I woke up to the street sounds of Suyeong below me. It was a sunny morning in the life in the land of the morning calm. Most coffee shops were closed, but those few international chains weren’t. Each, scattered along the intersections between Gwangan and Haeundae beaches sat one man or woman on their laptop, as they awoke with the yellow sun shining on them through the shiny glass windows as their grandfathers and grandmothers wandered around their dongs, arms held tightly behind them as they sauntered along brazenly with not much to do, just like every other morning before. The Geumyeon mountain lurks behind. The city is designed like a town. They just released the population from the mountains and down to the streets and neon lights. The buildings get higher and higher and the traditions, thoughts, and sense of direction and personal space remain stagnant and strong, just like that old lady who won’t budge as you try to get pass her to board the subway car.
My body was shaking. I had a new job coming and a newly signed lease that I wasn’t pleased about (my second in less than two years). It was the month of March and the city still hadn’t warmed up. And my gas hadn’t been hooked up yet. Hovering over my space heater I changed from pyjamas to some decent daywear. Then to the bathroom. Ah! Socks wet from my earlier failed attempt at a shower. A few 10 Mississippis with no hot water out of my rusted new/old shower head and I was done. I couldn’t do it. I’d rather be dirty. I have standards, and cold isn’t one of them (that goes for men, shower temperature, baths and anything of the sort). Putting my hair in an up-do that I could live with I took a sip of water, still cold and wanting to be somewhere else, anywhere else, but still very present in my chilly little haven I’d leased for myself; the independent, solo-hippie boho that I am. I changed my socks after stepping in more of the water. No bathroom slippers lay at the entrance of my new bathroom. Some customs I just can’t accept. I grabbed my coat and left. I hadn’t had my coffee yet and I had to get to my appointment; somewhere new and someplace I didn’t know. The bakery down the block didn’t serve coffee. The second coffee shop only opened at 11, the standard Korean wake-up time for the small business. The third place greeted me with a big smile and a hot cappuccino. I saw one person hard at work already, before 9 a.m. and laptop already warm. After a few sips and one look at a map I found my way, crossing a few streets and getting lost for a few blocks, I was on time. I considered that a good omen, just like when I made the last train out of Incheon Airport when I arrived back in the Republic, running to the arms of somewhere familiar (yet always so mysterious and withholding) some 16 months prior. Exactly to the date.
I spent my morning under the sun in front of school gates with all new strangers around, trying to promote their school, private institutions, piano and dance schools, taekwondo academies. I got to see handfuls of eight year-olds start their first day of elementary school. Real school. Parents took photos of their well-dressed pride and joys in front of the gates, big smiles and big, nervous eyes. I saw a few familiar little faces along the way. Some had an entourage with them. Both grandparents, even momma and poppa. Poppa came in a little late today at the Samsung or Hyundai offices. Seeing a ton of kids start the first day of the rest of their life all in the span of an hour, right before the Republic's early morning turned to brunch time, kinda puts your petty troubles into the box of bigger perspective.
I feel like I’m giving Korea one last try.
Here goes. Have some soju with me, 대한민국.