Seoul Part III

Fri 7/15, day 30 continued

We were feeling a weird mix of worn out and restless, and wrestling with our choice of where to stay in Seoul and the difficulty of navigating around with such a large language barrier. You know how sometimes you just feel emotionally stopped up and don’t know how to let it out? Amy sensed that and suggested that we each do a 15 minute writing blitz. This is what came out (somewhat edited).

On Ambivalence While Traveling

Amy:

The idea with our trip was to have every day default to rest day and then have a few excursion days at each location. We wanted to pace ourselves in traveling around the world. Two months is a long time. Two months is a long time. And yet here I sit and the trip is about half over. Tomorrow we will have been a month since we left Orlando. You always think a trip like this will change you. Your perspective or mentalities. But of course you never feel that until much later. Like getting older. The day after your birthday, you don’t feel older. But as time goes on, you are older and that changes and molds you.

So I sit in Seoul. A city that I’ve dreamed about for 24 years. We had three international students live with us from the Seoul area when I was 8 until 12. I learned to kick a soccer ball with the outside of my foot and give it spin. I learned to love spicy ramen and to brave kimchi, which my parents banished to the basement refrigerator. But I didn’t know anything about this city, other than I thought the South Korean flag was really cool and I loved their food. One time we went to a Korean restaurant with the exchange program group and I tried and liked squid. Bulgogi-style beef: yum. Korean BBQ Taco Box is my favorite food truck. And yet, upon entering this city, I know nothing about it. And I feel overwhelmed. I studied the Korean War. We’ve been here over two weeks. I feel like I should do some Korean stuff. See the city. But I know that we won’t be able to do it justice.

We just had an incredible visit with the Collins, but there was little rest with four kids and catching up on 3 1/2 years of life with Annie and Dan. We played cards and hung out late into nearly every night. Really good conversations, but there wasn’t breathing room. Or at least it didn’t feel like it.

I didn’t realize how isolated not knowing a language could be. An entirely different alphabet, which shouldn’t be too difficult to learn, except that it is. While I have interacted some with Koreans, I am such an outsider and the language barrier is actually crippling. Dan and the girls were our security blanket. Now we’re here in Seoul and we’re on our own. I’m torn between, “We’re in Seoul, we should do stuff.” and “Rest, rest, rest. Stick to the rest plan.

There is this pressure that I feel that I should do all of the stuff. I didn’t fly halfway around the world to just sit. Did I? But the funny thing is, we haven’t just sat at all. Even today. We chilled out, but then we went out and walked all over. But now thinking about tomorrow and the next few days, there is so much that we could do. I feel obligated. It would be silly to be here and not see stuff. But resting is good. Very good.

Nate has work to do and I can always find something to do myself. Video editing. Planning for Searching for We the People. Journaling. Dreaming. It is okay. We are okay.

We need to plan for Nepal. So many unknowns and that is intimidating. Norway less so, not just because of many English speakers, but we’ve been to Europe so many times and know what to sort of expect culturally.

So we can give ourselves a break and know that we’re not doing it wrong. We are okay.

It’s tough to remember the entire reason we stayed in the section of Seoul that we did, was to have some downtime before Nepal. We could have stayed in a touristy section and done touristy things, but we didn’t think we’d want to do that. Then when we got to Seoul it was like, “Wait, what are we here for?” You read all of the touristy things that you can do: palaces, temples, memorials, museums, markets, and on and on. Part of me was panicky. “We have to do stuff, we have to do stuff, as much as possible.” But if I sit back and reflect on the entire reason why we chose where to stay, it was because we wanted to be near nature and we didn’t want to feel the pressure of all of the touristy stuff.

In the end, we put some of that pressure on ourselves. If we had another week in Seoul, I would choose to stay in a more touristy section of this megalopolis. Very few people spoke English where we ended up. We just assumed that once we got to Seoul many people would speak English. People were very nice, but it was way harder to communicate that I thought it would be.

Nathan:

I’m feeling unsettled, anxious, nervous, worried. Part of it is being on our own in a part of Seoul where most people don’t speak English, without any tour guides anymore (namely, Annie, Dan and the kids). Walking around unfamiliar streets with unfamiliar languages and scripts and everyone looking at you is nerve wracking. Over the past two weeks I have had a chance to learn how to read Korean, but that doesn’t help so much without any vocabulary. Down in Busan we always had someone with us who had at least a working knowledge of Korean. I don’t know how they did it with 4 kids at the beginning. It must have been really hard.

Another part of my anxiety is linked to our next destination, Nepal. It’s a big unknown to me, and unknowns are hard, can be hard (can be exciting too; sometimes I want them to be more exciting than scary but the opposite is usually true for me). We’re staying with a family we’ve never met before, friends of friends. They come highly recommended, and I am sure they will be great. But after two weeks with a family with 4 kids and seeing how chaotic can be, I’m feeling nervous about being with another family. At the same time, sometimes I prefer staying with someone else not just winging it with Amy, though I think we’re good at that, a local guide just makes everything so much easier. Less decisions to make, less obstacles and hurdles to overcome. Ambivalence again. Nepal also intimidates me because I’ve never been anywhere that I had to get special shots for or really think about what I ate and drank to avoid getting seriously sick. Or even had to apply for or pay for a visa for. We have to get additional passport photos.

Norway… I’m really looking forward to Norway, to the cooler temperatures and amazing natural vistas. But the travel planning is stressing me out a bit, it’s really tight with our schedule, and I’m hoping it’s not too much. Will it be too much to pack in? London, Oslo, Balestrand, Bergen all in 5 nights. What’s it going to be like coming off our two weeks in Nepal, going into a super expensive and “western” country? Our full day in Balestrand, are we going to be so exhausted that we just sit on the porch and look out at the Sognefjord, versus doing any kind of excursion? If so, that will be ok. But the tension is there, between doing too much and not doing enough. After all we might not be back to Country X ever in our lives. Don’t we need to max it out??? No. But the drive to “take advantage of this opportunity” is definitely there, in all of these places. We said we were going to have rest days as our default days, and activity days as our exceptions. It’s so easy to fall back into “every day is an activity day until we’re so exhausted we get sick or are otherwise forced to rest.”

Work… I’ve got some incoming requests for two of my freelance projects, and I really need to work on them in the next few days, because once we go to Nepal, I have no idea how much time I’ll have, let alone consistently working electrical power or wifi. The work is helpful to have because it means we’re not entirely dry over the summer, spending money without making any. But it’s also hard to schedule in with everything else, and hard to flip flop back and forth between feeling like I’m on vacation and feeling like I’m just in normal live/work mode but in a different physical context. My work is not very tied to a place, which can be freeing but also enslaving. If you are always connected to email and social media, you are always “on” and there will be people who expect that you will be available to them.

Violence and death and brokenness in the world… we just learned about the attack in Nice, France today. That on top of recent Baghdad, Istanbul, Orlando. Then there’s the recent shootings of Philando Castille and Alton Sterling and the Dallas police officers. And the recent deaths of some close friends.

Blogging, podcast, audiograph prep… things that I would like to and need to spend time on, but the time just disappears… just disappears…

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