We arrived in Korea on this day one year ago. Happy anniversary to us!
I was exhausted, emotional and feeling a little bit broken. There was a moment on the late night flight from Melbourne where if it weren’t for the sleeping little boy on my lap, I quite possibly would have run down the aisle and banged on the pilot’s door, begging him to turn the plane back to Melbourne because I’d made a terrible, terrible mistake. I’ll never forget the feeling of panic rising, my heart yammering so fast, feeling constricted in that small economy class seat where I sat unmoving despite the inner churn and a desperate need to scream.
I should add, 4 am logic has never been my cleverest attribute.
But it was the right decision. A year later, I can say with full authority, I am so glad we did it and I didn’t bang on that pilot’s door.
Life in Korea
I don’t write much on this blog about our life in Korea because there’s not that much to tell. I don’t feel like a digital nomad or even an exotic expat. Ho hum. I’ve become so used to our daily life that I don’t see the unusual circumstances anymore – it’s routine and how things are. I still have one foot here and one foot in Australia. This is and will continue to be a temporary home.
Our lives are much slower than they were in Melbourne, our days unfold at their own pace and without an alarm clock. We aren’t bogged down by ‘stuff’ cluttering our lives and the overheads of expensive bills and a mortgage to pay. I don’t cook and rarely clean. Life is much simpler and easier in so many ways. There’s even time for reading books. I want to bring this lifestyle back to Australia, but I know it won’t be possible with The Monsta starting school (bye bye flexible mornings) and a sharp increase in the cost of living (bye bye $11 unlimited high-speed internet and $8 hearty meals).
After reflecting on the year that was, here are some things I’ve learned about life in Korea.
1. Things happen fast in Korea
Our lives in Korea unfolded rapidly. Within five days of arriving we had settled The Monsta into his new kindy, moved into our own apartment that we furnished the day we moved in. Yes, you can buy furniture and have someone deliver and assemble it for you that same day and not have to wait eight weeks for a couch to be assembled in China and shipped to Australia. Incredible, no? We had registered a business and sorted out my visa. High-speed internet was connected. We had everything we needed. In five days. I think it will take months to get all that sorted when we move back to Melbourne.
When things break down, the repairman is here within a few hours.
You order something online today, they deliver it tomorrow. Supermarkets deliver within an hour or two.
We are going to miss the superfast taek-bae delivery system when we leave.
But not everything about the pace is good.
Bally-bally means ‘hurry up’ and ‘fast’ in Korean and bally-bally syndrome is the state of feeling like everything needs to happen in a great hurry at the expense of quality. Corners are cut. Bathroom tile installation is shoddy. Buildings collapse. Cars speed through red lights. People die. That sort of thing.
But thankfully, I do not feel part of that system. I am an outlander going about my slow business and doing my best to keep the bally-bally at bay.
2. There is always a new dish to try
I have spent more than three and a half years in Korea since 2001 and yet I am constantly amazed to find new dishes to try. Okay, so sometimes there are fish lungs in my soup and other little treasures you ordinarily find growing beside the road, but I’m pleased to say I’m not yet bored of Korean cuisine. Even today I ate a new leafy green called bireum and it was 1000% better than spinach. It’s not planted and harvested like a crop. It grows wild and is probably one of those little treasures growing beside the road, but it was delish.
We recently stumbled across a new lunch haunt. It’s a baek-ban restaurant, which is like Korean homestyle cooking with a main dish served with rice, a bowl of soup and about eight or more side dishes. Every day the menu changes. The food is fresh and delicious and we love the kind ajummas who run the restaurant.
We see many of the same regulars each day at the baek-ban restaurant, yet no one greets each other. Except for the guys downstairs from us in the telco store – we see them all the time close to home so that’s a bit different. It’s all a bit weird because Koreans are the loveliest, friendliest of people when you get to know them, yet strangers here are forever strangers until you officially meet. When we walk or hike and pass people, there is no acknowledgement of the other party. In Australia, it’s ridiculous how many g’days and hellos you throw out to strangers each day and get back. I miss that. TJ enjoys startling strangers with greetings. Rebel.
3. There are benefits of bilingualism I didn’t even know
Oh, how delightful, a bilingual child. Right? Hmmm. Well, he’s not quite there yet with his fluency but his Korean is coming along so well.
And guess what? The Monsta can now complain in TWO languages. Hooray!
One of the reasons we moved to Korea was to induct The Monsta into the Korean language and culture.
We had Chuseok last October (Korean Thanksgiving) and we recently celebrated the lunar new year. That involves eating rice cake soup in beef broth (sooo good), wearing hanbok (if you’re under 12) and bowing for money (sadly, only if you’re under 12).
4. I can’t do all the things
There were so many things wanted to do and achieve last year – exchanging dollars for time, building a portfolio of niche websites, building my wallpaper eCommerce business, writing a novel, writing a business book, doing courses, creating courses.
And I tried to do all the things and guess what? I spread myself way too thin and did not much at all. When I realised how many hours per week I needed to create all the things I want to in 2018, I felt like I was about to go running up that aisle to bang on the pilot’s door all over again. Puff puff, pant pant, deep breath in.
But this year, I have to take advantage of this time afforded us in Korea to get creative and get creating. Consume less, create more. Or else, what would be the point of uprooting our lives?
I’ve simplified and either iced or killed most of my darlings. And it feels wonderful. I’m already making great progress with my novel and working on it feels right and like it’s what I should be focused on.
5. But I can walk and talk
Walking has become such an ingrained part of my day that it feels weird when I don’t do it. It’s a big part of our lives. We’ve been walking up to two hours every weekday since we arrived, starting at just 30 minutes and building to a solid two hours.
We’ve gone through the awful yellow dust season in spring where the air is so toxic we need to wear masks. It puts a dampener on those beautiful spring blossoms. We’ve walked through monsoonal rains and blizzards and of course, the big blue perfect sky days of autumn. There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.
But that large chunk of time spent on the trails each day has started to become unproductive, especially during periods like now where I am busy with work that trades my time for dollars.
I mostly listen to podcasts while out walking, which I would not otherwise do (check out Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History – my latest hot poddie recommendation) but I took a vow this year create, not consume. This blog post was mostly written while out walking. I’ve discovered that I can walk and talk. And if I can walk and talk, I can walk and create. And so long as I put on a hearty faux American accent, this speech to text app I use on my phone works quite well.
6. Cars are only good for storage
Village-style life in Korea means everything you need is at your doorstep. From supermarkets to bicycle stores, The Monsta’s kindy to chemists and dentists, from bakeries and optometrists to restaurants galore, everything is within walking distance. I could throw rocks at three optometrists from my apartment window and a fourth is going into the recently-vacated shop downstairs. (Did I mention all the optometrists? They are prolific!)
But for everything else further away, the public transport system in Korea is cheap, fast (bally-bally!) and frequent.
We used our car last weekend for the first time since October 19 for something other than a place to store our empty soju bottles (hey! you get money back when you return them to the store!)
There have been many other lessons and I’m sure there will be many more before the end of our last year in Korea, but I think the most important one of all is to never go banging on the pilot’s door.