Bucket List Item #18 – Visit North Korea

This item is now null and void.

I pretty much decided after writing my Korean bucket list out that I could never support a government like the one up North by giving them money to wander around up there on a strictly guided tour for a few days.

Living in the Republic has only cemented my decision. No-one here really talks about the war but there are consistent reminders that the two areas of land are still not at peace.

If you’d ever need any more convincing, you’ve only got to look at the footage that comes through from DPRK media.

Remember this from nearly 4 years ago?

How the citizens of the North wept in hysterics “over the death of King Jong-il”? (Translation: For fear of execution if seen to be less than grief-stricken)

How could anyone contribute to the reign of terror that engulfs that country?

My Friend Asked Me Why I Stopped Writing. So I Told Her …

In short, I don’t feel like writing.

Writing about travel is boring me. Unless I find myself plonked in the middle of the Amazon or living under the sea in King Triton’s kingdom, the majority of my travel experiences aren’t unique or mind-blowing to readers.

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You can find just the same information on everyone else’s travel blog; There is no off-the-beaten path. My unique, personal experience with whatever I visit or wander through is exactly that – personal - and who really cares about hearing that?

I’m also pretty settled into life as an expat here too. I know how to get around, my apartment feels like home, and I’m confident when it comes to attempting to communicate with someone in Korean. (Even though my Korean’s still practically non-existent.) I’m not making as many mistakes with, y’know, trying to live here.

But I still have a lot of issues with this country that I’ve never seen written about on expat blogs before.

Whether I’m noticing them more because I’m living in quite a poor area right at the bottom of the country, away from the modernisation of Seoul, or if other bloggers just choose to remain ignorant and in their own expat bubble, I don’t know.

But I don’t want to turn this blog into a bitchfest. Especially about a place that pays me well, takes care of me, and has helped me meet some pretty cool people. So I don’t write about it.

Korea has given me something I’ve never experienced in my life until now: Financial stability.

At the age of 27, I can pay all my bills, pay my debt off, buy more than enough food to live on, have occasional nights out, make a trip across the country, and still have some money left in my back pocket at the end of each month.

This has never happened to me before.

Every job I’ve ever had has always brought about some kind of financial worry. I’ve either had to claim additional government benefits, move in with my parents, or had debt collectors knocking on my door.

Suddenly everything is stable and I can’t complain about anything. I’m grateful for every opportunity I’m given here and suddenly I see how privileged my life has become. I don’t worry as much about my own life which gives me the freedom to look out even more and see what else is going on.

In the last few months: Ferguson; Ukraine; Israel; Palestine; ISIS; Ebola; The suicide of the funnyman of our childhoods. And that’s just what the media chose to bring attention to.

I don’t know how to write about myself in such an indulgent way when the world is still falling apart. I live amongst Korea’s homophobia, racism, and sexism – Issues that are grand and vicious and rampant in this country that most expats overlook because of soju and noraebang and stationary that’s just too cute.

I want to write about it. But I don’t want to blog about it.

I considered shutting the blog down once and for all. I’m sick of writing just for me. I have a million thoughts to get down but I’m just sick of the sound of my own voice.

Maybe I’m not a writer anymore after all.

 

Unexpected Homesickness

Whenever a friend from home asks when I’ll be back – even for a visit – , I don’t have the heart to tell them that it won’t be for a while. Maybe a year. Maybe two. Maybe longer.

I don’t have any immediate plans to make the UK my permanent home and, as my parents are coming to visit in March, I’ve pushed back a potential visit to my homeland even further.

But something strange happened this evening. For the first time since moving to Korea, I felt homesick.

I’ve felt this way about Mexico City before but not about the UK.

That was until I watched the music video above. The song’s called ÜBerlin and it’s by an American band, but the video itself really grabbed my attention. Whether it was the streets of London and its graffiti, Johnson’s trackie bottoms or consciously unselfconscious dancing, the beautiful way it’s shot or the poignance of the lyrics, something struck me tonight and actually made me kind of miss home.

Huh … Well, that’s interesting …

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So, by now you all probably know about my love for Mexico City, that gigantic, smoggy mess of a place that I called home for over a year.

Anyone who asks me about what travelling and living in Mexico is like always ends up getting an earful as I can’t recommend the place enough. In fact, when I talk about being back ‘home’, it isn’t the UK that I mean. It’s being back with my friends and everything I love in D.F.

And I always imagined that it was my passion for Latin American culture that made my move to Eastern Asia so difficult. I’ve said on more than one occasion that there’s something missing here; I just don’t feel any deep-rooted connection to Korea the way a lot of expats do.

However, earlier this week I was traipsing through my archives, looking at old posts I’d written about the places I’ve visited over the last 2 and a half years, when I came across my post for San Francisco and saw something very interesting. This was how I’d written about D.F.  after 4 months of living there:

Every piece of research I did for Mexico all seemed to center on this big, smoggy city…

The more I read about (it), the more I was determined to settle there and teach English for a few years. I’ve always loved big cities and I knew I’d love D.F. I’d find inspiration and excitement from the craziness of one of the biggest cities in the world and get the chance to live amongst a different culture and speak a different language at the same time.

But I was wrong.

I arrived in late December 2011 but never felt that spark, that inspiration, that joy, excitement or happiness I was expecting. Instead, I was faced with smog, chest infections, another robbery, stern faces and dangerous traffic. The city was cold, grey and had some of the ugliest parts of the Western world.

There were some parts I loved – the whole of Condesa, Frida Kahlo’s house, the beautiful Ángel de la Independencia. But I didn’t feel any connection. I expected my heart to feel something towards this city; Something that would tell me I was in the right place, doing the right thing. But nothing ever came.

It was actually a disappointment.

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Well, shit.

Doesn’t that sound familiar?

I do remember second guessing my move to D.F. after having some of the best times of my life further south. But I had no idea how disconnected I’d felt.

I mean, I always felt that connection to LatAm culture but, wow, did I really feel that way about Mexico City? I can’t even begin to imagine that now.

Of course, we also have to bear in mind one important detail that I did keep hidden at the time:

I wrote this after returning from California, where I’d undergone an 8-day roadtrip with a guy who ignored me for most of it (yup, if you want to talk about awkwardness, try sitting in a car with a dude who’s in his man cave while driving 7 hours from Santa Cruz to Los Angeles) and then proceeded to break up with me while I was staying with his whole family over Easter weekend.

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By the time I got back to D.F., I was devastated and heartbroken and desperately wanted to be back in San Francisco – a place full of smiley, positive people that were close to him. Ugh.

eyerollBut I’m not going to put the whole blame on that. Like I said, I remember that moving to that city was an adjustment. And the funny thing is that now all my memories of D.F. and the places I visited in Mexico are full of positivity. I loved the people, the language, the culture, the food, the cities, the towns, the villages, the music, everything.

And this gives me hope that one day I might end up feeling the same way about Korea.

You never know.

Scenes from the Gwangju National Museum

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAYou all know by now that I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to visiting museums.

I actually got to wander around this one for a bit when I was killing time one weekend, waiting to meet up with my co-teacher for lunch.

It was my first experience of how friendly the city people of Gwangju can be in comparison to how wary the locals from my neighbourhood are.

The security guards both struck up conversations with me when I first came through the entrance and, later outside, while I was waiting for my ride, I got into a conversation with a man who was curious about where I was from and what brought me to these parts of the world.

People’s curiosity tends to increase when you get to the larger cities and it’s definitely a constant reminder of how kind strangers can be.

I didn’t get to wander around the whole museum but what I did see definitely sparked my interest in Korean history (pre-20th century) – Something I genuinely know very little about.

As always, the photos didn’t come out terrific thanks to the ‘no flash’ rule but I did manage to salvage a few:

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This Is Where I Live Now

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAI realised that after living here for nearly 3.5 months, I’ve still not posted anything really focusing on where I live.

With the ups and downs of everything, I can only imagine the kind of image I’ve put in your minds but it’s not all that bad.

Naju is a small city/large town with a pretty conservative and traditional backdrop. Most of the people around my neighbourhood seem to work in agriculture or commute into the bigger cities every morning. There’s quite a small-town mindset so, even though there’s quite a prominent group of foreigners here, we’re still seen as quite alien.

Most of the people I get to interact with are quite friendly but, believe me, the people of Naju won’t go out of their way to help or start a conversation unless you’re the one who initiates it. I’ve heard that this comes down to the language barrier; Most Koreans assume you can’t speak their language. And that wouldn’t be an unfair assumption. I’ve met a grand total of two foreigners who could carry a full conversation with a local – And one of them had Korean parents. Naju’s a far cry from the big cities of Seoul or Busan where everyone you fall over has some sort of English capability. In Naju, you can’t be lazy – You have to learn Korean. No-one’s going to hold your hand for you and whisper, ”There, there, little waygookin.’ You moved here so you have to do the work.

The area of Naju I live in is Yeongsanpo, a really rural area with the Yeongsan River running through it. See those buildings to the right of the picture at the top of this post? That’s where I live.

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It’s not such a bad area if you enjoy the small town atmosphere and smell of skate fish in the air (what the area’s famous for).

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