Every few days I have to stop and check myself: Stop. What are you doing?
Korea is making me fat.
Stop. Korea is not making you fat. You are making you fat.
But I eat only one starch at every meal, and I take half what others do, and I avoid sugar and all the sauces and everything fried and…
Stop. You get no exercise. It’s your own damn fault.
But it’s too freaking hot for life to get exercise. And there’s no time. And there’s no clean gym here and they only use the equipment I hate and…
Oh come on. That’s just your excuse this year. What about all the past years?
I got exercise. I danced. I organized huge gatherings. I did yoga. I went places.
Yeah, so? And you blew that all away, didn’t you? Over and over and over. You blow up everything you build.
That’s because nobody shares the same passion. It’s all about them and not what’s beautiful. They’re all fakes. It’s even worse here. There’s no one to relate to. There’s nobody here to talk with.
So what’s new? When you had 200 friends in Seattle, you still talked the same crap.
Yeah, but they weren’t real friends. And at least there we shared the same culture and language.
What culture? What culture did you share? You tried every culture and sub sub culture and rejected them all. You’re a misanthrope. You’re lonely because you reject everyone.
Do I? Or do they reject me? Everyone here rejects me before they even get to know me. I don’t know what’s worse – pre-emptive rejection on a mass scale or rejection by people who know you.
Oh please. You pre-emptively reject everyone else. You don’t even put yourself out there. How can you be rejected?
I do so. I’ve gone to clubs. I’ve gone dancing. I’ve gone to English clubs. I’ve tried language exchange. I’ve…
Yeah, and you stuck it out for what, ten seconds?
But it was so lame.
You’re lame. You expect this place to live up to your standards?
Who are you? You sound like my mom…
I AM your mom.
Welcome to my head. This is the kind of shit that swims around in it. As you can see, I’m not easy on myself. And btw, rejection is a word that didn’t exist in my vocabulary for 40+ years. I don’t like these new words I’ve learned since acknowledging I was adopted.
Intellectually, I know that living in a foreign country is like accepting the metric system. You’ve got to stop comparing and just accept the differences. You’ve got to put away those things you’re accustomed to and just deal and find new things to embrace.
But DAMN. I miss cool, overcast skies and espresso carts on every corner and a pastiche of individual expression that is (sometimes) more than just style. And chit-chat. Without a common language, life is devoid of that huge net of light support and reinforcement validating your person-hood that everyone living in the country of their own language can take for granted. Try it for a week. Zero chit-chat coming from you. Total sound deadening earplugs in your ears so you can’t understand what anyone is saying. Just don’t talk. At all. You are not a monk. This is no voluntary vow of silence. You just. Can’t.
Strike up a conversation. Strike up. Strike. Up. S t r i k e. S T R I K E. The word gets weirder the more I look at it. That’s my job here. To dissect my own language, put it on a platter, and present it to people for consumption. Strike with a match. Ignite a conversation. Feed it like a fire. Fan its flames. Communicate. Seek consumption. Burn passionately. Dancing flames. Mind meld. Melt together.
Every now and then I catch myself happy. A kind of Stand by me scene where I’m skipping along railroad tracks and singing Lollipop kind of happy. It comes from the beautiful country scenery. It comes from watching others living their kind of normal lives. And when I realize this is happening, I try to kill it.
Honestly, that’s what I do. I don’t want to end up living here forever, which could easily happen! For as uncomfortable as I am, I always able to find something to appreciate around me and have the ability and drive to make everything I do personally rewarding. But I can do that anywhere. I want to be discontent enough that I can leave at the first opportunity. Because the truth is, I am misanthropically miserable no matter where I am on the planet, which means I am an equal opportunity discriminator. And those lollipop moments can happen to me anywhere. Because all I need are a few cinematic moments to feel joy, and I can find beauty even in land fills. So staying here means settling for what’s at hand at the moment. But I don’t want to just settle, since I can do better – I can settle someplace where I’m not bound and gagged.
I turn my t.v. on while waiting for the kettle to whistle. There’s a dramatization of a woman who is drummed out of a household by a shrew of a halmoni. Ut oh. It’s one of those reunion shows. The father keeps the baby and the halmoni resentfully raises it. The mother comes back for a visit when the girl is about six and she gives her a beautiful coat. The halmoni shrew runs her off and stomps on the coat, destroying it, while the little girl watches, crying. Back to real life, on the set, a glitter-encrusted door opens up with the real mom behind it. Mom and grown daughter fall into each other’s arms, weeping. MC’s try badly to produce tears. Paid audience dabs their eyes with handkerchiefs. I am thinking, “Phew! Close one! You are soooo lucky you weren’t sent away!”
Right. So these kinds of random things happen ALL THE TIME. Being exposed to this is the kind of settling for what’s at hand that I must deal with ON TOP OF the language thing. Much more than I bargained for, this constant agitation.
It might be argued that the communication thing is just another lame excuse, and that I’m backing down from the challenge. Yes, it’s a challenge that I am backing down from. But it’s not a lame excuse. It’s my choice. Taking on this language would mean a level of commitment that would consume everything I have. The only reason I would have to do so is to further facilitate the adoption reform cause. That’s not reason enough for me.
It might be argued (and has been) that I am not allowed to criticize this place unless I am willing to stay the long haul and dedicate my life to changing it. Dedicating a life to something is no small matter. I don’t believe framing it into an all or nothing choice is valid, either. I think the people telling me these things don’t walk their talk. I also think I do plenty enough for one person. And I don’t believe it is up to me to change this place. It is up to Koreans to change Korea. And the very best way to accomplish that is to influence one person who has influence. If there is a secret key to this door, we are still trying to find it. Maybe Jane can find it. She’s truly repatriated. She also had the privilege of knowing her mother and has living family here. What permanent connections do I have? Except for maybe Jane?
I am spoiled. I am a spoiled brat. I want my espresso carts. I want my spaghetti straps when it’s hot outside. If I must be an expat, I’d much rather it be in Prague or Berlin or Nice or Budapest or Paris or Lisbon or Montevideo or…
I want to chit-chat with the pale red-haired shy boy who sat writing at the Joe Bar cafe every day. I want to measure and be measured by the charm and depth of a conversation, by the nuances which indicate another person’s strength of character. I also want the ability to discern and ferret out all those pretenses that would spell troubled waters later. Ha! I want to have awkward conversations with others equally unskilled at social graces! That low expectation is like a pipe dream I can’t even begin to fantasize/hope for here!
And other expats would no doubt argue with me, but from what I’ve surmised is that those who stay are here by a total twist of fate/luck. Here temporarily, they meet someone and then, then they get motivated to master the language. Then suddenly they become scholars and experts on Korea. Then suddenly they’re somehow better than all the other expats passing through. Other than these relationships, one has to question the motivations behind why expats stay…and they all have something marketable that I don’t have – exotic skin, eyes, hair. Or, if gyopo, at least some rudimentary skills and cultural inheritance without the stigma of being adopted.
No matter how active or involved or engaged I try to get here, as a Korean deaf-mute I must by default be judged (and judge) superficially. I’m tired of being measured solely by my appearance and lack of Korean skills. And frankly, with so many more hospitable environments in the world – I see no reason why I should settle for this.
So I will continue to try to stop blaming Korea for all my weaknesses, and I will try harder to just accept and embrace what I can. But this is just a really long visit. I’ve got my eye on the door.