The Anniversary

Always take off your shoes

Take off your shoes and stay a while.

Words seldom fail me, as this blog can generally attest. When confronted with difficult situations, with environments and occurrences that muddle in my noodle and seem hard to process, I can usually sit in front of a computer, compile several hundreds of words, and suddenly things make sense. Things fall into place: disparate emotions and confusing pieces coalesce, and I can deal with things again. This is preface to say that I’ve never been so dumbstruck, so wordless to describe my feelings about re-signing for another year in Korea.

One year ago today, I landed in Korea for the first time. I’m not sure if I ever really described how I felt on that day to people, outside of my attempts to seem cool, with it, and capable. I felt terrified. I felt stupid, and remorseful, and a little sick. It was like I had spent the whole night huffing solvents and slugging back everclear, only to spend the wretched morning teetering on the edge of a cliff, over a pit filled with jagged pikes and tigers and adulthood. That this had been my first Transpacific flight, a relentless 13 hour slog through the airways trapped in brutal wakefulness, did not help. I was alone, despite being surrounded by dozens of Canadians, including one I came to Korea with. I had agreed to this. Was I insane?

When I took my recent Big Trip Home, I got an exact picture of what I was willingly abandoning all over again. The people, the place, the feeling. All the stuff that I’d come to know, over about 2 decades, as life. It seemed absurd that I would be leaving again. I was naïve the first time, leaving Toronto as a man-child, unaware of what I was really discarding. But now I knew. And I was freely, truly deciding to devote another year of my life to Korea, to being abroad?

I know there’s reasons why to come back. I know there’s reasons why I should have stayed home. But I think it would take several thousand mealy-mouthed paragraphs, meandering flights of linguistic fancy, simpering pools of phonetic and morphemic cul-de-sacs to really quantify the why and the how. To put into words what I’m feeling as I’ve agreed to another year.

The cliché goes that a picture is worth a thousand words, and that’s only true because you let a picture bring out the words in other people. They look, and consider, and put words onto it themselves, and the story gets told. Why am I staying for another year? Look.

A lady

6 flags over Suwon

The giant Buddha

It's Korea, I swear

Temple cat


Bangkok by long-tail boat

Oh, hi there.

Almost touching

Dragon chasing

The streets


Lonely duck


Hey Buddha,



6 thoughts on “The Anniversary

  1. As always love your photos and as you know photography is a big passion of mine too. Photos do have a way of expressing your feelings which is why we have that picture in the kitchen from Scotland (home of your Grandparents)which I apptly titled “view from the loo” because it is this amazing sunset looking out to the inner Hebridies from the second floor washroom – it says all that needs to be said as to why we were there. Hope I get a chance to capture just some of what you have managed if I get to Korea.



  2. Wow. I wonder how I’m going to feel when I’ve been here for a year. Although I haven’t taken any trips home I did get to see my parents and sister. I actually think if I was going to stay longer and I went home it’d be harder to come back. I’d have to be doing something else though. I think with my own kids it would be fine, but I don’t think I’d want to spend another year watching someone else’s.

    I look forward to reading more on your 2nd year there even as (in 4 months) I will be enjoying the comfort and familiarity of home. ^_^

    • It was definitely hard coming back to Korea, because you know what you’re missing the second time when you give it up. Me and my friends have been talking about this a lot the last few days.

      (My friend Faith put it nicely: when I was there, I was there, but now that I’m back here, my heart came with me, and I’m glad it did.”)

  3. “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” (or, in this case, half of a world away). I’ve felt both before myself–the impulse to leave home, the regret of having done so. It’s like you’re sitting beside a fire on a starry night. The fire is warm and bright. Being near it makes you feel safe. You have no intention of going anywhere, but then you happen to glance up and see a scattering of stars. Something about the way they shine against the blue-black of the sky calls to you, and you wander away–just a little–from the fire. You can see more stars now, but the night is dark and cold. You look back at the fire. You love the light and warmth of it–you always will–but you know that if you truly want to see the stars, you’ll have to leave those things.

      • Thanks! I usually have one of three reactions to something I’ve written: 1) Ugh–I wrote that?? (frantic pressing of the ‘delete’ key); 2) Eh–it’ll do (crossing fingers that no one will look too closely); and 3) Ooo–I wrote that (wondering as to why I can’t pull that little trick more often). I tend to reaction #1, but it was #3 for this post.

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