Homeward Bound – Planting Carrots

Now that the day I’ve waited 2 years for is here, I don’t want to leave.

I don’t really know how to put it more bluntly than that.

Do I want to be in Canada? Yes. Do I want to see all of my friends and family back home and do all of the artsy/creative stuff that’s been missing in my life? Absolutely, yes.

Do I want to leave behind all of my friends in Korea? Pottery? The homecooked meals, held hands, hugs…the spontaneous late nights singing our hearts out, our Shabu-Shabu Sunday Sabbaths, the lazy afternoon board games? Cramped knees, free instant coffee, making jumbled/misunderstood orders, spoons and chopsticks? The pick-up-and-go, let’s-go-somewhere-new-this-weekend-vibe, the three-days-off-let’s-go-to-Japan spirit? The happy garbled bilingual conversations where someone asks for a piggy back ride and the other person starts acting like a turtle?

Scott says it’s better to leave somewhere not wanting to go, than counting the days before you can leave.

One time recently, I met up with a big group of the foreigners here in Wonju at a smoked duck BBQ restaurant. It was someone’s birthday, and in a town like Wonju where everyone knows everyone like an extended family, that meant we had taken up the whole outdoor patio to ourselves. Even friends from towns 2, 3 hours distant had come. Girlfriends from Seoul had come. Friends-of-friends we had never met came, and became friends.

The food had long been grilled and devoured, the leftover kimchi sizzling to charcoal at the far end of the grill, empty green bottles standing like pine trees in a forest of shot glasses, but one of our Korean friends called over the waiter with a “YOGIYO!” and they kindly set up a fresh grill for us. That’s the nice thing about our group – we’re a rather mixed bunch, with I’d say about 4:6 Koreans to Foreigners. A whole range of fluency too – English only foreigners, Koreans stuttering nervously before clinging to the comforts of their home tongue, those in between mixing everything back and forth and translating for others. Some foreigners who taught in difference provinces speak in dialect. There’s none of the political undertone like in Montreal, where Francophone and Anglophone groups tend to drift to separate corners at parties, with bilinguals racing back and forth between them. We all know the words “Jaan!” (Cheers!) and put our hands respectfully over our chests while we drink, and that is the passcode to friendship here. Sometimes with exaggerated flourish, heads turned away, sometimes making up bullshit “old-timey” Korean ways of intertwining drinking arms and then insisting that we saw it in a documentary somewhere, to cheers of laughter.

Scott and I were sitting at our grill, talking to our friend Rob. Like a lot of our friends here, he’s married to a Korean and lives here permanently now.

“So I hear you’re leaving soon?”

“Uh…yeah…”

I haven’t talked about it much, or posted much on Facebook. I kind of avoided declaring an official return date, or thinking of the departure date. Even now, the day before my flight, some friends are hearing about it for the first time.

“It’s ok. Everyone goes home sometime,” he said. “Everyone says they’ll leave forever and they never do. Remember Jason?” Rob said, leaning toward Scott. “Guy’s been saying he’s going home for like ten years and he’s still here! Heh.”

“It’s important to go home and see your family,” said Scott.

“Yeah, well. I went home for a while and had enough of that! Haha! You know, you go home after being abroad for a while and it’s like…it’s like trying to replant a carrot,” Rob said.

Replant a carrot…

Some new arrivals bustled into the restaurant, which prompted another round of soju, and the conversation ended there.

Replant a carrot.

But maybe it’s the same way coming back to Korea. Maybe I’ll be a carrot anywhere.

Two days ago, Jae Young took the day off work to spend some time together. Met up with Alex at noon, got some Bap Burgers to go (my first time eating them), then took the long bus ride through the countryside to Chiak Mountain. Hiked to Guryongsa Temple, drank from its spring, admired its ornately painted ceilings, got chased by giant wasps, and marvelled at the 200 year old Ginkgo tree. Hiked on up and up along the rippling brook, between shady trees, until we came upon the water fall, about 1.5km up. Its pool was clear and cool, red leaves resting decoratively at the bottom with slim brown fish floating on top. We threw chestnuts in and the fish went crazy. Found a half-eaten cucumber – it bobbed abandoned at the surface. Drank apple juice from a friend’s mother’s apple farm. Came back down the mountain and drank Dong Dong Ju and ate seafood pajeon. Nauseating bus ride home. For dinner, we all met up at a friend’s sundae restaurant for small and large intestines in a skillet. 5 bottles of wine were brought. We had saved the wine for a year (gift from my parents) and had a big wine party.

“So many things you haven’t done yet!” Jae Young had said as we were hiking up the mountain.

“Did you see the Wonju Basketball team? Promy?”

“No.”

“You didn’t eat bap burger before.”

“No.”

“We didn’t make kimchi!”

“No. Actually, I’ve never been to a jimjilbang yet, either.”

Whaaaaaaaaat??” she said, with her usual cheer. “Heol!”

“And you never ate the Mak Chang, yet! You see, there are many things you didn’t try. I keep thinking you’re like a new person in Korea,” she said, winking.

“What about me? You I’ve never done any of that stuff!” said Alex.

“Yeah. But who cares?” she laughed.

It’s 2 pm now, and I have clothes to pack, dishes to wash. There will always be things I’ve never done, or need to do. I haven’t done so many things back home, either. I’m really looking forward to attending some craft shows and starting all that stuff up. Seeing people. Unwinding. Picking up a healthy lifestyle…maybe. I guess my greatest dilemma now is figuring out what I want to do next. I feel Korea is still waiting for me. Maybe I’ll be back eventually. But in the meantime…maybe a year in Belgium, or maybe I’ll finally fix up a van and go RVing across the country like I’ve always dreamed. Adopt a little dog to keep my company on the road. Yeah…that sounds nice.


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