At the moment all I have is a backpack and a map. My finger’s on Malta but my feet are in Korea. The last few days in Korea tick by on a clock I can’t take my eyes off.
I’m sitting in my friend Nick’s apartment on the 20th floor of a Gangnam highrise called ‘Lotte Castle’ (lol) with an icy Asahi and three bars of iptime. Temperature inversions and yellow dust from China settle into an opaque occlusion of smog over the north side of Seoul. The tree lungs of Bukhansan must be working overtime. One year ago I arrived like a newborn child into an unknown cultural universe and tomorrow we leave from where the world feels like a slowly brewing warzone.
It’s hard to picture tomorrow – no more kimchi, no more Gangnam Style. No more soju hangovers or vitamin C shower filters, no more Dokdo disputes or textbook propaganda. No more well-meaning xenophobes, hallyu paraphernalia in the claw machines, flaming metrosexuality. No more culturally imposed vanity, paper cuts, ethnic nationalism and puppy mills. No more smoky pool halls or clubbing in Hongdae. No more Hite, Kloud, Cass or Max. No Paris Baguette, trips to Busan, Thursday Party. Anyeonghee-gyesayo to the trio of ajeossi alcoholics sippin soju on the CU patio in Gaeksa-ri at 11am. No more yellow dust, surgical masks, bloated six-syllable hellos or K pop. No more am I seriously being heckled by someone who hasn’t hit puberty. No more waygook ailments, girlfriends that can’t speak English, stoopin’ and waygookin. No need for outer space, Korea fulfills every fantasy of traveling to distant planets and navigating something like an alien landscape.
A lot like the memory of a dilapidated relationship, this experience will be lazered into my brain for the rest of my life. It was as crazy fun as I am ready to leave (very). Maybe I’ll write a better sentence some other time.
With the glacial pace of social progress in Korea, I could go back in 50 years and it’d all be the same. Hopelessly anomalous. Singularly strange. Like an English teacher never set foot in the country, let alone its government funneled quadrillions of won over multiple decades into the purpose.
I’ve sharpened a number of useless skills over the last 375 days. Pool, pantomiming, writing and darts, to name a few. I know too much about politics in the Asian Pacific. I’ve played all the Korean drinking games, been to so many bars. We sung practically every song in the noraebang catalog.
I hear they’re turning Itaewon into condos. Probably a looming lack of Turkish food as well. Soon there’ll be nothing left, in terms of an aesthetically tolerable cityscape.
To say goodbye is to die a little, according to Raymond Chandler, but if it wasn’t sad leaving it wouldn’t be an experience worth having I suppose. Maybe I’ll see the all people I met in a hof on the other side of life.
I’ve tied up the loose ends. The convenience store qt said she’d miss me. Same efforts were made to clean my apartment as the last teacher (fuck all). For my replacement I left a labored note on the classroom desktop and half a bottle of gin in the freezer. She’s gonna need it.
I got this.