Korean food is very good. This is not something I feel up for debate, and living in Korea, the place where Korean food is from, I am regularly ensconced in the highest quality, most authentic versions of it I can possibly eat. Koreans do Korean food very, very well, and they all generally enjoy it a great deal. The problem, of course, is all of the other foods: Chinese and Mexican and Indian and Turkish and Thai and Canadian… all of these foods are reprocessed and filtered through local Korean tastes, and Koreanized in just a certain way. Those times when I tire, when I want something outside of the Korean wheelhouse of cuisine, I am bereft. When I want the food of home, it’s just not here.
I once met a man on the way to Incheon International Airport. I was sitting alone with my enormous travel bag, reading, and he drifted into the seat next to me. At length, he wrote the word “wretch” on a napkin in a lovely, florid cursive style, and asked me to pronounce it. It became clear that this was simply his ice-breaker, as he informed me that, as a retiree, he had nothing to do but ride the rails all day and talk to strangers. Internally, I reacted with some degree of horror. Why would someone spend his golden years of rest experiencing something so horrible and repulsive, so dehumanizing and alienating and weird?
Not talking to strangers, mind you. Riding the subway.
When I decided to move to Korea, it was very hard to process the idea that the other part of the world would keep going without me. I’m not trying to sound remarkably self-absorbed, although that may be true, but it was difficult to conceive. Sure, people would get older, and taller, and gain a wrinkle or a grey hair or a tan in my absence. Hairstyles would change, weight would be gained or lost, coats of paint would be applied to walls. Time would obviously pass. But it was difficult to really believe that the lives of others I was so involved with would continue to forge ahead without me somehow involved in the mix.