Non-ordinary reality

Today is my birthday. This means I’ve been in Korea for exactly two years. I wrote a blog post a year ago marking my first anniversary here, so why not keep the tradition alive.

It was interesting re-reading that entry. Many of those feelings still apply (others now seem kind of silly), but the experience is now different. To start with, time no longer feels dilated. Days, weeks, and months pass as they should. My brain has fully acclimated to the experience of being here. The strange is still strange, but the new is not so new.

I also don’t feel so displaced. Yes, I miss my family, but that’s something that will never change no matter how long I’m here. The feeling now is that this is my world. It’s not a dream. It just is.

I’m intentionally trying to avoid typing the word “normal.” But that’s what it’s become. Normal is a funny word though. Trying to define that in this context is like trying to define the word “home.” Life is normal, but it’s a different kind of normal. (I’m now thinking of that Carlos Castaneda term “non-ordinary reality,” and humming the melody to Peter Gabriel’s “Lead A Normal Life.”) My general pattern is the same as it was 12 months ago. What’s different this year is an increasing awareness of things as they are. I don’t compare experiences here to life in San Francisco nearly as much anymore. Instead, I see them as an interesting part of living here. It may not seem like it, but there’s a big difference.

My first year here felt like extended travel. When I went back to the U.S. the first time, that was like going back home; then coming back to Korea after was like returning to this transient world. But two years in, travel is now something outside of Korea. Since I’ve been here, I’ve gone to the U.S. twice each summer, and in the winter I took trips first to Central Europe, then to Southeast Asia. I remember vividly what it was like when I came back from Europe. There was no “home” on either end of it. It felt like shifting from one travel experience to another. I didn’t know what the hell home was. These days I know fully where home is, and that’s in Busan. As non-ordinary as it may be, it is my reality.

Yes, I still get rushes of excitement and my mind continues to be boggled by the odd contradictions that make up Korean culture. But I’m not so starry-eyed about it. I’m not so quick to pull out my camera; my monthly personal journal entries have thinned out. These days, what I lose in stimulation and awe, I gain in a kind of relaxed appreciation and enjoyment of being here. I like this normal. In fact, I really like this normal. I not only love my job, but I get better and better at it with each passing semester. Teaching a subject I’m passionate about to a group of 20-year-old Korean students has gone from strange and wondering if I’m breaking through, to knowing when I am and when I’m not, and being able to adapt if I’m not. I’m more relaxed and spontaneous in class because I know better how to relate to them and what to expect from them.

The foreigner nightlife scene still feels like being in college, but like in my seventh year, fully aware that I should have graduated a long time ago. There’s a bunch of new white hipsters here lately and they’re getting younger and younger (which means I’m getting older). I go out less often these days because I don’t have as much tolerance for the oversexed mating rituals that go on. I’ve got my group of friends I enjoy spending time with. We have dinner, have a few drinks, play darts, play music. I’m learning more of the language, I travel around the country every so often, I meet people, I date, I work, I sit in cafes and read, I wander around the city with my iPod, I go to the beach, I chat with colleagues and students, I spend far too much time on the goddamned internet… I live a normal life.

What really excites me lately is the future. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be here. My job ends in August. The Visiting Professor gig is done. After that there are about three or four likely scenarios, all but one of which involve me staying in Korea. We’ll have to see what pans out. I’m fine with not knowing yet. In fact I like it this way because it means the story keeps going. I’ve settled into this narrative and it’s a good yarn.

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4 Responses to “Non-ordinary reality”

  1. Happy birthday!! I like your new theme here :)

    Hey so this is a great post. I’m slowly starting to feel at home here in Bangkok too after almost 4 months but I’m sure I’ll look back and it will be very different at the 1 year point or beyond. Going back to CA next month for the Coachella concert, so I’m interested to see what that feels like (not so excited to go back to the States themselves, but I miss family/friends too).

  2. Wow. What a difference a year makes (or 2 years). It’s great that you are so happy there.

  3. Happy B-day, bruddah. This is my last year here for sure. Lookin’ like China is my next stop. Gotta find a paper to pick me up and then I’m gone. And while I too have mixed emotions about the life here, it was a decent ride.

  4. […] third anniversary of my move to Korea. This is my third year of writing about this date. I did it last year and the year before. I just finished reading those entries and I remember that person very clearly. […]

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