I know I live a privileged life. I'm debt free working a job that makes me a little under 30k a year but still managing to reach my monthly savings goals while traveling Asia, exploring Korea, and going out with my friends. I work a job that affords me loads of free time to study Korean, sure, but to also write and plan for my future, my goals. I've fallen back in love with my hobbies and interests while exploring new opportunities for growth and lifelong education. The beauty of my circumstance is not lost on me, but what I've experienced in Korea over the past 10 months has been so much more than just myself and my goals (though that's all pretty great).
The things I love about Korea--small as they may seem--hold a certain kind of beauty. In the words of Perks of Being A Wallflower, they're my infinite moments.
Living in Korea: What I Love
4. The Nights of Unexpected Friendships
Nights seem endless. This could be my 24 year old brain still hamming up boozy bars to be an endless source of thrill. (Though in all honesty I'm not a big fan of getting hammered. Dancing? Yes. Sharing some drinks and playing games? Yes. Going home around 5am? No.)
But nights--especially in Korea--have taken on a special place in my heart. Maybe it's the 24-hour cafes where my friends and I order Honeybread at 3am, or the CU worker all the way in Daegu who's taken to asking about me when I don't roll up with my friend looking for the spiciest instant ramen they've got. Maybe it's stumbling into parades without planning to at 11pm, or Tasty Thursday weekday joy as we explore a new restaurant. Maybe it's the way Gwangalli bridge looks when it's all lit up star-like and fire-bright in the night, or my landlady's bakery open with a warm light at 10pm.
Or maybe it's going to our favorite pajeon place and eventually having the waiters join us for a drink or three, making jokes as we rely on one another's limited knowledge of the other's language to grow closer. I'm from a city that never sleeps, and I love that here in Busan I have even more to explore, more people to meet, when the sun sets.
3. Side-alleys and stories of resilience...
"They talked about despair and they dreamed of hope, when Jangwon sat down with people and had bitter soju with a couple of raw garlic cloves on the side. 'I can never give up. Even if I have to risk my life. I will make a new start here.' ...The more desperate the situation was, however, the more determined he was to prevail. The sun never failed to rise again even in the city of refugees...Before long, he was able to find a small, tile-roofed house in Choryang-dong with the help of Choi Yoo-dae. The house had a military base behind it, and was surrounded by small, thatched-roofed houses. The house provided him with a comfortable shelter, and it was in this house that he opened his business again."
Since arriving in Korea, I've gotten a new reputation: A Wanderer.
My friends here joke around about grabbing me before I break from the group. "Stop her before she goes down some other murder-alley" they say, referring to my beloved side-alleys that hold all the adventures.
The twisting alleys in Seomyeon, one of Busan's shopping and nightlife districts, offer countless shops and restaurants for endless sources of amusement. But it's actually a quieter alley in a quieter neighborhood that's caught my heart.
My school's neighborhood isn't that well-off despite a rapid construction that's been pushing the port and train station. Instead, this area of Busan had once housed refugees from the Korean War. You can still see the bare-bones beginnings dotting way-up in the hillside across from Busan Station. Refugees in the 50s had managed with houses made from wooden boards and tents. Now, though, the slate houses all narrowly fit together like overcrowding Lego blocks.
Going through Choryang's old alleys is nothing quite like Gamcheon, I expect, since my neighborhood's not as touristy and hasn't been remodeled for the artistry and bright colors that splash every side-wall in the cultural village. Even Choryang's Ibagu Story Way feels like an afterthought to most Busan visitors. (Though it includes an interesting post box titled "Yearning" you can use to send your loved ones a post-card that will arrive a year later.)
Still... getting lost in Choryang meant that I saw a side of Korea I feel like a lot of other EPIK teachers never get to see. Yes, there's the DMZ trip we can all make but I have no interest in dressing up as a soldier and getting a souvenir sticker.
Yes, there's a part of me that relates on a small level to the divided Koreas. I grew up looking at Famagusta ghost town in divided Cyprus, after all. So maybe that's it, really. In Choryang's alleys, I see traces of Korea's history.
2. The Unity
1. A Welcoming Community
The community I mean here is the sense of community I'm afforded to in simple ways. Korea and her people are friendly--of course--but that word fails to capture what I mean sometimes.
Listen. I'm Greek. Our hospitality is beyond importance so I value that relationship between host and guest. I won't lie and say the hospitality shown to me helps me feel like I "belong" here (there's always a sense of being an outsider). What I mean is that I know I'm not from here, and yet the people in my life here--my students, coworkers, landlady, friends, and climbing community--go out of their way to help me feel comfortable.
Around Easter, I'd been struck with a poignant sense of homesickness. The cold was melting at my fingertips for spring's arrival and summer's queue. I wanted to see my beaches, my home, my family. I wanted to break red eggs at a midnight meal after church and swipe another piece of my grandmother's patatopita. This ache urged me out of my house, wearing the nicest dress I'd brought with me to Korea. Without thought, I'd swiped onto a bus and found myself at Busan's only Orthodox Church. I expected most parishoners to be Russian, given Busan's demographics. But instead I found Greek merchants from the port, my own students, and a Greek speaking Korean presbytera who got me a box of tissues and stuffed extra sweets into my hand at the end of the midnight service.
And the everyday things I do sorta love you can find me gushing about...
Alright: Here are the less gushy, everyday bulletpoints
Korea's nickname, Land of the Morning Calm, fits well. The country has a constant busy-ness that's filled with flashing lights, making me feel like I'm stuck in Time's Square, and every district seems packed with unending happenings, millions of people buzzing about.
Then, when I wonder if it'll ever slow down, Korea's mornings feel like a secret. They build themselves different.
Bakeries aren't even open. I'll float through the just-waking subway to meet my friends for an adventure to Gimhae's rail-bikes, for a bus to Damyang Bamboo Forests, or Green-Tea Fields, for some early errands in Seomyeon before the rush of the crowd, for an herbal tea in a cafe that thankfully opens at 8 and has space aplenty so I can study with the early sun. My mornings in Korea are a peace like no other, one that stitches itself seamlessly into my hectic 24 year old life.
Mornings. I sit on my roof gazing at the mountain behind my apartment, and the sun is mine. Even for just a few stolen hours.
From guides to rants.