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