Letter from Japan and Korea #8


“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river, and he is not the same man.” – Heraclitus

Dear Bob,

I’m writing most of this letter from a train in Korea. I came in search of particular stationary to make more zines (to no avail), but was still worth returning for that surreal feeling of being somewhere you thought was a definitive part of your past.

At first it feels like nothing’s changed at all, until you look closer and start having the experiences; maybe the same ones as last time, only it’s you that’s changed. In Korea, I can’t say I noticed much in 6 years other than the influx of fancy coffeeshops, everyone’s glasses changing from thick black rectangles to round wires, and most of the cool cheap toys being replaced with fucking fidget spinners. The contrast with Japan was more noticeable than I thought it would be. Korea’s architecture is more utilitarian and not as bothered with appearances/cleanliness – same goes with the customer service, but not so much with style of the self (the cosmetics and fashion scene is overwhelming).  There is slightly more staring at the foreigners (as well as more foreigners) too, but I’m less self-conscious about it.


As for me, I noted that in the entire 13 months I lived in Korea I learned about 20 words and didn’t even feel that guilty about it. In half the time in Japan I’ve learned 10x that and feel like a waste of space every day. So I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. Maybe I’m not where I want be but what matters is that I’m improving.

Something I was really looking forward to was visiting my old school, but I found it had been replaced by some other academy. Deciding to eat my emotions, I walked along the main street In search of my old favourite restaurant – and who did I recognize coming the other way but my former boss!  “Esther! Estherrrr!” I don’t think I’ve ever been the cause of someone proverbially pooping themselves. It was really sweet. Turns out she was on her way to the relocated/upgraded school where she took me to and then out for lunch, where we exchanged more words and honesty than my entire time as her employee. “You know, the staff used to talk about you a lot. Frankly, I thought you were very immature at first, but you became the best teacher!” I honestly didn’t know what she meant by immature (I do recall the time when we had to pose, arms crossed serious face for our professional teachers headshots and could not for the life of me keep it together) but thought asking would set me back. Very mature! As for my best best teacher comment, what she didn’t realize was that I developed such an attachment to those kids that I would have adopted most of them if I could. So yeah, there was vested interest like I have not had since.


The thing I really missed most about Korea are the public bathhouses at which you can also sleep over, all for about 10$. Japan just has the bathhouse part, and they are equally nice, but the communal sleeping part is really something almost utopic for me. I’d live in one if I could.

I also went back to the largest Christian congregation in the WORLD, Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul. I don’t know why. I just think it’s kind of wild to be witness to such delusion on such a grand scale. We were the only foreigners in the foreigners section this time and we got headsets that translated the sermon, which was about going “face-down” when life or someone is giving you trouble. Surrender to God type-thing, don’t think you can do it yourself. Pacifism? I’m not sure. My most charitable interpretation is to have humility to admit when you’re too weak to take something on, but hey, I came to that myself. Anyway, I tried to get into it. I even tried to join in on the part where everyone speaks in tongues for 20 minutes but it was too freaky and eventually we hopped the pew and went back home to good ‘ol areligious Japan.

Speaking of visiting the past, I got a visit from my past in the form of my old best friend from high school who came for 3 weeks. It was so good to remember what fundamental compatibility felt like. An old shoe. Many adventures were had, including a big road trip to the strangest park ever, The Site of Reversible Destiny.IMG_20170625_173155_736.jpg

As soon as she left I became a single woman again, but one who still bought the tickets, so… this is awkward. So here I am chugging along, feeling lonelier than being alone. Turns out I didn’t try very hard after all. I didn’t want to.

Anyway, I think Korea might be somewhere I come back at different points in my life, not because I feel an attachment, but just to see and feel the changes.

Here’s a question: What is home; belonging? Is it what you know, dependent on time? Where you make it, dependent on choice? Where you don’t want to run away from, dependent on feeling? Or is it a connection you have with the people in the immediate vicinity, dependent on, well, luck (and a little effort)? I really think it’s that one.

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