One More Last Time
September 10, 2010 – Once again I find myself readying for a move across the ocean. So much goes in to this process with respect to filing papers, making moving arrangements, scheduling pick-ups, clearing out our apartment, boarding our Korean kitty and obtaining customs papers for him, and a hundred other details. But beyond all these relatively meaningless, though tiresome and stressful, hurdles we have to jump, the thoughts that really fill my mind are those of living in Korea and what that has meant to me personally, and of course its impact on my kids.
It’s strange to leave a place so far from your home, in this case, America, when you know that you will likely never return. I hope that I will always maintain a link to Korea. It’s a place where I have connected with many wonderful human beings and a place that I have come to admire in ways I never could have predicted, but will I ever reside here again? While I would certainly be willing to do so, the fact remains that there is so much more to do in this world — so many places to live, so much more to see. Will Korea be a place to which I will return? Will I have the opportunity, the time, the desire? Honestly, I don’t see that in my future. While I would love to come to Korea and visit again in a few years or a decade to see more of the amazing growth and change happening so quickly in this country, I will probably be no more than a visitor if that time should come.
The strange thing about leaving Korea is how final it feels. It really does feel like the end of something that has been my life for the last two years. When I’ve moved around the US, I never experienced this phenomenon. If I leave Florida, will I ever visit again? Of course! I have family, friends and history there. If I leave Tennessee, will I ever visit again? Of course! I have family, friends and history there. But leaving Japan and leaving Korea are so much different than that, even though I do have family, friends and history here as well. When I think about the likelihood of returning to Korea, this is the answer that runs through my mind: Will I ever pay a huge amount of money to fly 14 hours in a cramped aircraft with three kids on a 24+ hour travel itinerary making three or four plane transfers only to arrive in Korea for a two-hour bus drive to Seoul where I won’t have a car and will spend the next two weeks getting over jet lag just so that I can visit some attraction/store/palace/park/temple that I didn’t get to see while I was living here for two years? Ummm……no? See, it feels so final. But I can see reasons for a return for professional reasons. If the opportunity presented itself at some time in the future, I would certainly come back, but who can predict what the future holds, which brings me back to the feeling that this exodus has such finality.
So, what does one do with the knowledge that they are leaving a place to which they will likely never return? I’m sure each person would have his or her own way of dealing with that. For my kids, this brings a yearning desire to visit KidZania again, followed closely by Everland and then Lotte World — basically, it’s the amusement park circuit. When I suggest a trip to an ultra unique museum, like the Rice Cake Museum, they strenuously balk.
For my final trip to Gyeongbokgung and the National Palace Museum last weekend, I didn’t even SUGGEST they come along because of our last trip to a temple a few weekends ago. The reaction went something like this: “Oh my gosh! Not another temple. If I have to see another one of these I’m going to THROW UP. I mean it, THROW UP!” So, that didn’t go well.
For my husband, the final days are best spent trying to unwind from the whirlwind pack out of the house, maybe even trying to take it easy for the last few days, catching up with some friends and colleagues whom we will miss and dotting all our “I”s. There’s still not much time to rest with trips to customs, shipping off the car, and farewell luncheons, but more field trips or shopping trips are not on his list.
For me…well, let’s face it, I’m a little more frenetic than most. My list of places to see is a page-and-a-half long. I never made it to the Blue House, Tam Tam Zoo Zoo, the Korea House, the Drawing Show, Miso, the revolving restaurant at N Seoul Tower, the maze of alleyways I always intended to explore in Dongdaemun, the Korean Arch d’Triumph, Suwon Castle, the chinese medicine museum, the Firefly festival, Guillaum’s French cafe in Hannam, Western Macaroni and the flour theme park at Heyri Art Valley, English Village, the midnight markets and night-time-only department stores, and dozens more things. Clearly there’s not enough time in a life to experience all there is to do in Seoul, but I wanted to try. It’s a city of contradictions and curiosities. Korea is one of the top exporters of cutting-edge technology and yet, elderly men and women peddle their wares in old, worn market places just like they did hundreds of years ago. It’s a country that has been beat down by China, Japan and even its own people and yet its citizens are the most patriotic I have ever seen. They rejoice on a national level when one of their own accomplishes something great and if one brings disgrace they mourn and cry together in shame taking on the responsibility for the shortcomings of a single Korean person. Can you imagine if a single American person did something shameful and people everywhere apologized for his or her actions? In Korea, this happens. It’s both strange and awe-inspiring.
My list of unseen wonders has been written in vain. My last weeks in Korea have seen day after day of rain, starting with the first typhoon to hit since we’ve been here. Typhoon Kompasu tore down many of the few remaining trees in Yongsan and a week later, debris is still being removed and damage repaired. Yesterday, rain. Today, more rain. Tomorrow, rain again. These aren’t exactly the conditions suitable for sightseeing. My little daughter says that Korea is crying because we are leaving. I like that idea.
So I will rest. I will reflect on my time here, and I will savor every last experience: the last dinner at a real Korean galbi restaurant, the last walk down Ichondong Main Street, the last stroll down Itaewon to browse the carts of vendors along the sidewalk, the last mad-dash through the intersection where every car is in a free-for-all race to get a lane on the other side of the light, the last delectable meal at Italonia, the last shopping trip to Emart, the last latte at a Korean Sutarubaksu, the last “anyeong” to a friendly ajima who talks to Kiki, the last chance to pay my bill with Korean Won, the last time to be annoyed at honking cars and people who walk in the middle of the street, the last time the guard at my apartment will bow or salute with a smile when we come home or go out, the last elevator ride to my apartment, the last time to watch the neon party boat sail past our living room window along the Han River, the last time to cross one of the 27 unique bridges over the Han, the last…. It makes me understand so completely the words of my daughter when she was three years old and her daddy pushed her in the swing. “Ok, last time,” he said, “now, that’s enough.” She said, “Just one more last time, Dad.”
Yes, that says it all. Just one more “last time,” please.