In some pretty fundamental ways, HCB and I are remarkably different. Anyone who’s spent significant time with the two of us would agree. He lives by efficaciousness and facts and measurable quantities; I live by process and feelings and intuited impressions. He wakes up early; I stay up late. I get frustrated with routine; he hates the new. He longs for WASP-y formality; I hug too soon and to often. This lack of common ground has brought us to an impasse or two:
DME: I just read a review of an amazing movie. Apparently it explores the intersections between sorrow and memory. It’s two and a half hours of emotionally eviscerating interviews with war widows. Wanna go see it!?
HCB: No. No, I do not want to see this movie. Instead, let’s stay home and watch Shock Treatment for the 470th time!
(Lather, rinse, repeat.)
Although we are perpetually engaged in this struggle, our differences offer an interesting and very valuable benefit: the two of us are never affected in the same way, by the same thing, at the same time. This means that in general, no one crisis incapacitates both of us simultaneously. Instead, we seesaw. Yesterday was my freakout. Today was his. It’s actually REALLY convenient. With more similar dispositions, I’m sure we’d muddle through, but it’s nice to have a partner who—when you really really need it—is miraculously able to be the strong one. That’s just one of the really delightful coincidences that has gotten us here to the precipice of South Korea.
The origin of my freakout is the transition from fantasy to reality. For months, we’ve been imagining what this would mean, but now, we’re starting to replace those fantasies with actually information.
Fantasy: South Korea is a more conservative country, but the university will have some work around for the whole “gay-husband” problem. Reality: Nope. Gays can’t transfer residency to their spouses, and with socialized health care, the university has no say over who gets put on which plan. Solution: For now, I’ll keep my US health insurance and plan trips out of the country every 3 months.
Fantasy: there will be TONS of expats! Reality: Yes, there will be tons of expats (one source says 280,000; another says 360,00), but 80% of those expats are Chinese with Korean heritage. Solution: Seriously. Start learning Korean. Seriously. Not that I was planning on slacking, but seriously. Gotta get moving.
Fantasy: The university is going to give us an apartment in Seoul’s hippest neighborhood. We’ll live next door to artists and intellectuals. We’ll be within walking distance of all the culture and cuisine we could ever want. Reality: Although they are giving us an apartment, it will, in all likelihood, be located in a more suburban area well outside of the cultural center. We will be adrift on an island of intelligibility. Solution: See above. Also, get a metro card and commit to the travel. Don’t get stuck in the apartment. Isolation is the biggest risk. (See: Update)
It was of course foolish to imagine for ourselves so smooth a transition, but reality still stings. When this was driven home to me, yes, I had a meltdown. Not quite a crying jag, but there were more than a few blank stares directed at the ceiling. But then HCB came in, with his facts and research, and made me feel better. Upon arriving in Korea, I will be taking part in a series of culinary tours offered by a local cooking school, and in time, I’ll probably take a few of the actual cooking classes. Not to ruin the surprise but, if all goes well, friends and family may be receiving homemade jars of kimchee from Santa this Christmas.
After the pep talk, he dragged my lugubrious ass over to a Korean restaurant. Our feelings at the end of the meal were that we couldn’t get enough gal-bee (BBQed spare ribs), but we could get enough Kimchee soup. Also, I had my first so-ju. Not. A. Fan. But I hate booze, generally, so that’s no surprise. And HCB did so well! For as much as he hates new things (especially when those new things are fermeneted or made of fish), he ate four pieces of kimchee’d radish (juicy and pungent) and a small bowl of something mysterious and redolent of fish. Truly remarkable. He’s trying so hard; I love him so much.
I won’t get into HCB’s freakout because in the next day or two he will be doing a guest post. I know! I’m excited too.
[Update: Rereading this post, I feel like I was whining too much. “Boo hoo, my free apartment isn’t in the MOST IDEAL part of town.” I really didn’t mean it that way. Here’s the issue: HCB will be working. A LOT. And I’ll be on my own. When I imagined doing the whole Korea thing, I imagined waking up in the morning and strolling to a nearby cafe where a waeguk-saram (foreigner) like me would be welcome. I imagined a foreign cinema and a book club. I imagined finding a neighborhood for myself, somewhere familiar and homey. Really, I was imagining London with a lot more Asians. I may be wrong, but if that imagined neighborhood even exists in Seoul, we won’t be living in it. Which is fine! Again, not complaining. Just adjusting expectations. His school is giving us a place to live, for which we are EXTREMELY lucky, a fact that was driven home even more securely when we saw the place we’ll be living. It is swank. For realzies. (More on that in a future post.)
Also, the whole “no recognition” thing is more psychologically upsetting than I had initially expected. In the US, I don’t need protection: I’m white; I’m male; I’m college educated; I’m middle class; I’m butch enough that no one gives me trouble for being gay; I’m a citizen. I recognize my position; I really do enjoy the benefits of a whole lot of privilege. In Korea, however, I will need a little protection. Or at least, it would be nice to have a little protection. Again: I can do it and we’ll make it all work. This post was just a little release. Yes, it’s scary to move 5600 miles from home. But all these things – the location, the expats, the residency – they are, in the grand scheme of things, just security blankets. We’ll have what we need because we’ll make it happen. Empowerment, baby. Maybe it’s my privilege speaking, but I’m not actually all that scared. Right now, at least.]