Year Three

I watched an excellent TED lecture on experience and memory an hour or so ago. He said that a perceptible “moment” lasts about three seconds. We have around 600,000,000 of these in an average lifetime. These are the incidents in our lives when we are not in the past or in the future but rather experience the now of being alive. Then they’re gone. But as much as we might state otherwise, they are not what we treasure as human beings. What we treasure and preserve are the memories of those moments. We store them up in order to reflect on them later. We endeavor toward collecting interesting ones in the future so that we may later enjoy these reflections on the past. The point is not to experience, but to utilize experience toward memory. Because memory is the story of our lives.

The timing of this TED viewing is appropriate to me personally because of the date today. It’s March 12, my birthday. But more significant to this thought process, it marks the 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. I can recall the moments that led me to write what I did.

So what about Year 3? In one way, it’s an extension of the feelings and impressions of Year 2. The “reality bubble” is still a weird thing. But this year is different in that it seemed to go by in a flash, much faster than the previous two. Maybe it’s age or maybe it’s my changing perception of the (memory of) the experience. This year (March to March) I made a stronger effort toward improving my Korean language ability (still frustratingly inept at it), continued to take fantastic weekend trips to the Korean countryside, and continued to play music. I spent what seems like an enormous amount of time applying to graduate schools. I traveled to the States in the summer, Japan in the fall, and Thailand and Cambodia in the winter. I completed an academic paper that had been nagging at me for a while, and started another one.

Perhaps the most significant thing that happened in Year 3 is who I met. It’s a story I love to tell, so I’ll tell it here. It was on my birthday, March 12, one year ago today. I was at a bar with some friends who took me out to celebrate. A beautiful girl walked in with a couple of friends. I watched her move across the room and then I did something I normally never do. I got up and walked over to talk to her. I didn’t think about it. I just did it. Her English was fantastic and we hit it off. We sat down and talked. I asked her what she was doing out tonight. She said it was her birthday (!) and her two friends took her out to celebrate. Quite a coincidence.

I got her number and later invited her out to coffee. Conversation was effortless. She was quirky and funny, and she spoke her mind without reservation. Within three weeks we were a couple.

That’s not the end of the story though. I got a real lesson in cultural differences that arise from putting a lot of work into a serious relationship with a Korean girl that I really cared about. Sometimes signals get crossed, there are misunderstandings, language breaks down, there are unmet expectations. And frankly, the older you get, the more you become entrenched in a certain mode of behavior. You’re less flexible, less willing to integrate the idiosyncrasies of another person’s lifestyle into your own. We broke up three months later.

We met again at a Christmas day party at a mutual friend’s apartment. We immediately fell right back into our familiar comfort zone. And now we’re trying again. I don’t want to jinx anything, but this time around things are different. We’re aware of the mistakes we made.

So, March 12 is our birthday, and the one-year anniversary of the day we met. I have a big weekend planned. It has nothing to do with bars, hanging out with friends, or playing music. We’re getting out of the familiar neighborhood to be lazy hermits, just the two of us.

I mention this because that experience (the evolving memory) has come to define Year 3 in Korea in many ways. This time I saw Korea through a relationship with someone I really cared about. I’ve had relationships with others since I’ve been here. But this was different. It also changes the way I see myself here. I’m not just a solo experiential sponge. It integrates me more into this world. The idea of staying or going is still my own, but it’s not so simple a matter anymore. And if this relationship sticks, that changes things even further.

Another curious thing has happened this year: I’ve become a bit more homesick for San Francisco, especially very recently, the last month or two. I mean homesick in the true sense. It’s not that I want to go there; it’s that I get pangs to live there again. I’ve been thinking about Sunday afternoons in Golden Gate Park, drinking a pint of Racer 5 at Park Chow, and having an apartment in the Sunset District to return home to. I’ve been thinking about wide open Sierra landscapes, desert silences, driving a car with the window down while Neil Young streams out of the speakers.

But not now. I’m too happy here. The lifestyle is better. I love my job. The strange is still strange. I enjoy the closeness of friendships I have and the conversations that come out of that. People here, foreigners and Koreans alike, love to spend time talking, rather than simply saying what is necessary before getting back to whatever they were doing.

So for now, I have my memories of California. It’s part of my story, living inside my head right now. But the story here continues in a forward progression. Toward what, I don’t know.

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2 Responses to “Year Three”

  1. Life sounds good.

  2. Hey brother the first thing I thought of When I read this was my early years in Korea, but the second strange thing I thought of was how much I could relate to this. I feel like I measure my time in Korea by my birthdays as well. This is about when I usually get devastatingly homesick, but I usually don’t share this with anyone. It’s not that I feel alone or wanna feel that way, I feel like I have a lot of great friends here including you! I think really what it is, is I hang on to my previous experiences the closer it gets to either my birthday or Christmas. Two major points in my life that back home are giant celebrations. Its not that we don’t celebrate them as well here it’s just different. As you so well paraphrased from TED talks A perceptible moment lasts three seconds, but our memories last forever. Of course we are all making memories here as well. Some of which I also feel like I’m hanging on to sometimes. I like how you mention at the end you are living in the moment.
    I of course also know how you feel about your relationship and I would never want to try to draw parallels with how we are in similar relationships, but I really can relate to having cultural differences and misunderstandings with my girlfriend like yourself and understand some of what you are going through. I really did enjoy this story and the night a year ago was most definitely a special moment… That night was not coincidence it was most definitely fate, but maybe I’m just a romantic…

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