We are now back in Korea. We’ve actually been back since Thursday night, but we’ve also been pretty busy trying to unpack everything and return to some semblance of normal. We finally got everything more or less squared away yesterday, although there are still a number of things that need to be done in order for things to be fully back to normal.
I wasn’t sure what it would be like to come back home after being away for so long, but the oddest part of the whole experience has been how odd it has not been. That is, I thought it was going to be weird to walk back into our apartment for the first time in a year, but it wasn’t. It did feel a little strange to walk in through the door and see everything again for the first time in a year, but in the end it felt much like coming home on any other day.
I think I was a little depressed up through yesterday, partly because I was trying to readjust to life after being away for a year, but also (perhaps even mostly) because the air was absolutely terrible until today. Those mountains I was so looking forward to seeing again? Well, I couldn’t actually see them until this morning. Prior to this morning, the ridges and folds of Mt. Gwanak looked like construction paper in various shades of gray torn into jagged shapes and pasted in a collage on a depressing gray background. My eyes hurt, my throat was parched, and I didn’t even want to breathe. This morning, though, the sky was blue, the sun was shining (although not quite as brightly or cleanly as it did in Cambridge), and I could see the mountains again. The air quality index had dropped from nearly 180 yesterday to the fifties today. That more than anything else, I think, did wonders to improve my mood.
The process of readjusting to life here over the past few days has been a process of remembering things that I had forgotten, or had at least not thought about in a long time. Like where we put certain things in our kitchen (which isn’t as tiny as I remember—maybe because our kitchen in our fall semester place was even tinier!). Or the fact that some of the older generation here seem to be allergic to headphones or earbuds and just walk around playing their music for everyone to hear. Or how big Seoul is and how long it takes to get anywhere in this city.
I’ve also been processing my memories of our time in Cambridge. Yesterday, the past year still felt unreal, like a vaguely remembered dream. I think I was in still in that liminal state where I was trying to readjust; I couldn’t perceive the experiences of the past year as reality while I was trying to slip back into this reality. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but that’s the best way I can think of to put it. Anyway, I seem to be better adjusted today, for whatever reason, and my memories seem to have found their proper place in my mind.
I think another reason why things have been a little weird is that I have been so focused on coming back to Korea, coming back to my old life, getting back into the swing of things. There is a retrogressive quality to it all. But the truth of the matter is that there is never any going back; life only moves in one direction, and that is forward. My current surroundings may be more or less what I left behind a year ago, but I am a different person now, and my “old” life is really a new life.
Writing this has been a little frustrating, because I’m not sure if the words that I’m putting down are sufficient to convey what I’m feeling—and that’s probably because I’m not even sure what exactly it is that I am feeling yet. The disjointed nature of this post is evidence of that. Perhaps after more time passes I will have a better understanding of all of this, but if I wait until I’ve gotten everything figured out I probably won’t have as much to say. Also, the last day of the year seems like a good time to try to set something down before moving on. I’ll just leave it at that—and wish everyone a happy and prosperous new year!