthy isolation.

Yesterday I went and had an expensive breakfast at the American Diner and was delighted to be able to eavesdrop on a conversation about urban planning.

You don’t know how much you miss eavesdropping when you are denied that ability.

Always, always, I am always alone.   I am not sure if this is because I work at a publicly funded secondary  school and am therefore the only foreigner, or because Koreans are too busy to socialize, or if it’s only the Koreans at my particular Christian missionary school that fear socializing, or if it’s because I’m too unusual because I look too familiar and my presence makes me question their own expectations of what foreigners are supposed to be and why I am a foreigner and how they reconcile their own shame, or if it’s just too much work to try to communicate with me, or if it’s because I’m too strapped for money to afford the requisite trappings of socializing, or if it’s because in times of stress I retreat so I can lick my wounds to heal and begin again.  Probably all of the above.

Some days, I could go mad with the desire to just speak out loud to someone next to me or to turn and have someone next to me, but no one is there.  I am either surrounded by people who can’t and won’t talk to me or living a monk-like existence between my four walls.  Most days I have only images pouring in from my laptop or silent words pouring out from my fingers.  Sloppy, poorly formed, extemporaneous words, trying to process this experience.

And then, occasionally, I meet Jane for some adoption related excuse and we talk about friend things and I forget I’m standing in the presence of giants.  Next week? Jennifer Kwon Dobbs will be here and Jane’s table will turn into a think tank and I will be in the presence of not one, but two giants.  Watching them tackle ideas together is like witnessing live a CG simulation of a brain in seizure, the neurons firing so fast collapse is nearly imminent.  At their table, I am like a baby:  poorly versed in literature, zero exposure to adoption studies, only two years getting back on my bicycle writing anything, and all of it amateurish and as amateur.  I feel superficial and simple in their presence.  But still they welcome me.  And we drink makkolli and act foolish and blubber like friends do.

Take a few minutes to read this interview/discussion with Jane Jeong Trenka, Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, and Su Yung Shin published in the Asian American Poetry and Writing on-line journal to see what I’m talking about:  the connections they make, the bravery of tackling subject matter holistically, their clarity of logic and humanity.   I am illuminated by their presence, and you will be too.

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