We are Pilgrims

A friend from Oman calls on Facebook messenger to chat with Dave. He lives in Spain now, back in his flat in his homeland, after growing tired of the college we worked at and the Middle East in general. I love the fact that technology allows for face-to-face time. So immediate, and in some ways, authentic. We get to see each other as we are right now; me without makeup, he winding down his day, getting ready for a typical European late dinner (10pm!). Sharing the ordinary is simply extraordinary.

We get a tour of his flat, full of mementos of the lands he has traveled. One wall, decorated with masks from across Asia, serves as his background while we Skype. A continual reminder of lands and cultures he has experienced. I am making an effort these days to place more artifacts of my times across the globe – to turn my home into a better reflection of who I am and where I’ve been. Before I left, my home was pretty depersonalized; possibly because I shared it with someone who was more private. Possibly because, in an attempt to create a true shared space that represented both of us, the compromise resulted in a reflection of neither and no one. But now, four continents worth of memories are in my living room (for some reason, I didn’t grab anything from Australia); states across the US are represented as well. Textiles, artwork, and pottery: even a twenty-year-old pack of cigarettes and two bowling pins are all displayed to recall the past, enjoy today, and anticipate future journeys.

Our friend from Spain reflects on what’s next for him. “After a year, it will be time to move on. Things just get old after a while. I like different. We are pilgrims, where it is always time to try something new. To see new things. One year is a good time to rest, then something else. Life is interesting.”

I write this while sipping tea out of a mug depicting Snoopy exploring Canada; I bought it in Korea. While I know that sitting in the present is something that benefits me, I also know that I don’t want to become so wrapped up in what’s in front of me that I lose future goals. Goals of continued exploration, learning, and experiencing different.

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My Korean mug

Everything Old is New Again

The old airport carpet was still there to welcome me despite its busy social calendar. I am back in Oregon. Reconnecting with friends, listening to sports radio, drinking good wine, enjoying rain. Relishing the fact that I am wearing a skirt that exposes me knees. So far, the culture shock has been minimal, but I haven’t done too much. Brunch with friends, time with family, sleep, and a happy hour. Oh, and I went to a crab feast for a high school fund raiser – a true sign I am back in the US.

It hasn’t hit me yet that I am back here for a while at least. It still feels a bit like a visit. Probably because I haven’t settled into my living situation yet. It will be a while before I am in a place I can call home.

I will still be writing about here and there, changes inside and out. There were so many things I experienced but didn’t share; journeys in nine different countries gave me the chance to reflect and learn so much. I’m looking forward to seeing which memories will come back to me as I build my life back in my hometown. Which ones will shape me the most.

For now, I am filling my calendar with friend time. Friends old and new. We will share stories in favorite haunts and I will find the new places that have sprung up since I’ve been gone. And of course there will be karaoke.

Stay tuned! I have no idea what will be next.

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I took this before clearing customs and was scolded by security. But she did understand my excitement and let me keep the photo. The carpet will be gone from here next month.

 

hOman, Chapter Two

We moved apartments – from a pretty nice flat into a non-descript concrete building that houses many teachers from the college. People thought we were mad to do it, but I think it was the right decision. Dave wanted to move sooner, but I had to admit I didn’t want to give up this:

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I had to say goodbye to my “yoga studio”

 

The main reasons we moved have to do with connection. First off, we now have internet in our home! This has made life so much easier and more pleasant. I can chat with friends, catch up on emails, and surf the web all from the sofa instead of having to cram in my online time at the school in between teaching and lesson planning. Then, in the old place, I would come home and have little to do except read and watch Al Jazeera. Unwinding is nice, don’t get me wrong, but being able to spread out my online time has been wonderful. For example, I am posting this blog entry from home as opposed to school — so much nicer.

Second, we are near “stuff.” We can walk to food stores and restaurants. Within the first week, I’ve already wandered over to the fruit and veg store (yes, they have these specialty stores apart from the hypermarkets where you can get all sorts of stuff – think mini Targets for those); it’s great not having to get into the car just because I am short on onions. The one closest to us isn’t the best, but within 10 minutes I can get to a bunch of places nearby.

Most importantly, however, is we are near other people. We have already had our friend over to shoot the breeze, been invited to the new teacher’s flat for ice cream floats, and been surprised by a gift of homemade Caribbean lentil soup, courtesy of another teacher who simply made too much. Last night, a few of us went up to the roof to have a couple of drinks and admire the view.

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I did use telephoto here, but this is so cool!

 

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A more authentic view from the other side of the roof.

So, yes, the place is not attractive (hence, no pictures of the interior). But it feels more like home. It’s smaller/cozier, accessible, and comes complete with a great neighborhood within its walls. Besides, how can you not love a place that has this crazy dress shop on the ground floor?

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I sort of want to try one of these on.

 

I don’t regret not moving in here sooner, but I am happy to spend the second half of our year more connected to people both near and far.

Routine Paradox

One month in Cheonan and I am starting to get into a routine I enjoy. After spending a wonderful weekend going to the movies, sightseeing in Seoul, and just generally enjoying the start of spring, I found myself looking forward to the week. Missing the soup that I make every day for brunch. Anticipating my next meditation session. Writing, working, and thinking both in the tiny apartment as well as at the local coffee house where I can sit for a couple of hours nursing one drink and no one seems to mind.

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Coffee shop accessories. My Korean notepad where I jot down ideas and my friend’s book on teen relationships I was studying. Bringing back my inner middle schooler here!

From my experiences in Toronto and New Zealand, I’ve found it does take me this long to develop a way of living that makes me feel comfortable with myself and in my surroundings. I think I am figuring out what works for me here and it feels good.

Normally, I would think the life I am living now would be a horrible match for me – or at the very least I would have thought it undesirable.  I spend most of my day alone, work only part time, and don’t have a lot of people I can converse with other than my friends online – and even then, given the time difference, most of them are asleep while Dave is at work. I, a person who scores off the charts on extroversion with every personality quiz I take, am alone for several hours each day. Instead of dreading this seeming mismatch of life and personality I find I am truly happy. Is it because I am doing mundane things in a foreign setting? Is it because I am growing used to living at a slower pace? Although what I am doing now seems to be a drastic change compared to what I was doing less than a year ago (busy job, full social life, lots of activities), a part of me knew that slowing down was a good idea before all of my travels began.

I remember returning to the office one day last year after an offsite meeting and seeing a couple of coworkers waiting for the elevator. I was stressed that day, but I don’t think any more so than usual. I looked over at the security guard whose job pretty much consists of saying hello to people as they walk in. Maybe he tells visitors what floor to go to in order to find a particular person or organization, but as far as security goes, it’s not really needed at the building where I work. My coworkers and I got on the elevator and as the doors closed I expressed my desire for the seemingly calm, undemanding job of the security guard. One of my colleagues laughed – hard. Like a real laugh, not a polite conversational chuckle. “Are you serious? You would last two hours doing that.”

The other agreed, “I can’t believe you just said that. There is no way you would put up with that sort of job. It is so not you.”

I remember feeling surprised and mildly hurt by their strong reactions. Did these people know me better than I knew myself? I felt defensive and the need to prove I could handle a predictable low-demanding job.

“I would love to just say hi to people day in and day out. During the slow times I could read or work on things that interest me. I think it would be nice to be able to sit back and reflect sometimes.”

My coworkers didn’t buy it and maintained their position on my inability to slow down. I don’t believe they were trying to insult me, but it felt like it. I let it go with them, but their reactions and mine stayed with me for a long time (and still do have an effect apparently given that I am writing about them).

Fast forward to what’s going on with me now. I basically do the same things every day, but I do purposefully mix it up a bit. Going to the coffee shop can be a bit of a challenge given the language barrier if I order something other than my usual. Just today I ordered a sweet potato (goguma) latte, but not without the help of another customer who offered the barista a translation. A trip to the grocery store (never mind the open air market) is no small feat if I try different locations and am not sure where various items are, or even what something is. Each time I buy food, I bring home something I haven’t had before along with my usual ingredients – this last time I picked up some Korean cilantro (gosu) and added it to my soup. Delicious. When I take walks, I go in different directions so I can explore this small city to its fullest and have run across wonderful sights that I would have otherwise missed if I stuck to the same path.

I have a routine I love, but maybe because it’s not really routine.

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Note: My experimenting has its limits. I did not purchase these.

Living Space, Revisited

My first blog post contained the pictures, but I didn’t figure out how to add the text (I think I need to do that first, THEN add pics). Pictured above is Dave’s and my apartment in Cheonan, South Korea. It totals about 325 square feet, counting the veranda area (not pictured) where the laundry hangs to dry. 

It’s tiny for sure, but in my first week here I’ve grown to love it. It reminds me of my studio at Harvard — mammoth by comparison — where I lived for a year. I never really got the hang of Boston, but walking up the three flights of steps to what was my own studio space was always a relief for me. I was in my nest: home. I feel the same way now.

Except now there are two of us in a space built for one. I’ve been traveling for over seven months already (I have a lot of catching up to do on posts), and I’ve learned to appreciate how little I really need — want, even. I begin to resent my super large suitcase which contained what I was convinced were wardrobe “essentials” when I first left Oregon. I don’t wear about 1/3 of the clothes I brought and I could reduce my fashion choices even further if I wanted to. I won’t even talk about how many beauty products came with me.

The idea of living in my 3BR, 2BA place again overwhelms me. So much space for one or two. 

Check back with me in a month or two to see how I feel about such minimalist living.