Director, Kim Ki-duk introduced to me to his vision of Korea — through his movies. His take on Korean culture was cynical, contemplative, and probably, a deeply scathing review of popular culture. Even in its beauty, through beautiful cinematography, and despite the lack of grey tones, his work wasn’t always easy to digest. Perhaps, that’s why, he isn’t considered mainstream, more art-house. It also explained why many of my Korean friends hadn’t heard of him. Much later, I went through a phase of watching popular Korean movies covering humour, drama, and even morbid serial killer flicks. All the while, I never thought, I would visit Korea, or spend a considerable portion of my life in Korea. It’s nearing 6 months, not counting the breaks in-between, I’m living in Seoul. And as I look back at me, the old me, or us; there’s so much that’s changed.
“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change ”
When Basil and I got married, maybe a century back, we thought we had our priorities in place. We needed our own apartment, a year later — the car, and lastly — a dream trip to Europe. Getting each item on the list would mean: longer hours at work, welcoming stress into our lives, health scares, and accepting a sense of emptiness. We did get it all, but somewhere along the way, we had lost a bit of us — in the rat race. Strangely, I consider our shift to Seoul — an opportunity — to start off again. It’s still a city, and Basil (on somedays) has to clock the hours; but, this time, we wanted to get it right. Before shortlisting a rental apartment, we bought our first tent. We opted for a studio apartment, to get rid of the clutter (symbolic of our lives at that moment) and try minimalism. Bought two bikes and will stay strong, and hopefully, never buy a car here. And we have realised, always secretly knew, that having a strong set of feet — is the best way — to explore any place or meet new people.
Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.
I do enjoy a good laugh. And once I start laughing, it’s hard to get me to stop. Strangely, smiling doesn’t come very easily to me, especially, when strangers are part of the equation. Travel has changed that in me. Travelling to an eclectic bunch of places, rarely, where I spoke the same language, is how I learned to smile. A smile, coupled with some good hand signs, can bridge the communication gap and put people at ease. And I guess, I forgot the very basic tenet of travel, when I first moved here. I expected the other person to smile. I expected the other person to put me at ease. It won’t take much, to imagine, how most of those interactions might have ended. And then, I decided to try being a traveller for a change. Aren’t we all travelling somewhere? Isn’t life a journey? Even if, chances are you might end up starting all over again (and again)? These days, interactions are very different. On somedays, I do feel like the Cheshire Cat, but as long as I win people over, I’m not complaining.
I am in no way different from anyone else, that my predicament, my sense of aloneness or isolation may be precisely what unites me with everyone.
When I first got here, the isolation seemed to get to me. Not being a part of something was what bothered me the most. It reminded me of all the times I tried to fit in a peer group, either in school, college, or work. The months forward, made me realise, that fitting in was never my strongest suit. I’ve always been a silent observer. I like to observe people and rarely like interactions — unless they will be meaningful. Walks in the park aren’t awkward anymore. There’s a whole world of happiness around me. Brightly coloured trees, children playing, couples enjoying a cup of coffee, the elderly warming up on the outdoor exercise equipment, and then, there’s me — lost in my thoughts. And I’ve got so comfortable with this illusion of happiness that I’ve made peace with isolation, if any. I don’t notice the stares anymore, because I don’t think they exist; unless it’s a fellow expat/foreigner/tourist who’s staring. It’s an unwritten norm for foreigners (no matter where they’re from) to stare at each other here, without maintaining eye contact off course. Stares are best answered with a stare and a smile with a smile. Maybe sometimes, I do like to fit in.
It is better to travel well than to arrive.
Serial travelling is very similar to slow erosion. Travel (if you’ve travelled your money’s worth) sculpts your personality, chiseling your flaws, hopefully, giving shape to something better, often painfully. Much of whom, I am, today, I owe to travel. Sadly, I’ve also realised, I might be a ‘travel shamer.’ I came across an interesting article, on travel shaming, posted by a blogger I follow. Maybe, because, we prefer trips that are off the popular tourist radar and like seclusion. That being said, I’ve also realised, it’s important to have experiences, no matter how you choose to travel. We’ve met a number of like-minded travellers on our trips. I find conversations with travellers easy. As an expat, conversations are laboured. I’m never sure if I should talk about travel or stick to the drill of condensing my life story in a nutshell? As a ‘trailing spouse’ (the terms they invent these days), I don’t expect anything but a sympathetic look from men and women alike. Serial travelling and being a serial expat couldn’t be more different. However, I do appreciate the opportunity, to meet people from different parts of the globe, traveller or not. It’s a great way to gain perspective and throw those stereotypes out of the window.
People need to start to think about the messages that they send in the movies.
I could never truly appreciate K-pop or K-drama. I felt this genre of the Korean arts subscribed to a brand of escapism — I could never believe in. And yet, it’s a big industry out here. It’s hard to ignore. K-pop idols and K-drama actors are plastered across every viable marketing avenue. And a lot many of their patrons, are foreigners (mostly women), who want to believe in this brand of popular culture. At the cultural centre, I’ve come across a number of tourists/visitors/expats who are fans of these celebrity sensations. I’ve often found it hard to digest it. I wonder, if the reason to fall in love with these androgynous men, has something to do with the men we meet in the real world, who never fit the ideal of a storybook prince. Or the patriarchy and sexism we hesitantly accept. Oddly, after being continuously exposed to a lot many of these K-pop videos, I think I’m slowly getting drawn into this world of surrealism.
Autumn’s quickly fading, the streets are filled with bursts of red and yellow, temperatures are drastically dipping, and the sun is hard to find. This post was inspired by the bluish-grey tones that dominate the skies these days. The past two days, we’ve had some sunshine, and yellow has painted over blue. I’d waited so long for this change, and it’s come and passed, with a blink of an eye. It’s time to make my peace with winter…