This message comes to you from an undisclosed location in Seoul, Republic of South Korea. I type these words in between large gulps of South American red wine and a belly full of homemade Korean food courtesy of those who shall remain un-named. If this message reaches you in time only know that I have come out on the other side of the wormhole that was the year 2014 and seem to be molecularly in tact.
Actually this post comes to you a few days late. No one should be surprised at this given the lack of discipline I’ve shown blogging for god-knows-how-long. I had most of it written already but was just enjoying myself too damn much bouncing about Seoul and other parts of Korea to sit down and upload it. Oh, well. Here it is.
Christmas came and went without much fuss or fanfare (for me, specifically) here in Korea. Don’t get me wrong – people were partying like it was 1999 all over the place, but as I’ve become more comfortable living in my own introverted skin, I choose to bow out large social gatherings more regularly. Personally, most of the festive nature around Christmas this year came in the form of me dressing up like Santa Claus for the kids I teach and telling each of them in their ears that I know what they really did this year and that receiving presents would not necessarily be a foregone conclusion unless repentances were made as soon as possible. Some responded with fear and distrust, others laughed at my attempt at infusing Catholic guilt into them by saying “James Teacher, I know it’s you. You’re not Santa. Give me my present.” I got my beard pulled off so many times I stopped counting.
I was invited over to a Korean friend’s house for Christmas eve dinner and I went with a full heart and empty stomach without much in the way of expectations for the evening. I expected more of a cocktail party, but was pleasantly surprised to receive a heaping plate of roasted chicken, mashed taters, brussel sprouts, stuffing and gravy. Even though most of the expected guests cancelled last minute it was great to actually spend Christmas eve with a family, in a real home, rather than the hobbit cave I have come to call my own. Even if I had stayed at my own place that night and made myself dinner (rice, eggs and kimchi has become a staple for me), I would have been content enough. I took my Christmas Eve this year with a particular gratitude.
It was also nice to call home and talk with everyone once our time-zones lined up and I knew everyone would be in one place together. It’s not my first Christmas away from home and I remember being distinctly sad in previous years when I’d call home and it seemed like everyone was having fun without me, like they forgot me. I’d bite my lip and try not to sound sad and isolated in whatever state or country I was in and say “well I hope you have a Merry Christmas, I should get going..” until I was able to hang up the phone and go be blue.
I laugh when I recall the time I was living and studying abroad in Prague and wasn’t home for a Christmas. I was 21 years old at the time and my friend Max who came from a large Catholic Haitian family was also in Prague with me. We were in opposite phone booths talking to our families and got off the phone around the same time and both were on the verge of tears because of how tore up we felt over being away from our families. We of course coped the best way we knew how, by finding Chinese food and getting drunk with other foreigners and wound up having a fun night.
This year, calling home I had a particular fortification in my heart that didn’t bring any level of sadness to bear. I had learned so much about myself in 2014 that I was actually happy to be standing tall where I was, even though it was fully across the planet. I made a choice to do something, I made it happen and here I was. I had no regrets. I had done right by my family and loved ones as best I could and I honestly had no regrets. I was able to offer my best self to my family and be honest with how I felt — I felt happy.
All of my fellow foreigner teachers took off to warmer climate destinations for vacations this year. Places like Thailand, The Philippines, Vietnam, Japan (maybe not warmer) were on the list and frankly I wanted to just pick one and go myself. When you start talking with people about good reasons to come teach English in South Korea, one of the first things people tell you about is how “cheap” and easy it is for you to travel to exotic locations you’d probably never see living in the Western Hemisphere. While we do get fairly substantial breaks from work, our Winter break being nine days total, I didn’t feel like I had the time, confidence or money saved to make a trip. Knowing myself to be a fairly sensitive traveler who likes lots of time and comfort to get from one place to another, I realized I was going to be on a shorter than preferred timeline trying to get to and from my far off destinations traveling alone and likely confused. Though I was constantly brown beaten by some foreigners for squandering my time off and choosing to stay in Korea, I knew in my head that taking my week and two weekends to recharge from a hectic two months of getting acclimated to Korea would be wise and more enjoyable than others gave me credit for.
So, what have I done on break so far? Well, I’ve slept a lot. I’ve caught up on that good sleep that comes when you have absolutely nothing you must do the next day. I’ve seen some movies at the movie theater that is a 15 minute walk from my apartment, I’ve worked out a bit and have taken a couple trips to Seoul to explore new neighborhoods and meet up with friends. All good stuff.
So what does it mean that it’s 2015? On thinking about how or if I wanted to make any more resolutions this year, I felt truly lucky to realize how far I’ve come in 2014 and that mainly I just hope to continue on the path I’ve set for myself. It’s more of a multi-year plan. Wellness is they key that holds everything together. It’s been a long time, if ever at all, that I’ve been able to look at my life as it stands and not really feel conflicted that a period of time had passed and I hadn’t capitalized on it in a), b) or c) way.
So here’s to you. Here’s to your new year. Here’s to your last year. I hope the passage of time hasn’t been too fast or too slow or too uncomfortable for you and if it was any of those things, I hope it was in tandem with some amazing growth and self-realization.