Stay Or Go

This eternal question is not as simple as it seems: should I remain in Korea, or should I go somewhere else? “Seek not in the wide world to find a home,” writes Murasaki Shikibu, “but where you chance to rest, call that your house.”

And these last few days I’ve been resting. Work at the university is truly finished for the next month, and during the time granted to me I’ve discovered the obvious truth that when I don’t have to go to work, but when I also don’t have to worry too much about money—regardless of whether I sweat like a galley slave or nap through my obligations like an old cat, I always seem to have just enough money to get by, as I am a young American male with white skin and a college degree—the energy that I would normally use to lecture children and university students on the fine points of English grammar (I go versus I’m going) is instead funneled into myself, which means that I manage to pump out two thousand words a day, and do many other things besides.

Deep in the afternoon when the sun has set beneath the dark clouds of Chinese pollution that have been billowing in lately from the east, when I usually feel exhausted and grumpy from giving up my time to things that I must be paid to do, I now find myself with enough energy to go running, or to pick up the guitar and play for awhile, or to study Korean or read a book or simply lounge about and let my mind wander. When I don’t have to work, and when I don’t have to worry about work, I feel as energetic as a teenager from when I wake early in the morning to when I sleep late at night—though without all the baggage of being a teenager. There are no tests, no bullies, no pretty girls who want nothing to do with me, no dull classes, no homework assignments: just ten years of experience between then and now to help me focus on doing what I like.

But today when my wife and my son and I went out in our new car and visited several interesting historical sites we had to put up with the usual discomforts that would not be an issue in a more civilized country: people staring at us, people talking about us as if we couldn’t understand what they were saying, people speaking English to my son (thereby reminding him that he does not belong to the country in which he was born), people keeping a safe distance from us, children pointing. Even my son, who is nineteen months old—which means that he understands a great deal of what we tell him now and has a vocabulary of less than a hundred words in both English and Korean—is tired of being ogled and photographed, and actually stormed off from a pair of pretty women who asked to take his picture this afternoon in front of the great “Buddhist Nation Temple”. They said “Excuse me” to me as we walked off together, as if I had some sort of duty to facilitate their momentary curiosity, and since I didn’t feel like reducing my son into a toy for their entertainment I just said “No” without turning to face them, and kept walking. I was also close to telling an old man with the biggest eyebrows I’d ever seen that he had to stop staring at us. We were at a restaurant sitting across from one another, and though this man was with his family he indulged in a sixty minute marathon of near unbroken staring, and did not stop even after I made eye contact with him several times. I complained about him to my wife, who complained to me about my complaining, and so rather than confront I chose to ignore, and hid his face behind a raised cup of tea, though like a pair of brooms his bushy eyebrows poked up above the ceramic rim of the cup and even brushed against the ceiling.

Petty bellyaching I know, but it happens every time we do anything outside the apartment. So the question is: should I deal with it, and enjoy the freedom granted to me by this place?, or move to a different place?, one in the West, where I’d have to work all the time, despite the fact that at least I’d just be some random guy rather than the foreigner?


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