Trade-offs

November 29, 2011

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It’s only been six weeks since I took that flight from Incheon, and already my world is established. I have a job (well, series of jobs, anyway), a girlfriend, a place to stay, food in the fridge, money in the bank. I’d be lying if I said things are exactly the way I wanted them to be, but things aren’t that bad. Not that they started out that way…

Let’s go back to the beginning. A ten-hour flight between Korea and San Francisco. With the inflight entertainment system broken. I’ve said it before, but travel just seems impossibly easy at times; it’s still so inconceivable to me that I could leave what had become my home for fourteen months and fly across the world in less than a day, to a place where residents know nothing about that world or the people in it. Americans just see strange writing where I see hangul. I hear Japanese, Chinese, and Korean where some just hear gibberish. My world and my experience have grown. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but, in a way, it makes me feel as though I stand out (figuratively, not literally) more in the US than I ever did in Korea (literally, not figuratively); I’ve been to Asia. I’ve seen life on a Buddhist monastery. I’ve traveled places friends couldn’t find even if they Googled their eyes out.

Stateside, people just been getting on with their lives: making money, building bonds, getting distracted by media and consumerism. It’s pretty much as I imagined it to be during my idle time in Uljin, but it’s quite another thing to experience it firsthand. Stores are so massive over here, even compared to the largest E-Mart or Lotte Department Store. The selection is incredible, almost wasteful. I remember seeing a few bags of Pepperidge Farm cookies in my local Family Mart and feeling lucky they had been stocked that day. Now, I can just walk into any Walgreens and find twenty different kinds, spanning half an aisle.

Don’t get me wrong, I know I was pretty much connected to this consumerism even in Korea. The Internet provided access to everything I ever wanted or could conceivably want at the touch of a button. But there’s no substitute for seeing product in person: touching it, smelling it, being reminded of something by it, and finding out it’s on sale. “I didn’t know I wanted these two minutes ago, but now I desperately do!”

Trade-offs. That’s what it all comes down to. In Korea, I have financial security, healthcare, regular hours… but I also will eternally be the outsider, cut off from my American identity, removed from family. On the other hand, I have time to explore my passions. I can honestly say I felt more whole in Korea, as I had time to run, go to the gym, write (case in point; how long has it been since I updated this blog?), read, and keep up to date on the news. For some reason, those things just seem diluted over here, as if I left my interest in the land of the morning calm and the only way to regain it is to go back.

In the US, I have flexible hours, easy access to social circles, more delicious food than I care to eat, and even (recently) a companion. But it seems like everything over here is just at a faster pace than that I want to move. I’m constantly scouring the Internet looking for better opportunities. Every time I see an ad it’s like it takes up a significant amount of memory to compartmentalize and store for later; it’s possible the same thing would have happened if I had understood the subtleties of Korean advertising, but I doubt it. I just seem to constantly be moving and searching while standing still. Ironic, as I left a life of traveling around the world to feel frantic in one place.

I don’t know how things will work out. Right now, I’m living in a safe and clean but ultimately temporary place south of the city. I’m dating someone in Noe Valley. I’m working promotions with Nintendo. I’m still running like crazy. But I feel incomplete.

Anyone else returned to find themselves in the same bind?

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