Year Two

There’s something different about your second year in Korea.

Photo by Michael Johnstone

Sinchon and the northern mountains of Seoul, dusk, from my 15th floor apartment window.
Photo by Michael Johnstone

Sights once strange are now familiar; cultural norms of your second home. The way that you perceive a new city can change drastically as the months roll by. You learn her darkened streets and alleys, her glowing districts. Not that it looses it’s mystery, only that strange feeling that you have become part of something alien to yourself.

My first month or two is overwhelmingly bizarre. Then, bit by bit, a sense of permanence bursts through the pandemonium and it becomes the norm. There still isn’t a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t see something utterly inexplicable, unfamiliar, odd. It is just that the strange and wonderful have become everyday occurrences. Dinosaur statues that meow like kittens still make you stop on the street, but the shock has become a quiet sense of observational meditation. This is home, and not, all at the same time.

I’ve moved from a small Kindergarten/Hagwon (after-school academy) in Seoul’s Gangnam district to a large private elementary school near the northern mountains. It is a different experience altogether to suddenly teach sixth-grade students in a Korean-speaking school rather than an English-speaking learning centre.

Sinchon is my new home, and it’s a world apart from the relative quiet of my old neighbourhood. From the fourth floor of an almost suburban apartment to the furious pace of central Seoul. The flurry of neon, buzz of traffic, clatter of the crowded sidewalks have taken their place in my daily life. I love it.

Photo by Michael Johnstone

Photo by Michael Johnstone

As a present to myself for completing a year far from home, and because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, I bought myself a present. A zippy-yet-gutless 50cc scooter to get around the city quickly. There’s really no need in Seoul for anything but the incredibly efficient subway and bus system, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do since before I left Canada, so I’ve made it happen. Scooters are popular here, being used by students, old men, MacDonald’s delivery drivers and of course, an army of English teachers.

So here’s to year two as a Seoulite. I love this city and all the absurdities and luxuries it affords those who wander her streets.

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