Say goodbye to the blossoms and the spring.
The going away party was a hit–everyone was smiling and happy, and it felt, in so many ways, like a coming together and not a splitting apart. The music was loud, and people were overly generous in sloughing free drinks down our gullets. We wrote dozens of post-its and stuck them on people, first messages of friendship and connection, and then later insults and invective once we’d had enough drink. The night was hitchless, but for a surprise dance-off that included the Spice Girls, which just so happened to be Faith’s Trigger, and thus turned the dance-floor into an anger pit. It was the exact kind of mess we secretly had wanted.
It was perfect. All of my friends and loved ones in Korea gathered in one place to send me off – laughing and singing and being fools, the wonderful lot of them. I loved them. So why was I then leaving?
The hour was late, and our drinks were dwindling down to single remaining sips. Some of my friends had already gone home, each punctuating their exit with an embrace, a wish of good luck, a lingering handshake. Thanh and I stood near the piano and continued berating the pianist to play “Leaving on a Jetplane,” because that’s what we were doing the next day, and we were several beers deep, and just play the damn song.
The familiar strains eventually hit us, and my friends joined in to sing the words as they said their last goodbyes. It was dark outside, but warm and safe within, as I was surrounded by friends, by relatives, by colleagues. Each expressed their love, their concern, their hope. It seemed absurd, in that moment, that I could want to abandon that feeling. That I had already packed my bags, and was preparing to leave all of this.
All of this was the only this that I had known.
Leave a light on for me.
Over a Skype call one day, my parents talked to me about a conundrum. Feeling a bit empty nest and wanting a change, they needed to decide whether to renovate the family home or pick up and move. I tried to be civil, to be cool and unbiased and give them my opinion in terms of finances, convenience, and property values. I think I tried to make mention of the housing market. I stroked my chin thoughtfully, as grown-ups often do, as though I was deep in consideration. As though I was weighing benefits and costs. I attempted to take part in the conversation as an adult among adults.
I tried, because in my head, I was sniffling like a little boy.
Kindergarten: tiny adults in training.
It was a local news story about Halloween safety. Stock footage of adorable tykes marching up and down halls played: Spidermen and fairy princesses and home-made crafty monstrosities constructed by invested parents. Soon we rushed to a classroom where concerned grade ones looked into the camera and handed down safety advice to their peers so that they could enjoy their Halloweens in comfort and without fear. You never know which piece of candy is filled with razorblades and spider eggs, their shining eyes seemed to say.
Suddenly the camera cut to Charlie. Charlie was a kindergartener I had taught two years before – a Chinese immigrant who spoke only Mandarin at home. A respectful tot in the midst of a silent phase, he showed his appreciation for our snack choices, enjoyed Wednesday afternoon baking projects, and loved the water table. He looked into the camera, wizened almost, as though passing down knowledge from generations past, unearthed from ancient tomes in tongues only he could read. “Always make sure your parents check your candy.” He gave a serene, concerned nod. Don’t fear. Charlie knows what you need to do. Charlie has lived some life. He’s been in the shit.
Enjoy your battery acid, grown-up.
I remember the very first time I tried a sip of beer: it was cold, out of the bottle, my father’s brand. I was young, and as with most young boys had a vague idolization of everything my father did as the epitome of adulthood. Beer, I thought, was certainly a part of adulthood, and I was a big boy. I deserved to drink the big boy drinks. After enough pestering, and with a knowing eyeroll, my father offered me a sip.
I may have spat it on the ground. Beer sucked.
I found this obvious and unhidden wizard time-portal in Busan. It was just lying there for anyone to use!
There are times when I imagine a rending of the universe, like a zipper coming down in the thin sheen of reality. The fabric of space and time rips open, and out pops me: a me with more years, with more miles. He would be drenched in a coating of intertemporal vernix, because that’s what happens with time-travel. There would be lines on his face, scars on his skin, and also a time-machine, because I like to think I would have found access to that sort of technology. He would be coming back to talk to old me with news of great import, if he had bothered to travel back at all: grave danger or some sort of quest. But I also wonder at what kind of look he would give me. What kind of advice he would give me.
I wonder if he would totally hate my guts.
Irrelevant stock photo of the week: what Michael first thought of when he thought of being old
Over the phone, I was told that Faith and Ty couldn’t meet me for a while, because they were going to spend the next few hours at the gym. I sat up from my couch, where I had been lazing in weekend afternoon splendour, disgusted and repulsed. I was in my underwear, and probably crusted with a fine corona of cookie crumbs. It was 3 p.m. “That sounds terrible. Why would you do that?”
“I don’t know,” Faith muttered. “I think we’re getting boring. I came home from grocery shopping the other day and was excited and asked if he wanted to know what new spices I bought.” She paused, as though wondering if I myself might inquire about these new spices. I did not. “Being an adult sucks.”
Photo seemingly unrelated? No! A photo from my first few months in Korea.
Moving to Korea is a lot like being born and growing up. You land, get off the plane, and you’re practically covered in placenta: shaky, sensitive to light and temperature, unable to properly digest the food. Your sleep is completely thrown off after leaving the womb that is the plane. Everyone speaks in crazed, bizarre mutterings, none of which you understand. You are alone and confused, and you need the care of others just to maintain ongoing survival. But this state is quickly forgotten once you get the hang of life, and you very quickly want to put those childish things behind you.
Related stock photo for opening metaphor? Oh, do I have some.
Children, en masse, are like the sea. They are capricious and dangerous, and awing and inspiring, and also maybe filled with crustaceans. Their emotions are torrential and stormy, and a bad mood creeping over their waters can spell marine tragedy for whatever wayfaring, Ishmael-esque figure decides to brave the waves. And they are controlled by the season, by the moon and the sun, by the passing of time, and the slow burn of spring into summer, the great chill of fall into winter. The tides shift and become impassable, and then suddenly the waters calm.
Homewall. My unyielding source of stock photography.
Whenever I’m particularly nostalgic, I like to think back to exactly how many people I have claimed to, or who have claimed to me, that we would be friends forever. I usually stop when the list grows too naively, foolishly long. I forgive myself those who I claimed life-long allegiance to from Kindergarten until about mid-high school, as friendships that last more than a year through schooling basically count as a lifetime friendship, anyway. But even as I’ve grown older, I seem to be perfectly confident of the longevity of the friendships I adopt, only to see them evaporate once the situation no longer holds us in one another’s company.