Category Archives: seoul
Tonight, i walked from Seoul Station to my hill barefoot in the pouring rain. It was the greatest walk of my life. For the first time since arriving here, i felt one with the city and yet comfortably alone, with only my thoughts and my music and the rain washing over my feet. There’s something about cities: no matter where in the world you might be, a city has this way of being welcoming and impenetrable at once, and you have to meet it head-on at its most vulnerable moments—when there are very few people on the streets masking its true qualities—to break open its shell.
That’s what i missed when i left New York. I missed making love to the city, taking long walks in the rain and at night, ignoring everything around me but the ground below my feet and the vague pulsation of life continuing in my temporary absence. I loved everything about New York: the people, the food, the culture, the beat it moved to. There’s nothing quite like the no bullshit attitude that New York breeds and takes pride in.
I hate most things about Seoul, especially the people, but as long as i can take barefoot, solitary walks in the rain, returning home to my quiet hill of friendly people, i think i’ll be okay. Navigating the city isn’t a concern; i just need to learn how to navigate the people.
Think about this for a second: there are 258 of us planted in every corner of Seoul, all doing the same thing: teaching English in public schools. We’re like a formidable army, and we’ve got our bases covered. I’m continually mesmerized and inspired by this thought, and it’s what keeps me going when things get tough in my neck of the woods. Because i know there’s someone in this city who’s going through the same things i am.
Other than the bland food and lectures, i think i enjoyed our orientation way more than i should have. I learned something new during my time there: i get along better with a slightly older crowd. I disliked the majority of the people at my university, except those in a graduate level course i took in my last semester. I’m one of the youngest in our bunch, and before i got to orientation, i was a bit concerned that i wouldn’t be able to talk to you guys, but what do you know, i’ve never had an easier time talking to people.
So i’m taking this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to those of you who have either made me smile or laugh (or both!) at KHU and continue to do so now. I knew the journey would be difficult, but what i didn’t know was that i’d have so many wonderful people with me on it.
Good luck to you all, and remember that i’m smack dab in the middle of Seoul (Yongsan-gu) if you ever need me.
A lot has happened since i got here on the 25th—some good, more bad. There are so many things i have trouble with when it comes to Korean culture, and i’ve already been a victim of them for the past four days. That’s the thing: it might just be the “culture,” but when it’s something you are so unfamiliar with, it feels like a threat. Anything unfamiliar is a threat when encountered against your will.
If i had to pick the one thing that is making me most miserable right now, i would have to say that it’s the complete disregard for privacy. I think i’m always so tense and tired because i know there are people monitoring me from every corner, trying to find out everything possible about me. The administration office manager, who lives across the street from me, asked me the other day why i wasn’t home at night. My lights were off, she said. It was quite a nasty shock, but at least she had the decency to let me know that she can see my window. One of the English teachers who picked me up on the day i arrived here with the other Native English Teachers has been taking care of me and helping me sort out administrative details like getting my Alien Registration Card and finding office supplies for me. I have nothing to do with her—she’s a 3rd grade teacher and i don’t teach any 3rd graders—but she’s over 50, unmarried, lives close to me, and has nothing better to do. Sometimes i’m touched by all the things she voluntarily does to help me get settled in, but other times, i can’t help but suspect that she only does it to get information out of me. Every little thing i tell her, even the most mundane details, spreads through the entire school like celebrity gossip. Lunchtime is basically catching up on everything that the entire staff found out about me the day before. Gossip here is such a threatening invasion of your privacy, and not only do i feel uncomfortable being dissected and broadcast that way, i don’t like having to partake in it.
It’s only been four days, and i already hate Seoul. Where do i even start? I’ll limit this one to the people:
1. Middle-aged people stare or glare at me for no reason.
2. No one wants to give directions, and those willing to don’t know how. It’s like they can’t think like someone who doesn’t know the city very well. One girl my age gave me the wrong directions. Intentionally. But i knew what she was doing, so i called her out, to which she reluctantly mumbled something like, “Oh, i think it’s that way, then….” She probably hated me for being American. Fucking bitch.
3. They lack imagination here. Either that, or people here are even more conformist and clueless about the rest of the world than i thought. They can’t imagine that a woman’s favorite color could be grey. A saleswoman actually questioned me for buying a grey, “men’s color” toothbrush. I think imagination and diversity go hand in hand. This country is so startlingly lacking in diversity that you almost can’t blame the people for being so narrow-minded. Doesn’t mean it isn’t irritating.
4. People here don’t know how to mind their own business. Let’s just leave it at that.
5. Strangers, especially the older ones, blurt out unnecessary and unwarranted comments at you as you walk past. Ugh, reminds me of Paris.