So, that's it

Unbelievably and probably with little anticipation, this is my last post from Korea.

How did it come to this? Really. Where did this last year go? Time flies when you're in a foreign country, keeping up with Asian life, looking for a job in Canada, looking for a home in Canada, buying a car, packing everything you own in four bags, planning a trip around the world with a twoyearold, planning a trip to Florida three days after you get home and potty training. It all really does just pass you by.

And now here we are. 11:00 pm on Tuesday, eight hours before we get in a taxi to the bus station, on our way to Busan, before we fly to Beijing. I wish the gypsy lifestyle was as cool and carefree as they say.

I had no intention of my final post from here being rushed. I always thought it'd be this long, well thought out reflection, with wonderful metaphors and summaries of important lessons learned over the last year. Instead it's a scattered blurb I'm writing in between packing and cleaning. And our last day has been a total mess. I suppose there'll be time for reflection later.

So, one final story of confusion and incompetency, something that goes hand-in-hand with being a resident of this grey, grey place. The plan all along, as dictated by Carmen's school, has been for her to go to the school this afternoon and pay our final utility bills and pick up the damage deposit we put down last March. It was inconvenient, but whatever. As we were packing this afternoon Carmen's co-teacher, Su, shows up with three men. One was the gas man, the other was the school accountant and the third was just some random short, bald guy who seemed to not really have a job but yelled a lot. Su says they're going to cut the power, gas and heat. "When?" Carmen asks. "Right now," she says. 2:00 in the afternoon. We look at her, stunned, and say that's impossible. "Oh, but we talked about, remember?" she says. Hmm, no, we don't remember that, because it never bloody happened. How the hell are we supposed to live with no electricity, heat or ability to make food? The amazing part is it took us quite a while to make them realize how completely, utterly ridiculous that is. Then they tell us we owe two months worth of utilities. The problem is we only owed one, because I paid last month's last week. The gas and electrical companies won't have record of this until Thursday which means they don't know for sure if we've paid and, of course, they don't believe we have. So Su tells us we need to pay for both months and if it turns out we have paid, they'd wire us the money to Canada next week. Again, the amazing part is it took us a while to make them realize how ridiculous and illogical that is. Then, before they leave (an hour later) they tell us we have to pay for today's use of the utilities. I'm in shock as they discuss whether it should be ten or fifteen dollars. I grab the calculator and divide last months bills by 30 and show them they're asking for four dollars. FOUR DOLLARS. They realize how incredibly stupid that is and sheepishly take a handful of change from me. To top it all off, Carmen has to take our house keys to the school before we leave in the morning, but they want the door to be locked. So, Cate and I have to stand outside with our stuff and wait for her to come back. Think that'll happen? Me neither.

The upside is we're going to Beijing tomorrow. Once the stressful stuff is over with, I'll write a bit more about how this chapter of our lives has finished up. If possible, I'd like to add photos and an update from Beijing, but chances are I won't have time in between sleeping and being a tourist.

It's been fun.



I took this picture of the famous Namdaemun Gate on Wednesday night:

This is what it looks like now:

It happened Sunday night. I found out about it just after I posted. I can't explain what an utter tragedy this is for Korean people. They are devastated. This is arguably the most important piece of history in Korea.

You can read more here, here and here.



Two weeks left

It's been a busy week. We we spent three days in Seoul, two of them with Corey. It was a blast, and a bit surreal knowing it'd be our last time there. Then we KTXed down to Daegu for a high-octane four days of showing him around the city, including Dongwhasa Temple, which was still decorated for the big ocassion.

Seoul was a bit strange. Almost the entire city was shut down for the Chinese New Year. There were relatively few people out, traffic was light and even Namdaemun was mostly closed. Nevertheless, it was a good time. On Tuesday, before Corey flew in, I took a trip to Gangnam, the wealthy area of the city where the World Trade Centre and COEX are located. The view from the top of the WTC was fantastic (from what I could tell through the smog).

And almost as cool from the outside:

Apparently fiveoclock isn't a good time to be heading downtown across the Han on Subway Line 2:


This month ...

We’re leaving Korea in one month. That’s four weeks. Four more Saturdays mornings with Andy Donnelly. And four more bags of Mandarin oranges from the women’s coat-wearing guy in Yongsan Market.

Since we’re nearly at the end, I’ve been thinking back a lot to the beginning; remembering what it felt like to arrive here and all the things we had to deal with. When I think about our first week in Korea, it seems like we stuck it out for a year rather than enjoyed it. But that’s not really the case. I’m not sure how we were ever able to create a life for ourselves here – and not just a mundane life, but a pretty enjoyable one – but we did. It’s difficult to describe the experience of culture shock, especially when it happens as a prelude to an entire year of being where you are. I remember reading a blog post from Daejeon James in which he describes his experience with this. It’s powerful, and while it may not be exactly the same as we felt, it shows how desperate and panicked you can become when you’re suddenly totally out of place and so far from home at the same time.

We got through it and, looking back now, it didn’t take much. In the grand scheme of things, a week of difficulties is smalltime compared to 365 days cultural coolness. I’ve realized that I’ve written relatively little on this blog, which seems lame considering what an oddity we are in this strange place, but after a while everything became normal and now I can barely decipher the foreign from the familiar. I think about the pace of life in Lethbridge and I wonder how much I’ve changed. I elbow old ladies on the subway. I push away people’s hands when they try to touch Cate. I rarely say please or thank you when being served. I never say sorry. And I haven’t left a tip for eleven months. Basically, I’ve become Korean. And when you put it in those terms, I’m the opposite of a Canadian. Carmen hasn’t become as cold as I have (probably because she’s the kindest person ever) but her patience is beginning to wear thin. So going back might be a bit difficult. But at least this time we’ll have the advantage of familiarity and, of course, the people we know and love.

It’s going to be a weird month. As much as we want to go home and get on with the rest of our lives, we know we’ll probably never come back here. This is all Cate knows. She doesn’t remember life before Korea. Our tiny, tiny apartment is her only home. Her dingy bedroom with nothing but a laundry closet, our wardrobe and a playpen is her comfort. All the nice things we have for her in storage back home – the girly decorations, the pretty rug, the pictures – they all mean nothing. I used to feel bad that we brought her here and gave her a strange life, but now I see that she’s happy with the way things are and I feel bad leaving. But, kids are resilient an’ all that, right?

At least she’ll be well-traveled. We finalized our immediate plans for post-Korea. We’re leaving Daegu on Wednesday, Feb. 27 and flying to Beijing. We’ll spend three nights there before flying to Calgary. Then, three days after we arrive, we’re flying to Orlando to meet my family for a week-long holiday in Key West. But before any of this happens, Carmen’s brother, Corey, is coming to visit us here in Daegu for a week. We’re picking him up in Seoul on Tuesday and then it’s party time over the Chinese New Year.