The more time I spend here, the more I realize that there is so much that I don’t know about the place, the language, and the people that I had called my home for 7 years. Having spend half of my elementary years and nearly all of my middle school years here, I often feel that I can speak authoritatively about the experience, yet there’s still so much that i didn’t experience while here, and didn’t experience; I don’t think I was ready to, nor willing to do so for fear of losing my American-ness. Things are a little different now; I’m very much established in my Asian-American culture, yet woefully out of touch with the things that make the Korean-American experience unique.
Life here in Seoul is facinating, and I realize that even though I might not understand it all, it’s very much a part of who I am. Despite the sense of “being in a different place” that I feel here, it doesn’t feel at all alienating, or foreign, and the more I spend here, the more I remember that there’s a lot to learn and like. Having travelled a bit over the years, I can finally note a lot of similarities and differences to the cities in Asia, Europe and the U.S. Seoul is definitely a lot more like Beijing than Shanghai, similar to Paris in the sociatal and political spectrum, and vastly different from any American city I’ve been to. You don’t see little kids playing at city parks without adult supervision well past midnight in Seattle; or junior-high girls walking in pairs late into the night across a major city center. It’s such a different kind of city than anything in the U.S. that you just have to see and live it. The size/scale/and proximity of everything forces people to live where they walk and work, and the city, isn’t just a place to go, but it’s very much a part of who they are. I like it here 🙂
Here, I don’t mind the cigarette smoke, the drunk old men on the street, or even the poor beggars petitioning for money as they go by. The old Confuscian heirarchy of society which I had been so strongly against when I was young now suddenly makes sense–and the sense of respect for your elders and your fellow man is so so beautiful to me now. The respect for people working for the public service, janitors and street cleaners even is so strong, that it feels like a society that just works. Despite the income disparities, and corrupt politicians, the overt view is one of a capitalist society balanced with a societal need to support each other. It’s very beautiful in what it can be, and something that I wish I could take back with me to the U.S.
That’s not to say that Seoul is not without it’s flaws; the lack of individualist expression and the fad/mob-mentaltiy to everything puts me off a bit, though I think this is more out of fear of expression than something that’s engrained in people. It’s like the whole popular society revolves around what the “sociatal leaders” say, and these “leaders” tend to be whoever gains the mob first. Trends rise and fall quickly, and despite the stability of the cultural heirarchies, the more transient lifestyles of people tend to change on a whim. The Americas and Europe seem to handle this a little bit more maturely.
Anyway, overall, I would love to spend a year or two out here, understand and contribute my peace to the world here. There’s a lot that I want to learn, and whether I like it or not, it’s a reminder that there’s much more to *being* than me, my hobbies, and my job: there’s also perspective of where you are, how you fit into the people and environment around you, and the world at large–something Aristotle knew very well, and something that’s been missing from my life for quite some time.
My grandmother’s passing and service was a very powerful reminder of the importance of family, parents, and heritage. I had never been to one before, and knew nothing of what it was like outside of movies and books. It was something that I feel unworthy to describe with words, and I won’t even try.