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The Korean Fix

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Outside Lotte World Mall. Jamsil, South Korea

I cooked today. A bit of “meal planning” if you may. However, the final verdict for dinner was my last package of ramen. I couldn’t tell you which flavor of ramen, definitely spicy, but definitely not fish. (Thank G, because I’m sick of everything smelling like fish).

I also joined a gym today. I didn’t use it, because of the ramen coma, but joining involved swiping my credit card, and that counts as exercise, right?

Wait, back up. I did exercise today. I spent the last two hours at work chasing around toddlers. Up and down wooden slides, in and out of ball pits, ultimately spinning all fifty pounds of Asian bones in circles or kneeling down to dominate in a tickle fight. At this rate, I should be able to fit into the impossibly small clothes at one of the thousands of retailers this country has to offer by the end of the month.

That is, until the intoxicating aroma from the indefinite bakeries catches my attention during my walk home from school.

Hold up- there’s an abundance of bakeries is Korea? I thought they just ate rice…”

Was exactly my thought before a week ago. So when I asked for an explanation for why the country has a deep love for flour, but no oven to bake it in, the answer was simple: No one likes to bake, therefore the bakeries. Perhaps it’s a lot like why America is concentrated with GNCs…

Anyways, I’ll do my best to avoid the indigenous Paris Baguette lights that beam from across my apartment, and choose a healthier alternative for a quick meal (hence the planning). But produce, by the way, is stupid expensive here until I embrace kimchi as a major staple in my diet.

See, I’m attempting to get my life together. And I figured moving to Korea (South) was the answer to my millennial distress I’ve been facing since that horrid day which was college graduation. Now, I didn’t simply throw a dart at a map and pack my bags; I did substantial research (blog reading) before applying for a job as an ESL teacher in Korea. I considered my limitations under the qualifications of my credentials and did some comparison shopping. In terms of compensation and quality of life, South Korea deemed most lucrative. My paychecks won’t look like phone numbers; but I’ll be living rent-free, a life-hack I’ve mastered quite well thus far.

After a tolerable pay and living conditions, there’s the whole teaching thing. In Korea. I figured that Koreans were a gentle, loving, disciplined people. From what I can tell during working hours, they are. Unfortunately, six year olds are not considered people. No matter the nationality, no matter the subject, I tip my hat to all kindergarten teachers across the globe. Hell, I kneel down and praise you, teachers, because I am not worthy to identify myself with your kind. You are a special breed, teachers, a breed I hope budgets in enough wine from your underpaid salaries.

As for this teacher, I’ll have to budget enough soju for my weekends, considering Korean wine is quite dreary. The soju, a popular Korean ethanol liquor, went down much smoother this past weekend than I expected. It was no surprise that the fellow expatriate teachers I socialized with Saturday night downed the green bottles like water, creating a quick buzz on a tight budget. I may be trying to get my life together, but I’m not crazy enough to give up my drinking habits. Because when Friday comes around and I say goodbye to those shiny black heads, the bustling lights of Seoul seem much more enticing than singing the “ABC’s”.

Then it dawns on me… I escaped to Asia for multiple reasons, and avoiding corporate America was one of them. And while I may be working in an environment a little less conventional, I’ll still be living for the weekends. I’ll be waking up every morning, hitting my snooze button in grief until my coffee sets in. I’ll be frustrated throughout the day in spurts, questioning my intentions. I’ll be counting down the minutes until my walk home, where I’ll heat up a prepared meal, hit the gym, and set my alarm to repeat the same day all over again.

Is this what I wanted? Will I always be chasing the next best job? Will I continue to make excuses for why my life isn’t “together”? Or will I focus on the moments of my day when I was in complete bliss? When the children were all coloring in silence, speaking only to ask, “Jenny Teacher, is this right?” When those deep brown eyes light up in excitement when we sing “head shoulders knees and toes”. When I walk to and from my school, grazing up at the mountainous scenery. When I figured out the subway on my own to check out the lights of Gangnam that first Friday night of my move.

When I remind myself that I’ll never regret this opportunity, that leaving everything behind takes just a pinch of inner strength.

That’s when I realize, maybe I do have my life together. I just needed to move to Korea to realize it, rather work on it.

-JMM

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