Vast Visions

a year abroad in south korea

Together, Alone

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New Year’s Eve is the time to celebrate, to gather up with friends and engage in some “rage” – that is, partying and drinking until you realize that you’ve lost all spacial perception.

Instead of staying in Daegu, I decided to spend the occasion in the lively coastal city of Busan. I had been there recently for a “12 Pubs of Christmas” bar crawl, the second that I’d completed over this past holiday season, where I hopped from Haeundae to KSU to Seomyeon to…? On this night, some people I knew were taking the KTX train down to where the party was at, bent on raging all the way there. It sounded like a fun way to kick off the festivities, so I planned on joining in.

Being the incredible split-second decision maker that I am, I chose to take a taxi instead of using the subway to get to the KTX station…and ended up missing the train because of the heavy traffic on the road. (It was New Year’s Eve, still not sure what the thought process was on that one.) The taxi driver was really nice though, and it was worthwhile chatting with him. All of the phrases I learned from k-dramas came in clutch! He was even nice enough to call the station and ask if there were any seats on the next train. He must have been so amused by my company that he shaved off 500 won from the fare as he gave me my change. Unexpected kindness in Korea, once again. I wished him luck for the New Year (새해 복 많이 받으세요!) and off I went to get a ticket for the next train.

As I boarded the train and settled in for the 40 minute ride, I found myself feeling a little ridiculous. I was sitting alone, wearing a sequinned out dress, traveling hundreds of miles away to an uncertain location somewhere out there. During that quiet ride in, I held my coffee cup for warmth and stared blankly at the darkened world that was passing by me, catching glimpses of my own reflection and the speeding landscape in turns, absorbed in thought.

For the first time since I arrived in Korea, I felt alienated.

What was I doing, exactly, traveling all the way to Busan? I was so determined to go that I never asked myself for a reason. I was going to meet up with some people from Daegu, have a few drinks, and celebrate the New Year – that was the gist of it. But once I found my way there, besides the “Hello what’s haaappnin'”s, the drinks, and some random clubbing in between, I already knew that the night wasn’t going to shape up to be more than what it’s always been:

Just another night out. 

I had never been a very social person in the past. I had a loyal few friends back home that I would see occasionally. I was often busy with either a job or school, and my friends never demanded constant contact with me. Yet suddenly, in Korea, I feel as if the contact never wanes – always someone here or there, always meeting up, always drinking, always traipsing back with pocketfulls of receipts at sunrise. Although, granted, I’ve never met so many great people before and been to so many rad events and places, I realized at that moment that I was building up an identity for myself that I never had. An uber-socialite? Me? As unbelievable as it seemed, there I was, so determined to party that I took the train by myself, sitting crosslegged with sequins boring into my side, checking my phone for location updates and texts.

So after finding the herd somewhere in KSU and dipping into Vinyl for what was supposed to be the last few minutes of the year, I found myself alienated once again; this time in an overcrowded space, jam packed with people I didn’t know or care about, peppered with a few drunken acquaintances.  The band was playing something in a kind of slow rock malaise, as the singer wailed in the throes of it. The air was thick. As I moved through the melee, I felt as if I was looking for someone that I knew wasn’t there. I wove in and out, searching and searching, feeling emptier at each strange face.

I felt so disheartened that I left.

Out in the cold, I started wandering around the streets, my heart feeling heavy. Wasn’t I supposed to spend NYE in that huge group, partying, drinking, dancing? Instead, I was walking by myself in the freezing midnight air of Busan’s usually bustling university party central, in a deep and pensive silence. Everyone had scurried indoors to witness the clock strike together, to yell “Happy New Year!” collectively, to exchange hugs and kisses. But with my soundless footsteps in the night, I walked on, directionless.

Dully, the cheers of midnight swelled from the basement clubs and bars. The moment came and went. I looked up, wondering if I had made the right decision – to be out there, all dressed up but “nowhere.” Looking up into the black sky, I remember telling myself that it was enough to be in Korea at that moment, in a place that I had only dreamed about going to not so long ago.

To be in a different country, to be alone but content, to embrace the night as me and just me without the forced well-wishes of a wayward crowd – it was more than I could have asked for.

New Year’s is a time ripe for introspection, and for me it couldn’t have come at a better time. Four months into my stay, I can say that I’ve lived it up every single weekend. Not one weekend have I spent at my apartment, shut in, bumming around. And I’m glad that it’s been that way for so long. It’s about time for a change of pace.

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Carpe diem – seizing that day, every day – maybe through all of my experiences I needed to learn that it doesn’t necessarily mean always having a place to go or people to meet. If carpe diem is the means, the end must be this: to finally be content with the day that you are given, to be happy with the things you have, to cherish the people that you know and truly enjoy the place where you’re at. If not, you end up being carried so far away by the wind that you lose sight of what you really want. I know I did.

Maybe, four months in, I’m finding myself in need of some rest. Perhaps it’s been too much, the lifestyle of being out on Friday nights only to come back sometime on Sunday. I feel like this is the part of my karmic evolution that has become worn from a life of frivolity and excess. It’s fun for a while, but sooner or later you start feeling empty. Like eating too many marshmallows when you’re hungry. Or something. All the marathon partying has been a bright spot in my stay here, but now I think it’s time to take a breather.

I stayed in Busan to see the first sunrise of the New Year, and it was worth the wait.  

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That morning, I packed in with the other Koreans on Haeundae beach. As all the balloons and fragments of yesteryear lazily climbed the skies, I knew the resolution that I had to make:

This year, I’ll be good enough for me.

I’ve constantly found fault in myself for failed relationships, missed connections, or things simply beyond my control. I had been caring so much about what other people thought of me that I began playing a part rather than living as who I am.  Some self-acceptance and a little more meditation every now and then are the best things that I can give myself for this new year.

Everything in moderation, right?

(Actually, in a few days I’ll be off to a few places for winter vacation, so I just might need to delay my ascetic cleanse for a bit longer… ;)

Stay true to yourselves this year, dear readers, and best wishes for 2014! ^^

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Author: Natasha

26, student of law but still a dreamer. currently living in chicago.

7 thoughts on “Together, Alone

  1. You should post this on Facebook. I think lots of folks would benefit from reading it; I did. Your assertion that “This year, I’ll be good enough for me” reminded me of a poem by one of my favorite poets, delivered at my second favorite place in the world – The Green Mill in Chicago. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Ad3dH1ysQQ. I think you’d also enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9cw-qc-PO0.

    • Hey there anon, I must have done 20+ revisions on this one but you’re right, I’ll give it a facebook bump. ^^ Thanks for reading, great poetry recommendations btw!

  2. Pingback: Seoul Search II: Eat, Don’t Sleep, Rave, Repeat | Vast Visions

  3. Wow, great post! I feel like I could have written this myself, it resonates so strongly with me. It’s hard to put these sorts of things into words, but I’m glad you did. Here’s hoping to a 2014 that allows you to be enough for you, and then some. Cheers!

  4. Your resolution is reflective and simply wonderful. You are an awesome person and I’m glad you’re giving yourself the credit you deserve. Best wishes in 2014!

    — A loyal friend at home. =)

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