There's no turning back now. A five year chapter of my time in Los Angeles has finally come to an end and with it, I feel a great sense of lightness. I spent my last night at home in the U.S. boxing stuff for storage, packing, and fending off panic, stress, and worry that I've made the wrong decision to leave behind everything that I know. It's pretty scary to drive out of our driveway–house empty, belongings in storage–straight for a year of complete unknowns. Even so, beneath that panic a growing sense of freedom has slowly descended upon me. I'm filled with joy, anticipation, and wonder for what lies ahead.
I'm on a journey to become un-stuck. To restart my life, to find creativity and inspiration again by leaving behind all that's familiar. So begins the next beginning, in a most unlikely starting place: Seoul, South Korea.
It is my first time in Asia and so far, I am smitten. South Korea is a country that for whatever reason, I have overlooked my entire life. I wonder how this place barely ever crossed my radar before despite the fact that friends have taught English here and I've heard Gangnam Style way too many times for my own liking. Everything is clean and orderly, the people are extremely polite, hospitable, and kind in a way that I rarely feel in American urban centers. In all my ignorance of the language, I have not once encountered a rude person. People have been so happily welcoming and patient.
Basically, the city of Seoul and the Korean culture seem a perfect blend of old and new. I expected to tough it out more, adjust to a drastic culture difference, perhaps sanitation issues, struggle as an outsider. But there seems to be a balance of both the strange and unfamiliar, countered by known modern comforts of the Western world.
Besides that, I've already discovered some really cool things that don't exist in the U.S. Such as Dog and Cat Cafes, where you can have a drink and hang out with about 25 little buddies and pretend like they're your own pets. Then, when you're over it, you can just leave.
Or Pooky girl photo booths, a phenomenon that really makes me wish I understood Korean just so I could figure out how to properly use the machine without the timer running out.
And who knew that rice could come in so many different formats? Rice milk, rice tea, rice wine, rice snacks, rice dumplings, rice pancakes, rice buns, rice noodles, rice cakes, fried rice, steamed rice, sticky rice, rice filled rice. Most things I've eaten here have been made of rice (I am not very much of a meat eater, perhaps I should note). Koreans definitely have this food staple mastered.
But seriously, I have been loving the food.
This country became part of our agenda when we were invited as cultural ambassadors with the American Film showcase. I will admit that we are incredibly lucky and probably would not have come to Seoul on our own. Our State Department welcome has been more than smooth. Days are filled with visits to universities, local media interviews, and chats with environmentalists. You can see that I have been very busy discovering other things as well.
At first Seoul is all modern, tall, silver, and filled with lights and LCD screens. Everyone walks around with smart phones and open Wifi networks are around every corner. The people are very connected.
But then, moving about the streets inevitably means happening upon traditional beauty and heritage. The restored palaces from the Joseon dynasty, the flower-filled Buddhist temples, the many houses in Bukchon Hanok folk village are architecture, color, and history in all its glory. This is how my new beginning unfolds.