Looking for my way – I did not intend to write a journal entry today. Next Monday is a special day in the history of Liminality, and I was planning to (and still am planning to) write my next entry then. There are times, though, that things just need to come out, and when they do come out they burst out like water from a broken dam and keep flowing until the last drop is exhausted. You might want to step to the side—the cracks are beginning to show.
It all began rather innocently. After several months of ignoring them, I suddenly decided to check out my server logs. I know some people are quite devoted to their server logs, and even download them and run them through special programs to analyze them, but I’ve never really been able to get myself all that worked up about them. I suppose that shows how I feel about Liminality—it’s really just an outpouring of me, and I know that there are a few friends and family members that I care about who read it regularly, and that’s good enough for me. Not that I mind if other people read and enjoy my site. That would be great, of course, but it’s not like I’m going to lose any sleep if the masses don’t beat a path to my door. I’m doing this for me, because I have to.
That’s a bit of a tangent, I guess, but maybe not, as I have a feeling this particular entry is going to come full circle, or at least return to this point in passing. At any rate, the part of my server logs I enjoy reading the most is the part where it tells you what search words people used to find the site (I pretty much skim over everything else, since none of it is all that interesting). The top search word was “liminality,” and on a whim I popped over to Google and did a search. I was amused to see that my site is the number one result out of 37,800 for that term. To be honest, I feel a tad guilty about that, since people doing searches on “liminality” are most likely looking for academic resources, not an online journal. Hmm... that gives me an idea (more on that later).
A little further down the list I found the search terms “taegukgi,” “taegeukgi,” and “movie,” apparently typed in by people searching for the recent Korean hit movie Taegukgi (Korean site), which I wrote about in a recent journal entry. So I went back to Google and did another search, which led me to the website of a Californian who enjoys Korean cinema. I commented briefly on his entry, and then looked over at some of the links he had to other blogs. I saw that many of them were related to Korea (with words like yangban and soju in the titles), and I clicked on a few of them. After wandering aimlessly through cyberspace in this way for a while, I came upon the Korean Blog List, a list devoted to blogs related to Korea and written in English. I submitted Liminality, got a confirmation note, and am now waiting to see if I get approved.
And so, in my spare time, I have been browsing through these Korea-related blogs, primarily sites put up by foreigners living in Korea. I even came across the site of a guy I once met (at the time he gave me his URL and seemed rather proud of having a website, but I don’t think he had his blog up at that point—at least, I didn’t see it). I immediately noticed a few striking differences between these sites and Liminality. For one, they all had the incestuous mutual linking going on that is seen so often in blog circles—everyone in that circle links to everyone else in the circle. Not that I think this is inherently a bad thing, of course (despite my use of the word “incestuous”), but it sure does help make you feel like an outsider real quick if you happen to stumble upon the circle as I did.
Me, I suppose I belong to a different circle, one comprised of people who frequent the Ozone Asylum. The difference is that people in the Korean blog circle not only have links to everyone else in the circle, they also reference each others’ posts and entries quite a bit. This is, of course, a sign of a rather close-knit community and, again, not a bad thing. But it sure does give me that “on the outside looking in” feeling. Technically, I’m part of that group—foreigners living in Korea—but I am not part of the online community. None of those people even know I exist (well, except for that guy I met once, but I'm pretty sure he doesn't know about Liminality). I must admit, I got a tad depressed after a while.
Another striking difference I noted was that most of these sites were pretty vocal on current events in Korea, constantly quoting and commenting on news stories and other cultural items. Me, I think I’ve only ever written one entry on something that could be considered a “current event” (that would be “Going overboard,” my entry on racism and stereotypes in Korea), and that was only written because I had posted something on a Korean message board and was met with disparaging replies. If I had never posted on that message board, I would not have felt the need to write about what was ultimately a trivial event (namely, Wesley Snipes’ visit to Korea with his Korean wife). (After further thought, I suppose my second entry could also be considered current events, but that is still a small percent of my total output.)
As anyone who has read at least one entry on Liminality will know, though, I write mainly about my life, my feelings, my hopes, my fears, my dreams. Current events for me are what happened to me yesterday. Maybe that means I’m self-absorbed. It’s not that I don’t care about what’s going on around me. I keep up with the news, I talk about it with my wife and her parents, I just don’t feel like writing about it here on Liminality. Take the current impeachment fiasco (that’s as much of a political commentary as you’re going to get from me on this), for example. I am aware of it, I am watching the news, but I just don’t feel like writing about it. Maybe it’s that I’m too wrapped up in myself, or maybe it’s that I don’t want to sound off on something I don’t have a perfect understanding of. I guess this is where we come back to my original point—Liminality is about me and my place in the world more than it is about me and my opinions on the world.
This self–absorption, of course, is one of the reasons I am outside the circle looking in. When you comment on what is going on in the world around you, it becomes natural to incorporate the opinions of others with similar experiences. When you comment on what is going on inside you, though, the opinions of others take on a lesser role. When it comes down to it, I am writing about me, not about Korea. This journal is Korea-related only because I happen to be a foreigner living in Korea, and that is part of my life, and part of me. I suppose my thoughts and opinions on the world are a part of me as well, but ultimately I am far more introspective than extrospective.
So, even as Liminality awaits approval for the Korean Blog List, I’m wondering if I should have bothered submitting it at all, and if Liminality even belongs on the Korean Blog List. Never mind my obstinate and perhaps elitist refusal to call Liminality a “blog,” there’s also the fact that this site is not really about Korea, it’s about me. Am I splitting hairs here? Maybe—I’ve been known to do that from time to time (coincidentally, these times almost always seem to coincide with the times I write my journal entries). Still, I can’t get away from the creeping doubt that I just do not belong on that list.
If I were anything less than honest, I would end this journal entry here and leave the issue at that. “Brutal honesty” is my motto, though, so I cannot do that. And it is probable that you, dear reader, have already seen through my thinly veiled angst to the heart of the problem. To be perfectly honest, it is not Liminality’s place in the Korean blogosphere that is bothering me, but my place in the Korean expat community. In a word, I do not belong.
I no longer teach English, but occasionally people will ask me if I can teach their children. When I tell them I cannot, they ask me if I know anyone who can. Truthfully, I answer that I really don’t know any other foreigners. I do know some foreigners, of course, but most of them are Asians (Chinese and Japanese, mainly) in my department. On occasion I will hang out with a few of my wife’s students (she teaches Korean to foreigners), but those occasions are few and far between. For the most part, I live tucked away in a little valley south of Seoul, venturing into the city only to go to school, where I interact with my Korean classmates and teachers. I no longer attend the English service at my church—I attend the Korean service, and I am a member of the choir. I am surrounded by Koreans all the time, and have very little opportunity to interact with foreigners, especially other Westerners.
My nature may be just as responsible for this as my circumstances. When I first began learning Korean, I moved into a boarding house with no other foreigners, owned by a couple who did not speak any English. It was a bit drastic, I suppose, and quite difficult at first, but the immersion helped. I did not avoid contact with other foreigners, but I did not seek it out, either. As a result, I became somewhat isolated. Throughout the years, I have made a few foreign friends, but most of them leave after a while. That may also be a part of it—what’s the point in making friends with someone who’s eventually going to leave anyway? This sort of thinking is flawed, of course, and I won’t say it ever prevented me from making friends, but on the other hand I also never really actively sought out foreign friends. Then again, I never really sought out Korean friends either—there’s my introverted nature rearing its head again.
This lack of foreign friends and contact with Westerners in Korea never really bothered me. At least, it never really bothered me until now. I was perfectly happy in my ignorance when I was suddenly exposed to this thriving expat community online. I knew it existed, of course, and from time to time caught glimpses of it from the outside, but I soon forgot about it again. This time, though, it has hit me a bit harder for some reason. Technically, I am a foreigner living in Korea, so by default I should be part of this community. I find, however, that I am not, and it’s not so much the community part that bothers me as what this says about my identity as a person.
I am not Korean. I never was a Korean, and I never will be a Korean. At the same time, though, I am apparently not a part of the expat community either. By this I don’t mean that I simply do not participate in the community. It seems to me that the people writing the blogs I have been reading lately are quite different from me. There are people who have been here for only a few years, and then there are people who have been here almost twice as long as I have. The one thing they have in common, though, is that they celebrate their different-ness. They celebrate the fact that they see Korean society from a unique viewpoint, and they are not quiet in their opinions.
Yes, I know that I have a similar viewpoint, but somehow I feel I am losing touch—that I am becoming lost in ambiguity. A junior of mine at school said something interesting the other day. My pronunciation of a particular word led to a humorous misunderstanding, and everyone present was teasing me about it. My Korean is, of course, not perfect, and occasionally I slip up, and it aggravates me when people tease me about it. This classmate of mine, though, perhaps seeing that I was a bit annoyed, said, “Hyeong, you need to slip up like that sometimes just to remind us that you are a foreigner. Because we forget, you know.”
I smiled, but inside I was even more annoyed. ‘Why do they need to be reminded that I am a foreigner,’ I thought. ‘What is that supposed to mean?’ At the time I did not understand what he was saying, and it is only now, thinking back on it, that I realize what he meant. What he meant, of course, is that they only tease me because I don’t often slip up, and because I tend to blend in despite my skin color. This is different for people who don’t know me, of course, and can only see my skin color, but people who know me well tend to forget about that aspect. In a word, they forget that I am a foreigner.
I suppose what really bothers me is that I, too, tend to forget that I am a foreigner. This is never more evident to me than when I see another foreigner on the subway or the bus, and I stare at them just like the Koreans stare at them. Sometimes they stare back in the same way. It’s quite ironic, this tendency to judge others by the very same standard by which we ourselves hate being judged—it is hypocrisy at its finest. Yet what does this say about me, besides the fact that I am a hypocrite? Foreigners are not supposed to go around staring at other foreigners—am I forgetting my place, becoming Korean in my thinking?
When it comes down to it, that is what I fear—that I will lose my identity, that I will lose that which makes me me. These members of the Korean expat blogging elite, they revel in their different-ness, they celebrate their liminality. They show the world Korea through their eyes because they know that what they see is unique and beautiful in its own way. Me, I feel more comfortable working with Koreans and functioning within the system—am I losing my way? I can never “become” Korean, since that is only possible by birth. What then, am I becoming?
I now see that there are those who take pride in their foreign-ness, who speak to a foreign audience, who see Korea in the harsh light of objectivity. This site is written for a foreign audience, of course, but most of what I write about Korea (academically, etc.) is written for a Korean audience. Is there even a point in that?
I don’t really know what to think right now. I had hoped that maybe by writing this I would reach some neat, tidy conclusion and be able to tie a bow on this thing, put it away on the shelf, and then just go on with my life. But I seem to have raised more questions than answers, and here at the end I find that it is not a conclusion, just a bend in the road, and now that I am here I can see that the road goes on into the distance.
While it is much easier to figure out when to end an entry when everything comes down to a neat conclusion and I can punctuate it with a concise closing statement, there are times when things do not work that way. This is one of those times, and, at times like these, I only know it is time to stop writing because I have said what I wanted to say for the moment, because I have exhausted my current train of thought. It is not nearly as satisfying—in fact, I find these endings most unsettling—but it is an end nonetheless. The road goes on, and I have no answers, but this bend seems like as good a place as any to stop and rest for today.