I quit my job at the end of May.
This may be news for some of you; for others, it’s already old news. But, I figured no matter what, it was certainly a topic worthy of my celebratory 300th post. At 300 posts, I retired my personal blog which I kept from age 17-19. While I may not be retiring this blog, I feel it an apt number at which to state changes in direction as major as this.
Except for those of you closest to me, I have not explained the real reasons behind my resignation. They are at once many and one very simple one. Let’s start with the simplest first though.
I’m unhappy. Korea makes me unhappy in a deeply fundamental way. It makes me so unhappy that at times I want to tear off my skin and run, muscles and tendons flapping free, Westwards.
But then the question comes – what makes me unhappy? And indeed that’s where the many answers come in, because it’s not an easy thing to define.
Perhaps the most easily explainable of them all is a reason I’m reluctant to talk about because it’s deeply personal. That said, I’ll have my shot at it and be brave.
In January, I was diagnosed with depression. Well, I was officially diagnosed, but it’s something I’ve had for a long time and not done anything about for fear of social judgment. As I’ve spoken about in my post on xenophobia in Korea, last summer was, for me, a train-wreck that continued to pile up into January when I finally cracked and my boyfriend Ricky supported me in my decision to see a doctor.
As is the way with Korea, once I mentioned it to the psychiatrist I went to see, I was instantly medicated. When I asked for other, perhaps more natural “options”(therapy?), he laughed.
These meds helped in the sense that I got up off the psychological forest floor on which I’d been curled in fetal position to start trying to find my way out of the woods. But they also put me through some serious terrors, fleeing blindly through trees, tripping over roots and seeing eyes in all the dark corners. Before stabilizing (or at least getting to where I’m at now), it was, in short, a nightmare.
It also happened to be around the same time that I began teaching the new semester at school. For the first many weeks, you could find me at my desk in tears, usually surrounded by soggy tissues and my co-teacher, HM, while I sobbed about how much I hated living here. Considering I’m not one to cry, I mostly attribute these emotional outspills to an ineffective concoction of tablets which wasn’t jiving with my system.
It was, however, enough to break me. In one of my more hysterical bouts, HM told me in an attempt at consolation that I could always quit. Truth be told, I had been thinking about resigning long before she brought it up, but one of the things holding me back was the opinion of her and the school. Her, because I cared about our relationship both as coworkers and friends, and the school because I’m a stubborn donkey about following things through and couldn’t contemplate breaking contract unless something devastating happened.
It seemed though that she saw what I had not: the devastating had happened. I was miserable. The straw that broke the camel’s back had been several thousand straws before and I was currently suffocating. It had got to the point that I was contemplating suicide, the only option I felt to be my way out. I never acted on this, but I did feel that if something didn’t change soon, I would be prone to self harm.
Ricky and I had been trying to work out when to leave anyway: his contract ended in August, mine in February the next year. Would he stay on and quit mid contract? Or would he bum around for the interim six months? When I ultimately told him what I was going to do, it seemed right, like that had been our plan all along. Neither of us were happy here anyway, so the less time spent here the better.
I do want to emphasize the fact though that it wasn’t because I had depression that I was miserable here. I’ve always had depression. Korea, however, exacerbated it as eating red meats, greasy food, and not exercising exacerbates heart disease.
What is it about Korea that does this to me though?
Many, many things. From the old men spitting on the sidewalks, to the work culture expectations, to the lack of variety of fruit in the markets. In fact, if it’s anything, I’d say it’s all the little things combined. The very fabric which weaves Korean society together.
Even the sound of Korean being spoken has begun to grate my eardrums to zest. Our boxy apartments make me feel like a caged animal and I pace, endlessly, until I need to go for a walk. Once outside, the rank odour of the shallow sewer systems makes me want to vomit. If you escape that, there’s the atrocious driving and taxis speeding so much they nearly flatten you.
Korean woman fails driving test in less than ten seconds.
Other peeves are the fact that everything here tastes sweet. You can. not. get. salt. I love salt. Salty chips, salted fries, nicely seasoned bread. Here, the bread is cake. I even had a (friendly) argument with a Korean about how she believes that bread should be sweet.
Not only that, but variety in food doesn’t exist. Breakfast, lunch, dinner: same food. Literally. The food does not change. It’s rice, soup, and kimchi every meal. The taste variation between dishes is on a scale that includes only spicy, red paste, and fermented levels.
Glutinous, white rice is served with everything. They believe it is a diet food. I’ve gained so much weight because everything contains it.
Then there’s those people. The people who stare at you because you’re a foreigner. The people who whisper in Korean about you when they think you can’t understand. The people who laugh at you and then catcall English at you as if you’re a walking sideshow for their entertainment. The people who photograph you or video you when you’re going about your business, and the people who ask for you to pose with their children while they snap a shot of you together. The people who speak to you only to ask you to “be their English friend” so they can practice speaking, harassing you for your contact information when you’ve never seen them before in your life.
I’ve gotten really good at flipping these people off and telling them where to go.
I’d never done either of those things before in my life, but Korea, oh Korea, you bring out the ugly side in me.
And that’s the thing that really gets me about living here: I hate the place so dreadfully, it’s turning me into something I’m not. An embittered, angry, cloistered woman who lives steeping in hatred. It’s made me become a bad person in the way that putting fire under water unavoidably makes it steam.
I’ve come to resent anything and everything about this country, even, to an extent, the people who have a good time here. This is directed mostly at those things I saw or watched before coming to Korea, like Eat Your Kimchi.
I can’t bear to watch it now because in its humourous depiction of Korea, it’s also a huge Korea defender. It makes the gaping flaws and faults seem like trivial and endearing personality traits. They’re not.
In many ways, Korea is a conservative and ignorant country – such as I outlined in my post on xenophobia and in my post on the gay pride fiasco. The fact that no one seems aware of this on the global spectrum is frustrating. North Korea, I suppose, tends to steal the spotlight, but its southern twin is identical in its insular perspective towards the world. And it’s something I wish the world would notice.
It’s also something that I naturally am inclined to fight. My parents – mother especially – raised me to forever question the authorities, which has led to me being mildly anarchic. Korea, however, is not a place to fight. This leads me to exhaustion, the crushing reality that you, as an individual, are powerless. Any frustrations I try to voice are futile, which leads me to anger.
I’ve spent so much time being angry here. It got to a point this early spring that it stopped me from even going outside. I still suffer from agoraphobia now, but back then I was having full blown panic attacks triggered by my anger towards the very environs through which I walked. Don’t ask me how that worked; it just did.
I suppose another frustrating point about living here is that although I am capable of seeing everything from an outsider’s eye, I am also mute by nature of my lack of fluency in Korean. I see the problems, but I cannot communicate them.
This of course is my fault, and not Korea’s. I knew there would be a language barrier; it was part of the package deal I signed up for (even a part that I was excited about). It has, however, come to a point that I hate living in a place in which I am little better than a newborn trying to communicate through crude body language and a few mispronounced grunts. It’s stifling, like having your face wound up in cling wrap.
Ultimately, I feel that Korea is not the place for me, nor will it ever be. When I leave, it will be with the full intention of never coming back. Even then, it’ll be too soon.
Because the bottom line is that I hate Korea. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. Did I mention that I hate it? No? Okay well I fucking hate it, just so you’re clear, and I’m tired of pretending to be optimistic about it.
But anyway, I’ve indulged myself in this catharsis of a post enough.
So what am I going to do, after all this?
In two months, I’m going back to Montreal, Canada, and I’m bringing Ricky with me.
He’s applied for a working holiday visa, and while they’re being very slow in going about giving them out, we’ll spend about four months living with friends and relatives on our savings and the salary of a job I hope to get while waiting there. Once that’s worked out, we’ll move to Toronto where we’ll probably stay for a couple of years. I’ll focus on my writing and art, and Ricky will try to get some experience in the fashion industry.
I can’t express how very excited I am to go back. I never thought I’d be happy to go home – I scorned the thought for so long. Now, however, there is no sweeter prospect than smelling the fresh air of Canadiana, biting into the succulent inspired foods of the French province, and wrapping my arms around my family.
It’s making my time left here very difficult, however. Instead of sadness, I’m filled with frustration. I can barely get through a day without bouts of claustrophobia and panic attacks. The day of departure can’t arrive too soon; I’m clinging by my fingertips.
The weird thing though is that I know, despite all this anticipatory forward moving is that I’m going to look back on my time here with nostalgia. The details that I hate will blur away, and I’ll think about scenes of walking the streets and eating at my few favourite haunts with dreamy edges. I’ll miss the food that I’ve come to be so bored of. It is, after all, tasty – just monotonous.
Probably most of all, I’ll miss the communal feel of the small group of foreigners who, at this time, are all transient and passing through. None of us will be in the same place together again, and while I’m not necessarily friends with everyone, we all do know each other, like the residents of a small country town.
Hopefully I’ll come around in the next couple of months to at least appreciate the end of my days here while I’m actually here. Hopefully. Mostly I’m looking forward to the pleasures of home and being able to introduce Ricky to all the things back home that I miss like the Brome County Fair, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and several indelible restaurants that leave my mouth watering at the thought.
For now, I shall leave off on that note. Do not fear, faithful followers, about the fate of this blog, however: it will continue as it was not made for the sole purpose of Korea, but for all my adventures once stepping down from the door. Especially once we end up in Toronto, that’ll be a whole new world to explore and write about, discovering corners of my own country which I previously knew nothing about.
In the meantime, I hope you all have a happy week.
Until next time.