Letter from Korea, June 2010

Andong
South Korea
June 30 2010

I’ve left this letter until the very end of the month because of my two week trip to Ireland for my brother’s wedding. I did originally plan to write this from Ireland but things got ahead of me and I never even sat down once to write. I’m hoping that I can write a little bit more convincingly now that I’m in Korea, and I can look back on my holiday back home differently than on previous occasions.

In my first letter from Korea, I tried to draw a comparison with Ireland and Korea. To actually draft a definite relationship between two countries which, on paper, are always so dramatically different, is always difficult. Of course there are a number of similarities between both countries and I won’t go into them here because it isn’t my overall intention to cover everything and then have nothing to write about for all my forthcoming letters.

After we got back from Korea I had a few days to spare so we came down to Andong, which is Gyeongsangbukdo, south of Gangwondo. This is by far the most rural location I’ve been to in Korea, and it is famous as a retreat for poets and Confucian scholars during the Joseon dynasty, not that that is the reason for coming here. I heard it was nice and I’ve never been so I figured, why not? Incidentally, Andong is home of Jimmdalk, which is one of my top five of favourite Korean dishes, so it’s fair to say I had to come down here eventually.

Right now, it is around ten o’clock and I’m sitting outside on a veranda of a traditional house underneath a mosquito net with a fan blowing constantly on my back. It is also the longest period today that I have not spent sweating profusely. There are all kinds of insects flying around the net and making noises outside, there is no breeze, and there are plenty of stars in the sky. There is no reason to do anything but to be myself and enjoy the moment. It’s a similar situation to one that I’ve experienced time and time again and I will, I hope, never grow tired of it. Moments like these are built and designed to pass so that we can look back on them with satisfaction and know that situation has pointed a finger in the direction that life would be best taken. When this happens every day, I think it can be said that you have arrived at your port of call.

I wouldn’t like to cloud this assessment with doubt and uncertainty, but I’m going to because that way I can really show you what it, and by it I mean everything to do with you and your life, is really all about. Of course we can just turn around in the middle of a holiday and suggest that cocktails on the beach and a dance in the sand afterwards is a clear enough picture of how you would like to live the rest of your life. Taken together, enjoyment and pleasure are two essential human needs because they keep us happy, but they also distract us when everything else won’t allow for anything else. Waking up with a smile on your face can’t be achieved from the results of what you do after work or on the weekend or on a two, three, four week or one year holiday away from all the other stuff that has been your life since you were born. You can’t leave that, you can’t ignore it all, because without all of it you wouldn’t be what you are and what you will be. Life is there to be enjoyed not just at the weekend but as much as you can possibly allow.

Sounds fairly simple and I’m sure that this isn’t news to most of you who’ve read this much so far. Let me be clear, I’m not trying to preach here, I’m trying to set myself up for the dilemma that I’m now in after coming back from Ireland after a little less than three weeks.

We, that is, myself and my wife, have said for a long time that we would like to settle in Ireland on a longer term basis. Having spent nine months there through the hardest winter in a long time, we were happy to return to Korea and to work and to the goals that we had set ourselves almost two years before when we first got married. Yet, when we came back to Ireland on holiday, the term, to see things through rose tinted glasses, was never given a truer example than this.

Perhaps it had something to do with the weather, or something to do with the money we’d earned in Korea, or nothing to do with anything and that it was clear to say, or perhaps sing as I have done in the past, that “I miss Ireland, I sing of her all the time, yes, I miss Ireland, despite the drug addicts, the terrorists and the crime”. As we talked about it together, because it was clear we did miss Ireland (something very difficult for me to handle), and we blamed this and that and made other excuses on our lack of return.

And this swings me right back around to the point I was rambling on about earlier; where do you want to be in life? Or, in my case where do I want ‘to be’? Is it a physical thing, or is it a thing of status? What country or what position in the rat race? Because I could probably find a job in Ireland, and so could my wife (she had one before when I was proudly signed on the dole). Or is it about who or what ‘I am’ now, in Korea. Someone who some people know in the global sphere of the immigrant (I’d never humiliate the millions of people all around the world who are immigrants by singling myself out as an ex-pat purely because I’m European in an Asian society) community in South Korea? What about the plans and goals we’ve set ourselves and the dreams that hinge on exact periods of time spent in once place and decimals of time in other places sampling what the rest of the world might in some manner or form possess?

Everything hinges on me, and me is here now. Am I selfish? Yes of course, but I imagine you have your own problems to deal with. A decision has been made, and being one who finds it hard enough to choose between brown and white bread, I will stick with this decision for the time being, or at least until something better comes along.

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One thought on “Letter from Korea, June 2010

  1. Pingback: Letter to/from Korea, July 2011 | If I had a minute to spare…

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