English in South Korea for 18 months. Having barely finished the icing on my 23rd birthday
cake, I rolled my newly purchased suitcases onto a JFK flight and was off to I
didn’t know where.
teaching recruitment site; have an informational call with them (when they told
me you’d make more money in Korea than, say, Thailand or Taiwan); have an
evening interview call with a pre-school in a town on the outskirts of Seoul on
Tuesday; board a plane on Friday.
good parts, the landing was a difficult one. If I did have it all to do again,
my life to live over again, I wouldn’t have gone.
experience was for learning, and certainly this one was: I met great people,
had unusual experiences, got to travel to places I’d likely never have been and
endear myself to a classroom of wide expectant faces.
wouldn’t go. I was too fragile when I went. I was too lost to be uprooted. Yet, I
don’t know what would have happened if I’d stayed. Korea was where I eeked
along the bottom of an alcoholic lifestyle, and I’ve often said that if I
hadn’t been in Korea, where there was little access to drugs, and mainly only
to booze… that if I’d still been in the States and on the trajectory I was on,
things could have gone a much different way.
quickly becomes a 4-alarm fire.
attempt, gang rape, alcoholic stupors. There was racism and sexism and a
feeling of alienation from everything you recognize.
met some of my best friends there, ones who I’m still in regular touch with. I
dated a very charismatic Canadian who went on to work for the U.N., who’d put me
and my coworker up at his great aunt’s place in the orangutan paddock in a zoo
in Jakarta, Indonesia. I hiked up ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples; ate dog
stew, which was actually very good; planted my feet in the Pacific Ocean for the first time.
remember the glint of the flat rooftops outside the city as the train barreled us
from the airport to the city center. I spent a New Years in a cabin on a dock
in the warm waters of Malaysia and partied in a sprawling, palm-encased home in Singapore the following one.
do. And to quote Carroll’s Cheshire cat:
which way I ought to go from here?”
where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
–” said Alice.
way you go,” said the Cat.
somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
where I wanted to go, just somewhere else. Yet, despite the intervening years and nearly a decade of sobriety, as I begin now to set out
again to simply go “somewhere else,” I’m tempted to recall what happened
last time I didn’t know where that was.