Thursday, June 30, 2016

Asia Vu, Deja Vu: A Quick Trip to Seoul and Some Thoughts on Expat Life

Oh, restaurant signs in Korea.  How we have missed you.

For those of you who have assumed that Asia Vu is now defunct (does 2 months of silence count as 'defunct'? It seems like it should) and have stricken me from your blogrolls, please be aware that I have written many blog posts in my mind recently and will publish them eventually, maybe  at a date to be determined. Mostly I've been experiencing the Blogger's Dilemma, in which being busy enough to have interesting material to write about prevents one from having time to actually write. 

I happen to know I'm not alone in this, because I've been desperately stalking some of my own favorite blogs for weeks and finding nothing but dust and cobwebs - which has allowed me to do a certain amount of rationalizing:  Well, xxx is an outstanding blogger, and she hasn't posted for weeks.... This excuse, of course, came to a screeching halt last Friday morning when we here in the UK woke  to the stunning (and by 'stunning' I mean 'inconceivable') results of the recent vote to hasten the coming of the World Apocalypse Brexit referendum which, if nothing else, has clearly struck a nerve with many bloggers, myself included (of which more later.)

Among many, many other experiences, MrL and I had a bizarre (by 'bizarre', I mean 'wonderful but brief, considering we flew across the world and back') experience in mid-May, when we flew to Seoul for a friend's wedding.
MsC and MrL, as cleaned up as you will ever see them.

 We stayed for exactly 4 nights (2 days in transit:  it's an overnight flight), indulged ourselves shamelessly in nostalgic activities, and spent as much time as possible with friends. This is, in fact, an uncommon occurrence in the expat community:  typically, people come and go so often that it can be rare to go back and find people you know.  However, since we'd just left 16 months ago, about 70% of our former community was still around.  This led to a sort of strange time-travely feeling, where things seem so unchanged that it's just like you never left.
The National Museum of Korea Gardens - my old stomping grounds.
The iconic Namsan Tower remained unchanged.
The food - omg, the food - was just as incredible as we'd remembered.


Oh, mandu (dumplings), you are so delectable. 
Squid-on-a-stick.  A new favorite.

We strolled through our old neighborhoods, went to our old workplaces, ate in our favorite restaurants, visited our friends, and took all our favorite walks (although it was definitely strange to do the walks without the Dog, who was our constant companion on most of them.)

And of course, we went to the wedding, which was just as lovely and joyous as we had anticipated, although everyone seemed astounded that we'd flown from England for four days just for a wedding.

What can I say:  we're sentimentalists. It was absolutely worth it.

I do have to apologize for the poor-quality photos taken with my phone, but hopefully you'll get the general idea.

The couple bow to one another as the ceremony begins. Notice the wedding venue has a runway/catwalk arrangement and can project images on the domed roof of the auditorium. How cool is that? 
If you zoom in, you can see what a lovely photo this would have made if I'd had a better camera...


And just for a little insight into how Koreans - who are so traditional in many ways - have used technology to enhance just about everything, here's a short video of the glowing, happy, newlyweds walking down the aisle - check out the (virtual) fireworks exploding behind them!

I think everyone feels this way after getting married; we just don't all have access to fireworks. 

In any case, it was a very strange experience, and I still haven't quite processed how I feel about it. Good, obviously, but definitely a bit sad as well.  On the one hand, we've been in the UK for over a year now.  We're settled here, we have friends here, and we feel very much part of our little neighborhood community.  On the other hand, we lived for nearly 4 years in Seoul; more than enough time to really feel like a place is truly 'home.'

It was a strange feeling, as though we had just temporarily stepped out of our lives in Seoul for a short time and then stepped right back in. Some things hadn't changed at all:  buildings, neighborhoods, food (glorious food!), our friends.

But, of course, other things had most definitely changed since we stepped off the airplane at Incheon in June of 2011, 5 years ago.

5 years ago:


  • We'd just moved to Seoul, and we'd never even been to Korea.
  • MrL and I were back in Asia and returning to expat life for the first time since the late 1980s
  • we were planning to be in Korea on a limited 2-year contract before returning to the US
  • We were a more-or-less typical American family of 4 with two teenagers, one of whom was beginning secondary school.

Fast forward to May, 2016:

  • We'd lived in Korea for almost 4 years and headed on to the UK, becoming  not just expats, but 'serial' expats.
  • Living abroad was the new status quo and we didn't think of our assignment in limited terms any more.
  • We were 'empty nesters,' with 1 son  graduated from Uni and employed (*bows head, modestly accepts congratulations*) and the other  - now very much a global citizen - attending University in NYC
  • And, of course, MrL and I were a bit older, grayer, and, accordingly, in possession of more or less hair, weight, teeth, and eyesight (pride compels me to point out that we managed to stay out until 3am with all the young people after the wedding reception, regardless of our age-related infirmities.)
Shenanigans in the taxi.  


Ultimately, though, the most poignant changes are those that are in no way unique to expat life, living overseas, or foreign cultures.

They're universal, aren't they? 

I think I must have something in my eye.

*sniff*

   

Sons #1 and #2, Seoul, June 2011

Sons #1 and #2 (positions reversed) in Bristol at the Clifton Suspension Bridge, June 2016