Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hangul Holidays

I've had several people ask me if I missed home during the holidays. Everyone misses home because of the everyday interactions with friends, the ability to easily connect with family and friends; even the ability to connect on some superficial level with anyone you meet out on the street. However, with holidays, the expectation of tradition makes most people assume that living abroad would be even more difficult during those times. I disagree.

While I most assuredly would have liked to have been home (I can hear mom heaving a sigh of relief) I saw this holiday season as a chance to fully immerse myself in where I was. I honestly wasn't all that interested in having Christmas parties with the other foreigners, or ringing in the New Year in traditional bar fashion; simulacra of western expectations . Instead, I wanted to use the holiday to enjoy time with friends and let that be reason enough to celebrate; a time to enjoy simply being.

I was fortunate enough to travel to Seoul with my coworkers and with a Korean named Sophie. We had a great time hitting up the shopping centers and even spent the night at a Jim Jil Bah (sauna). For less that $6, we had access to a full sauna, hot tub area, and got a pad to sleep on on the ground. Surrounded by Koreans. While I'm still trying to get used to sleeping on hard surfaces, it was interesting to be able to participate in a very Korean activity, something they consider a normal experience that seems very strange to most foreigners. A reminder of where I was and the chance to really be immersed in it.

The next day we traveled by bus to a ski resort, where friends of Sophie let us crash in one of their rooms. We had a great day of playing in the snow, bobsledding, and bowling. Mark and I even got 2.5 hours of free snowboarding lessons, after which I still have only mastered the ability to fall....repeatedly. The day after that, we traveled with the family we had stayed with and went to visit the East Sea. On the shore, we took turns lighting small paper hot air balloons and sending them floating over the water; sending our wishes out to sea. It was a lot of fun and a special moment I'll always remember. That and eating an octopus tentacle....that was still wiggling. Again, very Korean.

For New Year's eve, I decided against my original plan of going to Pusan, as I was tired of being around people and wanted to enjoy thoughtful silence. I spent the day reading and writing at a nearby coffeeshop and then spent the evening walking through a park, enjoying the fresh snowfall we had received the night before. It was a picturesque night, with the moon waxing gibbous over a park covered and padded with snow. I found a nice bench overlooking the park and spent the next hour smoking my pipe and thinking back through the last year.

It was a time of quiet contemplation, where I savored every memory, whether it be bad or good, of all I've experienced this year. Feelings of hurt and loss, confusion and loneliness coupled with feelings of joy and and an excitement for embarking on the unknown. I treasured the memories of friends and family from the last year, from Laguna Niguel to Berkeley to Chicago, St. Louis, Fayetteville, Marshall, Nacogdoches, Lake Charles, Denton, Allen, Austin, Houston, and various small towns in Wyoming. It's been a year of disconnection in some ways, and reconnection in so many other ways. Of losing my way and finding it again. And so many people have played a part in that; people I love who have helped me keep my feet on the ground and remember who I am, and who have encouraged me to run headlong into the future.

It was a good New Year's Eve.

What's more, during the holidays, I got to meet and spend a lot of time with Koreans and my desire to focus my efforts in learning the language were rekindled. I find myself enjoying Korea more and more, and looking more and more to the beginning of September with a growing uncertainty. Even now I've had possible job opportunities mentioned to me.

This weekend I got to meet and hand deliver my resumé to the Dean of Education at a nearby university thanks to a connection through a friend. She had lived in Austin for 7 years and knew exactly where Marshall was. Imagine my surprise! It was a brief meeting, but a reminder of the possibilities before me. Possibilities I will continue to ponder and struggle over in the coming months.

Your love and support is always felt, and always appreciated. I hope you had a wonderful holiday season, and that you were able to enjoy the company of those you love. Most of all, I hope that you were able to remember and enjoy where you were, and participate fully in the present.