Oh, Canada...

Tue Mar 2, 2004

It’s been a while. Obviously this entry marks a turning point of sorts, notably because I am no longer the Hermit in the Hermit Kingdom. This may not seem significant in itself, but the truth is, the hermit needed to write about his life in a foreign country, whereas I do not. I’m back in Canada and lost in limbo once more, trying to figure out how this life of mine should go. There’s nothing even remotely interesting or novel about being unemployed in Vancouver, a situation I was in before I left a year ago, except this time I have some money in my pocket of course. So I figure…I’m no longer a teacher, I’m no longer living in Asia, I’m no longer a lot of things, but I am still a writer. So there you have it. You just can’t keep a daunted writer down. So, whether you like it or not, here I go again!

I’d like to wrap up those last few weeks in Korea if I could, but to be honest I just couldn’t be bothered to write about it. It was such a blur anyway. A few days before I left I had Dean showing up at Incheon airport without a cent in his pocket and sick as a dog. He’d brought Vietnamese Dong over which is impossible to exchange in Korea (ironically, Dong is the Korean word for excrement). So anyway, I fed him, gave him some money to get around and phone Australia, and gave him a place to stay. I was more than happy to help him out but what irked me a little was that he sort of expected me to do it…he had a “So, what are you going to buy me for dinner, mate?” attitude. Not to mention I then had a naked (he slept naked on my floor), gamey-smelling Australian puking his guts out at four in the morning in my shoebox apartment when I had work the next day. After all that I forgot to give him his degree and he had to come back the next day to pick it up. Luckily he had secured accommodations with a Korean girl in the city, how he managed that is beyond me, his resourcefulness is to be admired.

After weeks of practicing Snow White, I was pretty sick of it, as were the children. I even started being recklessly blasé, which led me to a falling out with one of the teachers which I quickly apologized for. No need to leave on bad terms and it was most definitely my fault. On graduation day, quite a few of the kids were absent and the rest were suffering in various degrees from hoarse throats and other stress-induced ailments. Their performance of Snow White was unsurprisingly (to my mind) half-hearted at best, although the general feeling that pervaded after the whole ceremony was not one of disappointment, but of relief. We then had a sombre lunch at Arnold’s Dad’s restaurant and then I said my goodbyes and jumped on a plane. It was quite sad leaving my kids and some of them wrote me the sweetest letters and gave me amazing gifts. I’m sure they will remain crystallized in my mind, un-aging, unchanging, even though I know they’ll grow up and forget about me in twenty years.

The return to the “West” began with the transitional plane-ride, the sterile airports, the interrogations, stripping down to your socks and being herded through various scanners, hiding nail clippers away deep down in one’s bags. I don’t get that. They confiscate your nail clippers and anything remotely pointy then in mid-flight they hand out hundreds of metal-pronged forks to everybody on the plane and tell you to “enjoy your meal”… What’s up with that!!!

Back in Canada, I found myself eagerly eavesdropping on people’s conversations (now that they were comprehensible), and starting in surprise every time a stranger greeted me. There’s more space, and less people, less pollution and I’m enjoying my mom’s home-cooked meals that don’t involve kimchi or anything that moves or wriggles unexpectedly. These are just banal Western conceits however; I could never be so obviously ethnocentric as to say one situation is better than another. It’s also more boring here, you can’t buy stuff on every corner, it takes ages to get anywhere and people are spoilt and individualistic. And nobody thinks you’re particularly special or interesting of course. I’m sure in time I’ll come to miss many more things about Korea, but for now it’s good to be back. Good to just be an average Joe. The one thing I can’t kick is the bowing, I can’t help bowing to everybody I come across; it must look a bit weird.

The next trip will be to Mexico and Costa Rica in April for a few weeks. But more about that later!



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