A Nation Known as Taeguk


In Canada, we build strip-malls and massive parking lots.
Photo by Michael Johnstone

There is a common desire among expats in Korea that starts to bubble to the surface after living here for a few months. After settling into the ragged groove of English teaching, which is never without its bumps, the urge to take advantage of the primely located Korean peninsula begins to take hold. After not so long, expats here feel the need to stretch their legs, mostly through sitting in tightly cramped budget airline seats, and start poking around southeast Asia.

Admittedly, after a year and a half of living in Seoul, I started venturing out much later than most. Finances took front seat over my curiosity, and so I became painfully resigned to waving goodbye to coworkers while they gleefully skipped out for winter breaks on the beaches of Borocay or Bali.

It was only this year, finally, that money and time conspired with positive results, and I was finally able to get out of Seoul and escape the monotony of a grey, concrete winter. Seoul is a wonderful city, and although the winters here have a bit more brevity than those in my native Canada, January can be rather bleak.

At what was virtually the last minute, I booked a flight to Thailand and the following week found myself standing outside Paya Thai station in Bangkok, bewildered at the sudden change of climate, language, and culture. That strange desire to find myself in the middle of a unfamiliar city with no sense of direction and no planned accommodations had once again ignited the adrenaline in my chest and so began a week of hostels, beaches, boats, and dizzying tuk tuk rides.

I hope he knows where he’s going, cuz’ I sure as hell don’t.
Photo by Michael Johnstone

Thailand, known to Koreans as Taeguk, is beautiful, filthy, exciting, ancient, bewildering, and captivating. Like so many of my experiences since that morning that I waved back at my family through the security screening area at Halifax International Airport back in Canada. It had been too long since I’d been able to satiate that restless pang that itches the feet of those who need to wander through unfamiliar streets.

I couldn’t help but feel ripped away from Thailand far too soon…a week is never enough. And perhaps it’s harder now to roll out of bed in the morning and push through the officetel doors into the frigid streets of Seoul, but I always remind myself that it is this city that has afforded me the opportunity to skip over to the streets of Bangkok and the island beaches of Eastern Thailand on a whim. And there will be a half dozen other opportunities to poke around this corner of the world before the grand finale pan-Asian tour that I plan to end my time here with. And after all, cold as it is, there is still much here to explore, and in that moment I stepped through the gate at Incheon airport and back into the icy air, I found myself thinking to myself that I was home.

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