Thursday, March 31, 2011

I Left My Heart In Seoul

When I first visited Seoul, I absolutely fell in love with it. Everything about it made me feel alive again. It was so big, yet so small. The culture was fascinating. And everything was so modern. During my first stay, we did typical tourist things, like tour the palaces and museums. We ate traditional Korean meals. And less traditional meals at the fanciest of restaurants. We went shopping. We drank A LOT. We had a wonderful time. 

To save our parents some money, my brother had me stay with him in his fantastic apartment on the 37th floor of the Brownstone building.  It gave us siblings a chance to spend more time together plus, I got a chance to meet more of my brother’s friends, which further solidified my decision to move there permanently. 

It was during this trip I met my husband, though at the time I didn’t know it. When I met my husband, I had already made my decision to move to Seoul. On December 26, 2009, Phillip, Mom, Dad and I happily bounced along the snowy sidewalks near my brother’s apartment. We’d just seen the play Nanta which we’d all really enjoyed. Maybe I should thank Dad for wanting to walk to Phillip’s apartment rather than take a taxi. Because as we waited to cross the intersection, I looked over and saw an incredibly handsome Asian man waiting to cross the street with us. I smiled at him, and he smiled back at me. Boy was he cute! I looked away briefly but when I turned back, the handsome man was still smiling at me. My mom then teased, “Oooh, I think someone likes you!” And still, he smiled. The light changed and we were now able to cross. The handsome man began to speak to me.  And we walked across the street together while my family scrambled ahead to leave us be. 

Two things about him I noticed right away were what a great smile he had and how sweet his demeanor was. His English wasn’t the best but at least he spoke it enough and understood me when I spoke. But soon, my family got very far ahead and I had to catch up to them. Not before I’d told my new friend that I’d be moving to Seoul quite soon. He asked for my email address and I jotted it down with icy fingers. As I ran off to my family, I turned and blew him a kiss. 

My decision to move to Seoul had been final in my mind before this. Despite there was something about this handsome stranger, who I learned was a foreigner like me, having left his home of China behind to go to graduate school, I had no idea at the time I would marry him. For the moment, I was happy that I’d made a new friend.

Once back in America, after starting the process of cleaning up my mess in Miami and moving in with my parents a bit north in Stuart, I finally checked my email. And after hours of cleaning out hundreds of new messages, I found one from an address I didn’t know. It was the adorable Chinese man I’d met in Seoul. And thus, we began corresponding every single day. Toward the end of my time in Florida, our emails became a bit flirty. And when I saw him again, I knew that we were so much more than friends. And that I was so much more in love with just Seoul. I was in love with him.

Over the next few months, I busily applied for teaching positions. And Xiaolong and I moved in together. My brother had to change jobs and soon became even busier getting ready to move to Singapore with his wonderful girlfriend.  Soon, I was taking the subway like an old pro. I was learning the language. I was making more and more friends and I was loving my life. I discovered that I loved teaching English more than I’d ever loved doing anything work-wise. I was finally happy about my life again.

After nearly 6 months working at my job, my schedule changed with the new semester and I suddenly felt exhausted all the time despite I didn’t really teach many hours. Soon after, we discovered we were pregnant. And with that, waiting to marry seemed silly, and Xiaolong and I went to the US Embassy in Seoul just days later to get married. That was on September 8, 2010. We were so happy. We had it all. But something had to give. And it was our ability to keep living in Seoul. We had to leave the place we both loved most on this earth behind. 

In November 2010, Xiaolong and I moved to his hometown of Qingdao in China. We brought everything we could with us. Except a piece of our hearts, which will always be right there just across the Yellow Sea in Seoul.

How DID I wind up in Asia?

Unlike Bugs Bunny who took a wrong turn at Albuquerque, my move to Asia was planned. And I didn’t dig through the earth to get here. But I dug through my soul and found myself again when I first landed in Seoul in December of 2009. 

In 2008, I’d lost my advertising job that I’d steadily held for a decade, due to the recession. It was a blessing in disguise though finding new work would prove near impossible. The job had been killing my desire to live and there were now too many knife marks in my back to count from all the cuntery going on there. The loss of this job was indeed the catalyst that started my life in a downward tumble but eventually, led to how I changed my life for the better. Then I would have traded places with just about anybody. But now, I wouldn’t trade a single thing.

After some time, I did manage to find a fantastically fun and rewarding job writing for a dining magazine in Miami. And I loved it there! Getting paid to eat and write about it! Unfortunately, the job was not full time, nor did it pay very well. But it gave me something to do. I also walked a friend’s giant dog for some spare cash. But mostly, I had to rely on unemployment checks to see me through. Staying afloat was harder than I thought.

And then, all hell broke loose. My live-in boyfriend who had taken a job up north to supposedly support us broke it off with me after he finally came home from being away for months. I’d had a sneaking suspicion he’d been running around but no solid proof.  The only thing I had to look forward to anymore was my trip to visit my brother in Seoul with my parents. It was all that kept me going. 

Just days before my trip, intense rains ripped through South Florida. This is nothing new but they were so fierce and heavy, many areas began to flood rapidly. And as I left a friend’s house to head back to my condo of broken relationships, I plunged into a wall of standing water, hidden by shadowy trees and a large dip in the road.  At first, I was just annoyed. Now I needed to get a tow truck on a night when every single one of them was likely already deployed pulling other drivers out of flooded areas. But as I sat there on my cell, telling my friend I’d be coming back up to her home and to please call for a tow, my car began to move. And the water began to rise. And I realized I needed to go. Now. Or I might not live. 

It truly seemed like forever, but it all happened in just an instant. I grabbed my purse and keys and pushed out the driver’s side door. The current ripped one shoe completely off my foot. I made a grab for it but it was useless. It was gone and if I didn’t move it, I would be too. I swam hard and fast until I could feel pavement under my feet again. And then I ran. And I didn’t look back. Until I looked out the window of my friend’s condo and saw my poor G6’s emergency lights fading in and out with the current.

I was in awe. I survived. But why? I was given a second chance to live my life. A life that until that moment, I had somehow stopped really participating in. Bags packed and ready to go at Miami International, as I slid my passport across the desk to the ticket agent, I knew I’d have plenty of time to figure out why.  All I knew at that time was that this trip would change my life. But I never could have anticipated what came next.

My trip to Seoul was my first ever to Asia. And as I arrived, I couldn’t help but smile. I was thousands and thousands of miles away from my mess of a life. And for 2 weeks, I didn’t have to figure it out. I could just enjoy spending time with my family. During those 2 weeks, I fell head over heels in love with Seoul. For the first time in my whole life, I felt like I actually fit in somewhere. Somewhere that was as unusual and strange as I was. If we’d all decided to do separate activities and meet for dinner later, I would have felt completely comfortable navigating the city on my own. Within days of our stay, I knew how I would change my life. I would move to Seoul. And I would use my expertise of the English language to teach ESL, a lucrative career in these parts. 

In February of 2010, I moved to Seoul.  It wouldn’t have been possible without the help of some wonderful friends and my parents who moved me right out of the Miami condo I shared with a man who, upon my return, had revealed himself to be a cheater, one who donned wigs and wore my shoes and make-up when I apparently was not around, and right into my parents’ home. Though I am right where I need to be in my life now, I do miss how much fun my parents and I had before I moved away.  I hated to leave them and my friends behind but I had to move forward with my life. I had to start living again.