I refuse to let a system or a culture or a distorted view of reality tell me that I don’t matter. I know that only by owning who and what you are can you start to step into the fullness of life. Every year should be teaching us all something valuable. Whether you get the lesson is really up to you.”
—Oprah, O, the Oprah Magazine, May 2011
The 16th Annual Jinju Nongae Festival. I'm official!
You will never believe where I am! I can hardly believe it myself. Drum roll please…
Okay, so those who follow me on the Facebook already know this, but it may be news to some and it’s still very exciting to me as I pass the first month mark!
I finally took the plunge and moved abroad. Sacheon, South Korea to be exact. Why? Why now? For one thing, I’ve always admired those brave enough to live in a foreign country, especially if they do it solo or don’t speak the language. As a hospitality industry vet, I’ve worked with and waited on many who have taken the plunge and although it’s not for everyone, most of the people I know don’t regret their decision to take a huge chance and uproot themselves. That’s one reason, and of course there are a couple of others.
Suyang Park, Sacheon, S. Korea
As I alluded to in Interlude One two weeks ago, I recently discovered that I am at a shadowy social age, meaning I’ve aged out of Fireball shots but not quite into Geritol Cosmos. This has made for some awkward moments and a little confusion as to what to do with myself on solo trips but otherwise, I feel fairly young and spritely most days---do not ask me about my right hip! I was okay with my new state until after one too many dinners for one it dawned on me that all the magazine and blog warnings might be true. I may feel young and spritely but I am actually an old crone who should be chugging Geritol Cosmos by the bucketful.
Apparently when I wasn’t looking, not only did I enter a weird age zone, I also wandered into a literal no man’s land. I began to realize that I am not in Kansas anymore, but more like cougar town or the set of the movie Cocoon on my trip to Lisbon in March where I strolled the lovely cobbled streets unhailed and unbothered. At the time, this didn’t bother me too much because most of the men looked like boys to me and were therefore undesirable. No judgments, just not to my tastes. But then the pesky reality back home reared its cruel head.
Arriving in Shanghai for my 4 hour layover & Jinju Fortress 2 weeks later!
All of my life, from a very young age, people have assumed I am a lesbian. Sadly, I think this assumption is based on negative stereotypes and not because lesbians are awesome, which of course they are. When I was young, I struggled against it because being a lesbian is a major cock blocker, for obvious reasons. As I grew older, I settled into it and sort of forgot about it. It only bothered me when a man I really desired appeared on the scene and I was immediately consigned to the friend zone. I have girlfriends who say no such place exists for women but believe you me, it most certainly does. I would be a little blue for a day or two as I watched the guy hook up with someone else and then go back to my regularly scheduled programming. This was my pattern for years: favorite spinster aunt, a smattering of male attention which raised and then dashed my hopes and then back to favorite spinster aunt. Rinse hanky and repeat.
But then quietly the pattern changed.
A life time of presumed lesbianism, which had left me frustrated, defensive, and then resigned morphed into almost near oblivion. Men, my preferred cuddling/soul mate group of choice, who have never expressed a particularly strong yen for me, have never burned up shoe leather beating a path to my door seemed to have lost interest entirely.
As I sat in yet another beautiful café alone, as I attended yet another gathering as one of the last singles in a decades long group of friends, as the babies of people I served went off to college, the grim thought finally worked its way out from the dark recesses of my mind that I hadn’t gotten a cat call, a “what’s up, sis?”, a come hither glance, or a date in years.
16th Annual Nongae Festival, Jinju, S. Korea
When I jokingly said to a friend a few months back that my baby making apparatus was shuttered, I hadn’t thought the whole place was closed for business. This property is not condemned! And yet to the men around me I definitely have a demolition sign hanging around my neck like a Hester Prynne scarlet letter. Instead of an “A” for adulteress, I’m sporting a “D” for defunct. When did it happen? How did it happen? Just like pitiful, old Hester, I have no fucking idea.
So I moved to South Korea. Just kidding. Sort of. Between turning forty-seven, a nonexistent love life, a listing career as a novelist and freelance writer, and a job which left me physically sick every night, I was lost. I was desperate and tired of fending off my friend’s increasingly weary pep talks, and well-meaning bewilderment. They didn’t know what had happened to the sparky, ambitious 21-year-old they’d met in 1991 and neither did I. And they may not have realized it, but daily I was growing more and more freaked out, more and more self-conscious about the social contract I felt I’d left unfulfilled, the promises I’d made to myself that went unmet. It was time for something big, something which would fundamentally shift the earth beneath me.
An avid traveler, but also a fierce lover of all things NYC, for years a friend’s entreaty for me to take to the road and travel, experience the rest of the world and not just dip my toe in fell on deaf ears. I wasn’t ready to leave New York but I also just didn’t think I was brave enough. Living abroad was what other people did. My dear friend Mat, who has lived abroad teaching English for the past decade and a half, kept pushing, kept saying see the world, leave the financial and social pressure, and invisibility of my beloved NYC behind. After a couple of years of fighting and struggling to change the things in my life that left me wild with dissatisfaction I finally listened and began taking the arduous steps of moving out of the United States.
Why South Korea, you ask? To be honest, the main reason is money. As I’ve mentioned ad nauseam, I’m 47. What I left out is I’m almost 50 with little in the bank to show for thirty years of adulthood. And time, say it with me…she is a speedy bitch! My womb maybe permanently empty but that doesn’t mean my nest egg has to be. Outside of the Middle East, which compensates for the heat and oppression with obscene amounts of money, Asia, specifically Korea, pays the best. I can work abroad, get in a little bit of sightseeing in nearby countries on the cheap, and save toward my assisted living facility in Sarasota. Just kidding. It will most likely be the west coast or the Catskills.
The other reason I’ve chosen to uproot myself and move 7,000 miles across the globe is the challenge. Living somewhere completely alien to everything I’ve known, everything that makes me happy, makes me feel safe freaks me right the hell out, which, if you know anything about my Type A, control freak, scared of my own shadow personality, I really need right now. Oh, and there is no faking Korean. Either you know it or you don’t know it. I don’t. Freaky.
I’ve only been here a month or so and it has been a crazy ride so far. I have ordered huge meals because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I have taken to buying wine from the Korean equivalent of 7-eleven, and despite the wonders of Google Maps, I ended up living in the wrong part of town. I was envisioning a lush, rural, coastal retreat surrounded by mountains and water, complete with grannies washing their clothes with rocks in the rivers and Confucius temples. Instead I got a chaotic hodge-podge of small, weird businesses mixed in with new apartment buildings, and household garbage left on random curbs to be picked up at random times. And don’t get me started on the feral children. That story is for another time, when the Soju (a traditional Korean distilled rice spirit) has mellowed the edges.
I’m not complaining but I have to admit, at first I was very disappointed despite my super cute rent-free apartment and the convenience of my job being two minutes away. But since my initial WTF, I have discovered a couple of wonderful mountains behind the buildings blocking my view, a large, fabulous park within walking distance, and a bus that takes me thirty minutes across town to the coveted waters of the East Sea and striking vistas that stretch as far as my eye can see.
I thought this was Korean BBQ but it wasn't. It was still delicious!
I’ve met people who are newbies like me and I’ve met others who have put down stakes here. My friend Mat, who has no plans to return to the United States and who left NYC disillusioned and pissed, urges me to make teaching abroad my calling but I’m not mad at New York. And I don’t know if this is what I want to do long term. All I know is it was time, beyond time for a change and a challenge. My contract is for a year and the children, surprisingly undisciplined and nearly out of control---do not believe the stereotype of the well-behaved Asian children---are driving me to distraction, but I am here in Sacheon and I am content for now. I have never been a fan of the axiom “It’s about the journey not the destination” but as I get older (my real age, not my social one) I am starting to see the truth in it, especially if the journey leads to spicy kimchi and fresh seafood on every corner. And who knows, I just signed up to use the pool at the Republic of South Korea’s Air Force base. I may yet be open for business.
Thanks for stopping by. And remember, keep staying feminist AF and keep traveling with a feminist eye!
Be sure to stop by in July to find out the outcome of "How He Kissed A Girl and He Liked It!
Please Subscribe & Share!