Sunday, January 11, 2009

On the Notion of Settlement

After a quite day at home entertaining some friends of the roommate I was ready for a less quite evening out in Korea. I'd already braved the cold once for dinner but as the clock rolled near eleven I figured what the hell again and tossed on the coat to brave the cold yet again for a night of drinking at the Lonely Hearts Club. The nice thing about insanely cold whether is that less people are willing to brave the cold so the bar was somewhat busy but reasonably quite enough to be enjoyable on a Saturday night.

As soon as I walked in the door I saw the petite and pert picture of loveliness that is my Korean love interest and desire and close friend, the exquisite Student. She was for a while in Pakistan but had returned to Korea and then returned to school to finish a degree. She now sits and drinks with me six months away from her degree in Anthropology. We talk like girls about the future and the present. She wants to go and study in France or Germany. I want to go and study in Chicago. We sip our drinks and smile at each other. We talk about the now, the today, the economy, Korea, life, the universe, and everything else we can think of.

The evening was normal as it is becoming the norm that I know hardly any other body in the bar and I end up talking more and more to the Koreans who have been around long enough for me to know. H stops in and I buy him a drink while he hangs out with his friends. Hyun mans the bar and is drawn into the conversation I am having with the Student on the very changing nature of my life in Korea.

"I just can't be here forever," I say to her.

"You could, if you want."

"No, it's impossible. I, I just get tired of being so much a freak everyday."

"No, no, Korea changes."

Hyun who is listening pipes in. "You can stay if you want. You can become Korean. It's not that difficult."

I just kind of stare at him a second. "Hyun, of course it is difficult. No matter what I do I can never be fully Korean. This is what I love about Korea, but it is also what I must be aware of."

"Why not?" From all three Koreans who are now drawn into the conversation, the Student, Hyun and Gun-ho the bar tender replacing H.

"Look, look at history. Here is Korea. Here is China. Here is Japan. China comes to Korea. Japan comes to Korea. But even in the middle of all that Korea doesn't change. Now many foriegners come to Korea. Korea doesn't change. It's Korea. It will always be Korea. This is okay. I can stay here for a long time. I can learn Korean. I can have a house here. But I can never be Korean, because Korea is for Korea first, always. And that's okay. I accept that. But it's not home."

"It can be home. You learn enough Korean, you can change your citizenship and then you are Korean." Says Hyun.

"It's not that easy." I shoot back.

"Sure it is, you make an investment and you can become Korean."

I turn to the student and repeat that it's just not that easy. Plus I don't have five million US dollars lying around, which is the minimum investment to essentially buy Korean citizenship.

The student explains this to Hyun slipping into Korean as now our conversation is switching back and forth from Korean to English.

"Okay," says Hyun " but you can still have a home here. You know, you stay as long you like. You can be Korean."

"It's just not that easy Hyun. It can't be a home. I want to have a home eventually."

"Well you can get a home and be Korean!" Hyun shoots back.

"Hyun, the only way for me to even remotely be Korean without investing an insane amount of money is to marry a Korean."

"Hyun." says the Student.

"What?" I ask.

"You can marry Hyunshick."

"Oh, my darling," Hyun pipes in and falls across the bar clasping my arm. We all fall into giggles at that and share another drink together thinking.

"I can never be completely comfortable here," I say into the quite spaces. "No matter what I don't fit in. I only fit in so much."

Hyun looks at me over his drink for a moment and breaks the silence. "Sara, no one ever feels completely comfortable here, not even me."

We laugh again as we all agree that we are all never completely comfortable. And then we share another moment of silence as we sit and think.

We all think about home.

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