The following post was written with pencil in my old attendance book while en route to my first layover in Bejing, on Saturday, December 11th. Though it is now being posted from a computer in Colorado, I would like to think of this as my last official post written in Asia.
This past week will exist in my memory as a surreal blur full of last looks and difficult goodbyes. Even now, as I sit on an airplane carrying me away from my life as Peter Teacher and back to being Peter Unemployed, I am having a very hard time processing that my year in Korea is officially over.
I would like to say that I lived out this last week in a selfless state of mind, appreciating fully everything that I have grown to love during my year in Korea. This, unfortunately, would be a lie. Instead, I approached this last week with a somewhat sadistic motive. I wanted tears and gifts. Fortunately, Korea is pretty great at goodbyes.
One such individual I reduced to tears was an older Korean gentlemen whose name I can't quite recall. I do remember, however, that he somewhat resembled an Asian version of Steve Buschemi, so we can call him Steve. We met Steve on one of our last visits to the local bar Crazy Duck. I walked in, and from the bright red face and unusually large smile, I could quickly see that stranger Steve had long since reached that special level of Korean drunk that foreigners should avoid (think Min Chul of August's post, The Korean Who Loved Me). His semi permanent location at the bar made avoiding any contact impossible, so after a few hugs from stranger Steve, we returned to our seats and continued with our evening. Ryan, a good Korean friend, went up to the bar to get a drink, and returned with an excitement level bordering on 3rd grade birthday party glee. In brief conversations, Ryan discovered that Steve held a high up position in one of Korea's very successful companies. This is how Steve, who we had been trying so hard to avoid, suddenly became the recipient of an invitation to our table so we could explain just how job worthy Ryan is. Steve's English was not amazing, but he was very happy to be sitting at a table with foreigners, and we spent a good long while holding hands and attempting to communicate, during which time I was able to explain that I was leaving Korea the following Saturday. When the announcement was finally made that we really should be going, Steve's face began to crinkle and redden. Could it be? My departure finally had made someone cry? Yes! A flood of tears quickly began to flow from Steve's very blood shot eyes. Awkward? Absolutely. Mission Accomplished? One could see it that way.
Another great goodbye occurred when I went to close out my bank account, and the teller became visibly upset when I informed her that the reason for the closure was my impending departure. When I finally left the bank, she informed all of the employees that this would be my last visit to Hana Bank, and everyone, customers included, quickly stood up to wish me goodbye and good luck. As I walked away I imagined the response a Korean immigrant to America would get at a bank when they informed their teller that they would be leaving the country the following day. The response I imagined went something like this, "Um, ok." I really felt appreciated.
After making my rounds to tell the guy at the cell phone store, the old woman at the coffee shop and the employees at my local Kimbop place, I felt like my week's mission had been accomplished. Koreans are such kind people and truly expressed genuine sadness that they would no longer be seeing me in their places of business. After spending a year in such a friendly culture, I am worried that I will have a hard time readjusting to the cold anonymity of consumer life in the states.
Perhaps the best goodbye occurred on our final visit to Crazy Duck. I frequented this bar in the first 6 months of my time in Korea, but as we all began to gravitate towards the shut-in mentality that comes with fully adjusting to a lifestyle, our visits became less frequent. Still, when the staff of Crazy Duck found out that both Jenny and I would be leaving soon, they insisted that we come back for one last night at the Duck. We did as promised, and were the proud recipients of countless free drinks, a Crazy Duck t-shirt, a cake, and many, many pictures.* This last week was really perfect, and in some ways made leaving today even more difficult than it would have been otherwise.
In closing, I would like to raise a metaphorical glass of soju to the people who have made this year one of the best I have ever had.
To my friends, both fellow foreigners and Koreans, I am truly lucky to have you all in my life and in my Facebook photo albums. You are all beautiful people, inside and out, and this year would not have been the same without you. I never would have thought it possible to build such strong relationships in such a short time, and I look forward to seeing you all again in a different chapter of life.
To my students (who will hopefully never come across this tribute and see how their essays have provided content for several blog posts), you have never failed to put a smile on my face, and I have loved every minute of being Peter Teacher. Well, maybe not every minute.
To the hot, dirty elevators with a tendency to hold their passengers captive,
to the mosquitoes, to the wasted businessmen for whom every park bench also serves as a place to vomit and then take a rest, to bad personal boundary issues and to the hot hot summer and freezing cold winter, I at times resented you, but now I couldn't be more thankful for the memories and stories I have to share from my time in Korea.
To the bustling streets of Seoul, to the impossibly bright lights and delicious food, to the kind and trusting culture of Korea, to the norebangs and photo sticker booths, to the parks, beaches and mountains, to the lazy Suwon Sundays, to the employees of countless restaurants, bars, bangs and barbershops who were quick to befriend and celebrate their new foreign clientele, I thank you. Leaving Korea was harder than I ever could have imagined, and I am so thankful to have had a chance to live the amazing lifestyle I left just a few hours ago. I will never forget you.
Finally, to my friends and family at home, thank you for giving me something to look forward to about my return to the U.S. I really can't wait to see you all and catch up on the events of the past year. Thank you all for being such great support when I needed it, and your cards and care packages made my life abroad even better than it would have been otherwise.
Well, my loyal blog readers (again... mom) I thank you for reading my thoughts and rants during this past year. I will be posting on this blog only one more time, so if you have any interest of the culture shock experienced during life back in the states, be sure to check back soon. I am not sure what is in store for me in the near future, but there will be another blog about whatever it may be soon.
Until Next Time,
While yes, this is an attempt at being humorous after a year of referring to myself in the third person as "Peter Teacher," it is unfortunately true. I have experience in marketing, design, advertising, publishing, writing and... well... teaching. If you have any advice or know of any available positions, I would appreciate any help I can get! (PeterWest.firstname.lastname@example.org) Thank you in advance, and thanks again for reading.