"How was Vietnam?"
"So great. So beautiful. It felt like I'd been there in a past life."
I've never been to Vietnam. But I know a lot of people who have. That was this past winter, in one of the places I lived in Korea when I was talking to a friend.
I've been west, east, north, south of it. I like to take special countries one by one. Each have their time. Each love will come when they come, each country will get stamped on your passport whether you're ready or not. But hopefully there's some space in between them so you can appreciate the time you had.
Did I really feel like it was time to move on when I whipped the sweat off my forehead, forever forming from the sticky Bangkok air. After my third (or was it fourth?) return to that giant city in South East Asia it was beginning to feel like home. I didn't have a home, and I'd been in a rush to find a nice apartment, a place to hang posters and hats for as long as I could remember. Years maybe. Years of never fully exhaling, never fully opening and unpacking a suitcase. Did I feel tired of wandering alone when I wandered through that park, noticing that I was starting to really recognize the uniqueness of south east asian apartment complexes, and the parks with little ponds and palm trees that pop up right in the middle of the big city? East Asia wasn't like that, from what I could remember. The south though, it's something about the south that seems less foreign. There's no hermits or middle kingdoms. There's no waiting for summer after a long, cold winter. It can get cold and sometimes, it can get long. But if you're lucky, in the East you can find yourself by the beach or on a mountain in the middle of January. When there's no cloud cover and there's no concrete jungle over you. There's hot sun and blue sky. If you're lucky, you catch that. That's why I returned.
The South though, the South is just one big kingdom. Sometimes the right kind, and other times the wrong kind of foreigners run through it. They make it better and they make it worse. The people like them and they are hated. After only a week or two on the other side of the world and I was already talking about issues I had little idea about. Already caring about making a change. Language politics, health care, and everything franglais slowly erased themselves as I cared about elephants, hill tribes and stray dogs. Then it was air pollution and government reforms in Beijing. I seemed to care too much about issues that weren't even mine.
Then I went to Korea, and I got to work. Korea has four seasons, like Canada. I've spent about 80% of my ESL teaching life on this little peninsula of Korea.
Teaching in other countries though, like Thailand, it was all hokey pokeys and sweet iced coffees. Dangerous (sorry mom and dad) motorbike rides and busy subways. I worked, but it didn't feel like I was.
I had my own ideas-like I do. And others had their words of advice to me-like they always do. I was headed for one place without much of a plan. Maybe the answer was right in front of me. Maybe I didn't have to move so much. Maybe I'll get it right with the next move.
For some, Bangkok is only a place to visit for a day or two. I'd spent weeks. I returned. I had a regular place to stay. I was starting to love it. Did I really have to go?
I had planned to head back to my hostel to turn-in early before my flight the next day; back to the east, back to Korea. Instead I just kept wandering, like I do. I was in a neighbourhood I'd ignored on my other trips to Bangkok and I was enjoying this new territory, and bright Saturday night lights. I stumbled upon some sort of candlelight vigil, Buddhist and Bangkok style, happening in the middle of a park. I bent down and someone gave me one of the many cushions lying around for my knees. Afterwards I picked up a flyer about a monthly meditation session happening at that same spot the following morning. After more wandering, I got back to the hostel/my home, talked to some folks, brushed my teeth and set my alarm.
That was my last night in that beautiful country.
That story began two years ago, but who cares? I have one week left, but who's counting? That morning I never woke up at the crack of dawn, to experience more beauty. I slept until the last minute and rushed to catch the Skytrain for my flight. I spent every morning since then (with the exception of a few frisbee game weekends) waking up at the last minute, before rushing to work. I made plans, I had hopes and they mostly fell through. They were filling my head on that trip to the airport, as I prepared to simultaneously say goodbye to a country that helped me more than I'd hoped and get myself ready for the year ahead of life in Busan, South Korea. A city I've moved to two and a half times. Once in 2010, for a brief summer in 2012 (hence the half) and once in 2014. But who's counting?
I learned, I was humbled, and I got to teach some of the greatest little kids and adults along the way. (I know, we all say that). I just wish the story involved more random temples and more early mornings. Maybe next time.
But I have a few things planned for July. I hope I don't sleep in for them. I'll need some motivation, but I think I'll do it.
And maybe my friend was right...maybe we were all just there in our past lives. Maybe I'll figure it out if I ever return. For now there's other places to go.