Living in Wonju South Korea, These Many Long Years

Living in Wonju South Korea, These Many Long Years: Version 2.0!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Old Timing!

Tonight was yet another stay late at work night.  As most of my coworkers were leaving, one of the more intrepid of the interns noted: Waeg, looks like every one has left you.  Forever alone! hahahaha.

I suppose that's what you get when you encourage an environment where internet memes are a part of the daily banter.

I laughed.  It's true: work is pretty dead after six.  Most of my waeg friends live in the Big Smoke, and most nights I don't much feel like heading out.  I've become one of those expats, the long timer you rarely run into, the ones that have much to do, but are near invisible to the typically short term crowd passing through.

When I got home, I stopped off at my local supa to grab a couple of jugs of rice wine.  The dude behind the counter asked: are you going to drink that with your friends?  I have no friends I joked.  He had melancholy all over him, and said: me neither.  I come from a different city, and have few friends here.  I come from a different country.  We both laughed in a sad, unconvincing way.  I got home and cracked a bottle, and remembered:

I remember years ago meeting the first few of that elusive breed, the old timer.  It would be a chance encounter, and often times years would pass before seeing them again.  They'd be like: still here, eh?  Looks like you're locked in bud.  No, no, I'd assure them, I've got a plan.  I'll be gone soon enough.  Then another couple years pass, we meet again, and the nicer of the lot merely smile in that way.  Now I'm the one who wears that smile when seeing someone getting settled in for the long haul.

I remember a coworker from a college I worked at laughing uproariously at me when I said I was marrying into the tribe: she jeered and cackled you're never going to leave.   It really pissed me off at the time, but here I am.  That kind of thing doesn't push your buttons after awhile, so that is some small consolation.

I remember having a conversation with a Korean guy Lee I used to work for who I eventually became friends with: he was in full rant about some waeg who had lived here for 15 years, yet couldn't string together more than a few sentences in Korean.  Lee had settled in California, came back home to help settle his parents' affairs and ended up staying for more than a few years.  I asked: of all the Koreans you know in California who have been there long term, aren't there a few that haven't really made English their own?  He stopped cold, blank faced, then burst out laughing: yeah, you got me.  But still, don't become one of them waeg.  You're smarter than that and if you want to have a serious chance to succeed, you need the language.  11 years in and I'm not perfectly fluent yet, as I have some weird mental block at actually speaking the language.  I figure it's my subconscious doing its' best to keep me out of trouble, knowing how prone I can be to opening my big mouth.  But that ultimately is just an excuse, now, isn't it?

I remember most of the old timing waegs I've met over the years: few have gone full hardcore native, although there are definitely some who have signed up 1000%.  That lot is usually fairly pleasant, but their bad days are pretty bad, since reconciling themselves to forever being a scone is hard on even the most well adjusted.  Most make a balancing act out of it, working hard to retain and incorporate their past and present; they generally tell it as it is, fully aware of what is and make the best go of it.  A few don't even bother, content to simply live their lives in complete oblivion to most of what is going on around them.  A complete escape from everything in a way, surrounded in their own little bubble.  To me that's kind of strange, even though it does have an odd appeal.  I haven't met many who have been here long term who actively despise the place; that's usually the province of the newb or the mentally unstable.  But they are out there.  I simply point them to Korean Sentry and walk off, feeling I've done some good by putting like with like.  I remember that I am more of the balancing kind of guy after all.

I remember the freaks, weirdos, interesting, cool, diverse people I've met during my sojourn in this land, the ROK.  Charge me with wearing Rose tinted glasses from time to time if you must, but ultimately life isn't so dull if you know how to make it more fun and to not take yourself so seriously all the time.

But mostly I remember where to get a good haircut, where to buy mustard and cheap dirty old brandy, where to go for a walk to clear my head and forget most of the idiocy I come across.  That's the most important bit.

And I remember it's time for some rice wine.


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