Living in Wonju South Korea, These Many Long Years

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

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Wednesday night.  For the second week in a row, Waeg finds himself out on the town, this time meeting up with another old hand expat who has been here for years.  Both of them settled years ago, marrying and producing beautiful, smart, twigi kids.  They meet occasionally to share war stories and general information, but as winter is coming and SAD is starting to set in, the conversation returns to a topic they've covered more than once: getting stuck in a rut.

Must be a middle age thing, they muse and laugh, since it follows a nearly predictable cycle.  You get caught focusing on how you always do the same things over and over, caught in mundane uniformity that grinds you down, looking at yourself in the mirror every morning saying this will be the day that you start something new, this will be the day you change... But nothing ever does except something cosmetic, something temporary like feeling better because you bought a new pair of shoes or a new coat or you went to the gym more often.  They joke about going out and meeting new people and some of the people they've met, how they still do it from time to time as this will often alleviate the angst for at least a while.  But they catch themselves and don't fall into the trap of blaming only place and situation, because they're not so foolish as to let the fact that being outsiders limits their responses to boredom.  They've both seen too many waegs over the years fall to the hate, blaming 'society' instead of understanding that it's all in your own head.

As they move to a club, they laugh and joke that they can at least entertain the idea of midlife crisis in these terms.  Sure, life isn't easy, you want to catch that spark again, to remember what it was to be driven day in day out, when you always found plenty to get excited about.  But there are some who can't do that, like the Filipina single mom with three kids they know, came over at 21, so young so full of hope and promise, now 38 and divorced from a deadbeat Korean dad.  She works three jobs just to get by.... She has little time for short forays into the wild side, no inclination to remember things she has forgotten; somewhat broken but not interested in trying to fix it, as there is only time to prove she can do it, she can raise her kids, stand up and represent... She knows a part of her is no more but, well, life.  She would mock their midlife 'problems'.

Or the contractor, whom they used to see more often but is now far from the Wonj; his family is back in the states, while he stays and works.  He knows his wife is getting her freak on with an ex, and his kids rarely respond to his messages and emails, they too busy being teenagers thinking they know what it means, man.  He sometimes entertains the idea of also finding someone new, someone for now, but he knows he needs to keep focused on his job, budget cuts and the like, he's seen too many get chopped over the years, often ones who walked a little too frequently on the wild side. . . instead he chooses to be all stoic and monk like, and just sends the money every month, since, well, life.  He too has little time for midlife garbage.

And of course there is the old old timer they both know, here 30 years plus, married for love and jumped through all the hoops to gain Korean citizenship, not an easy feat at all, less so when he did it.  Speaks Korean like a native, highly educated, has completely internalized the ideal of the Korean scholar, living his life in a manner consistent with the ideal, an ideal that allows for no incursions into the wild side, yet he has always been stymied from rising in academia due to the very real glass ceiling hit by every waeg.  He always talks about love and being happy, but they both know he is one of the unhappiest people they know.  The disconnect that is apparent to them he ignores, since he made his choice and will stick by it, a staunch believer in the Minjok, as he waxes on about his lovely wife and children, a wife who often stays at their second apartment, lovely children who often roll their eyes when dad goes on about love and being happy.  But he has to keep focused, has to keep believing, since, well, life.  He has no time for engaging the typical midlife challenges that often bring a realignment in perspective and outlook.

They stop talking and drink in silence.  Waeg knows that the talk has been good; it will probably stave off the worst of the angst for a while.  But he knows the battle is far from won, and he wonders what he should do next to prepare to overcome.  The battles have become harder over the years, requiring more self delusion or more extreme pursuits; he has seen too clearly in others where following that path can lead.  He thinks about responsibility, duty, and what new accomplishements could be achieved; the silence between them becomes thicker, heavier, almost drowning out the music being played in the club.  He finds himself beginning to fall into it, embracing it, thinking this is what it means to get old, to learn wisdom, when the silence becomes all; then a snide voice inside him says: you fucking coward.  Wake the fuck up.

Right.  He rings the bell, orders a round of shots, and gets up to dance.  There are far more stories to be told and heard after all, something that can't be done in silence.  He wonders what could have made him almost forget this, but then he gives himself to the music and doesn't think at all.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Truth in Advertising!

When life sucks and you've got very little to live for, especially if you are a middle aged adjusshi always getting the shit end of the stick at home, there is always soju!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Dirty Bird Special!

It's Wednesday night, and as will sometimes occur when the moon is right, Waeg finds himself out on the town.  He has made the somewhat dubious decision to meet up with Dirty Bird; a night out with Dirty Bird often begins with copious consumption of alcoholic beverages and ends in licentiousness and depravity.   However, it had been a while since Waeg had seen Dirty Bird, and DB's voice on the phone had seemed. . . sublimated.  It had confused Waeg, so he put aside his reservations and made out for the town.

They meet up at a favorite waeg watering hole known as the Kraken, it being famous for a huge selection of (expensive) beers and (more expensive) single malt whiskeys.  When he sees Dirty Bird, Waeg sees he has eschewed his normal attire of sports jersey, jeans, and ballcap, opting instead for khakis and a collared shirt.  Waeg sits, perplexed.

Hiya Waeg, been a while, how's the wife and kids?  Life in general?  Good, good.  Me?  Yeah, things have been going pretty well, I re-signed at Lee's English Emporium, yeah that third place you hooked me up with.  They've been pretty decent, actually helped me get everything sorted, even hooked me up furniture wise, well, everything except the awesome couch I found on the side of the street, that was a bitch to bring in, let me tell you!  You should come over sometime and check my digs!  Well, yeah maybe sometime later.  Yeah, I've changed man, this gig is one of the better ones I've had, and the secretary is H-O-T, hot, man, she's really cool too, not like most birds, you know what I mean?  She's pretty nice, and cooks a mean scrambled eggs haha nudge nudge wink wink.  I kid, I kid!  But yeah, why the change?  I dunno, man, but every since the folks at work have been telling me I'm special, and like meaning it, I've just felt. . .good.

Special.  Waeg lets that word linger a bit, and resists the urge to spit it out.  In his experience, whenever a Korean says you are special, they will usually say it in a very sincere meaningful way, but what they are saying is either you require a great deal of attention and patience since you are a social train wreck, or they belong to a weird religious cult and are attempting to bring you into the fold.  Waeg is confused as to why it would have such an effect on Dirty Bird, as he is sure Dirty Bird knows the term means pretty much the same thing back home, but when Waeg mentions this DB dismisses him:

No dude, you don't get it, it's not like that at all!  They really appreciate me, you don't understand!  In all my time in kimchi land I've always been treated like a piece of gum stuck to the bottom of the shoe of society, but these people are different.  You should see the office they've set me up in, and the apartment!  I really feel like I've found a home, man!

Waeg takes in everything Dirty Bird says, and wonders if maybe the staff at Lee's English Emporium haven't been spiking his coffee with some lithium based pharmaceutical.  Waeg feels he should intervene and say something about Dirty Bird's change, but then stops himself: everyone deserves a chance to be happy.  If Dirty Bird has found a niche that brings him a modicum of contentment, why should Waeg be the one to piss in his cornflakes?  Likely it's just a temporary shift anyway, and will pass.  So why not let Dirty Bird enjoy his moment in the sun?

The conversation switches to random things, and after a few games of darts, Waeg decides to call it a night.  In the past Dirty Bird would insult, cajole, insist that the party continue, but in keeping with his new self, the pair pay up and head home.

On the walk, Waeg thinks more about the change in Dirty Bird, and wonders about happiness, and having a sense of place.  For waegs living in Korea, finding that sense of place can be near impossible, often fitting within very narrow borders limited to a very small group, without the bells and whistles of an extended community.  Waeg imagines the sincerity and warmth those at Lee's English Emporium would have plastered on their faces as they tell Dirty Bird over and over just how special he is, and how that just might make Dirty Bird feel alright about everything; it is a rare and special thing to feel included as an expat in Korea.  But he stops his musings and decides to wait a couple of months and see how it plays out.  With Dirty Bird, you just never know.

Waeg picks up his pace, and thinks about nothing at all.

Friday, November 1, 2013


This year Halloween is a bit tame at this waeg's house: jack-o-lanterns, a small party at a local indoor playground, a few games, spiced with more than enough candy to incite coma inducing sugar highs in all the children.

In the past, preparations have been more elaborate, with parents shuttling around gaggles of children in a caravan, moving from one house to another. Each house would be decorated, the kids would play a game or two, and of course get more treats for their candy horde.

This year most were too busy to plan something similar; even getting up to Costco to buy bags of sweet delicious candy was a task.  As an aside, Costco already has all their Christmas gear out FYI, but I digress.  I'm sure the kids won't mind our plans too much, as they'll be bouncing on trampolines and generally running wild; however, the lack of costumes has depressed me somewhat, as it is the coolest part of the festivities. It is about maintaining traditions, and when I was a kid Halloween was one of the coolest days of the year, even more fun than Christmas at times.

I guess there always is next year. I'll have to start on the hype with the girls in August or September at the latest.

Time for coffee.