Goodbye 2013, Thank You 2013

For the purpose of this post, see: Two Sides of a Same Coin
For the ‘other side”s take on this topic, see: 2013 wasn’t so bad

(The December post has been delayed… like… a lot… due to… erm… busy schedule, not laziness)

As I wave goodbye to 2013, I feel like I have to take a moment to look back at those past 365 days and assess what kind of year this has been. And since I’m usually critical and cynical about things in general, I thought this was a good opportunity to shake off that sarcasm of mine for a while and be, actually, thankful. And thank God, 2013 has given me a couple of things to be thankful for.


I am thankful for the people; the new ones, the old ones. I am thankful for the new people I’ve met, for teaching me that it’s never too late to make friends, that once the initial awkwardness and dread of ‘mingling’ is over, it will all be worth it. There is something particularly enchanting and heart-warming when a ‘new friend’ picks up a jewelry you’ve been eyeing for some time, turns around, and says “This is so you”. I am more than thankful for the ‘old’ people I had to leave, for they are the only reasons I miss Korea like I never thought I would, for giving me memories to miss and to long for. And both have made me realize that no matter where you are, it’s the people you are with that matters. Boston wouldn’t be such a charming city if it weren’t for my sister (who, suddenly, when I finally join her in Boston, has field work and conferences all over the world but Boston…hmm…) or for the new friends I’ve met. I wouldn’t miss Seoul if it weren’t for the lunches, dessert, drinks and laughs I had with my dear old friends. And I often imagine, how much lovelier and more awesome Boston would be if I had my old friends here with me.

I am thankful for being here, on so many levels. Being in Boston doesn’t only mean I finally got to live outside of Korea, on my own, after I was old enough to make the decision and to go through the petty little things, as well as the big major steps, to make it happen. It means that I finally got back to all the sister-things I used to do – watching movies at the cinema, binge-watching TV shows at home, bursting out in hysterical laughs, having coffee. Maybe this shouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind at my age and at this stage in my life. But well, what can I say, it is.

On a more serious note however, being in Boston also means I finally got to open and step in the door that I think is my goal in life, for now. While waiting to come here, I often wondered whether this was not simply a fleeting infatuation of mine, like so many I’ve had. What if I had the wrong idea about what studying more meant? What if after a semester I realized that staying at school was the most excruciating thing ever? What if I ended up disappointed, disillusioned, and lonely? True, not all my classes were mind-blowing and not every single hour felt like a blessing. But overall, I wouldn’t exchange the few moments of excitement and eagerness I had during this semester for anything. I still have only a faint idea of what my main research subject will be in the future, but for once, the unknown is not so scary or daunting. I’m thankful to have the confirmation that I was not living in a bubble and to know that maybe, I’m not wasting my time doing this.

I’ve always loved JD’s last comments on Scrubs on endings. I thought about them when a close friend of mine graduated from grad school, and also when I myself graduated from GSIS. And although his words are about endings, I think they could just as well apply to new beginnings.

“Endings are never easy. I always build them up so much in my head they can’t possibly live up to my expectations and I just end up disappointed. I’m not even sure why it matters so much to me how things end up here. I guess it’s because we all wanna believe what we do is very important, that people hang onto our every word, that they care what we think. The truth is, you should consider yourself lucky if you occasionally get to make someone, anyone, feel a little better. After that, it’s all about the people you’ve let into your life. (…) As to the future, it didn’t seem so scary anymore. It could be whatever I want it to be. And who’s to say this isn’t what happens? Who can tell me that my fantasies won’t become true? Just this once…” 

So here’s to being thankful for what I have, and for what I will have.

The best things to be thankful for are often what we already have.

The best things to be thankful for are often what we already have.


Certain realization

Here I am again. And it’s good to be back. Updating a blog regularly during school semester, especially the first one, where everything goes by in a haze-like carousel ride, was not something I should have even thought of doing. Yet it’s such a shame, because it is when so many new things are happening, so many “I should write this down” moments. I guess I’ll have to guard them safely with me, until I find the energy, the time, the motivation, and the memory to write them down, some day.

The first semester is over, and although I am relieved it’s all over, I am, more than anything, thankful.

Each of the things I am thankful for could be a post on its own, and one of the things I am thankful for is to have learned.

Sure, I learned stuff in class, but I think I have learned most about myself. Yes, this happens, it seems that no matter how old you are, you always learn new things about yourself. You discover some aspects of yourself you did not know you had, which is usually less than pleasant. But I guess it’s just as important to know those aspects if you want to have a chance at changing them for the better.

I learned that I am far more conservative and far more ‘Korean’ than I thought I would ever be. And I wonder, did the past 10 years leave their mark on me? Or have I always been this person, even before Korea?

Going back and forth between two countries, two cultures, two places, is a tricky thing. I miss things I used to hate, I long for things I never thought were important. I understand the value of certain things I despised, I doubt the impact of certain things I trusted.

I miss the bustling of the busy streets of Seoul, where people push you without saying sorry, even if it’s just for the sake of giving them the evil eye and cursing them under my breath. I wouldn’t mind having subways come every 2-3 minutes, fully knowing on the other hand, that the drivers’ welfare is under no consideration whatsoever. I used to sigh with exasperation at the silence of many Korean students, but I now understand, a little, of why humility and modesty are still considered as virtues there.

And I fully know that I will be annoyed by these same things if I go back to Korea. I will miss the ‘thank yous’ and ‘sorrys’ and smiles, I will criticize Koreans for always wanting to be as comfortable as possible, without even recognizing the sacrifices of others for that to happen, I will point at their complacency as the reason for the lack of improvement.

I do wonder if there ever comes a point where I stop comparing the two countries and accept them for what/who they are.

Grateful things, Happy thoughts

Have you heard the girls working in cosmetic shops, shrieking to whomever passes the great promotions their shops are offering? Since subway stations are now full of these cosmetic shops and I use the subway every time I go out, I get an earful almost everyday. Did you also notice that these girls all have similar voice tones that are very disturbing? I sometimes feel like a banshee would want to take a few lessons from them. Is it a specific requirement for people working in these shops? Because, frankly, I don’t think a normal human being should be talking in such a voice, and I’m pretty sure that if they were to carry on a casual conversation with their friends, they would actually not sound like that at all.

‘Oh, so this is another of your posts in which you complain about people around you. You love hating so much now you have to pick on these poor girls working their asses off for a meager salary…’ … You may think. And yes, you would not be totally wrong. The moment one of them shrieked into my ears about the ‘1+1 hand cream’ their shop was offering, I was tempted, right there, to pull of my phone and tweet something in the lines of ‘Is it a specific requirement for girls working in cosmetic shops to have the most annoying voice ever?’ (Okay, I might have thought of waiting until I get on the bus, what with the freezing cold, my fingers wouldn’t have been able to type all that).

‘People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be’ – Lincoln

But then I stopped and wondered, how come all my tweets, FB status and blog posts are about things and people I find annoying? The more I thought about it, the more it hit me how disturbing this was. Actually, this thought had been lingering in my mind ever since I skimmed through this blog posting I saw per chance one day, about how this girl loved pajama parties. I didn’t get to read it, because I saw ‘pajama parties’ and ‘love’ in the same sentence and thought to myself ‘Ach one of those people who love every little thing in life!’ and moved on. But seriously, I remember ‘back in the days’ how happy and grateful I  used to be too. I really used to be a much happier and more appreciative person. I even wrote a post on another, more private blog, how the flowers smelled nice in the spring and that made me all ‘spring-y’ inside. The point here being, NOT why I would have another ‘private’ blog, besides my WordPress blog, my Facebook and Twitter accounts (just be glad I’m not into Google Plus), but that I too could write about lovely and joyful things in life. And somehow in the space of a year, I lost that ability.

So then and there, I decided I would look for and maybe write, if it’s worth it, at least three things I should be thankful for every…no, not day, week (I may have realized my bitterness, but I didn’t turn delusional). And right when I set up my mind to it and looked around, I found it, right there and then, three little things of the week I was grateful for.

1. Looking around in the bitter winter cold while standing in line to get on the bus going home from Kwanghwamun, I realized how little and insignificant it may seem, yet inspiring it was to see all these people, waiting to go home, stand in a perfect line to get on the bus. I don’t think anybody told them to do so, there’s no sign telling them, ‘Please stand in line’. And it’s not like this is a common thing to all bus stations in Seoul. The main reason I choose to take 15-30 minutes more than my usual route to get to the Kwanghwamun station is exactly because people here stand in line and I can be sure to be sitting all the way to home and sleep comfortably (minus the few, very embarrassing bangs on the bus window when I’m really tired). Sure, there are, from time to time, some old people who will cut in line, mumbling some lame excuse ‘Ooops there’s a line, I didn’t know’ and still get on the bus, as if all the rest of us enjoyed waiting in the cold. But all good things have a few exceptions. So, yes, knowing fully well how Koreans can be rude (‘Sorry’ indeed seems to be the hardest word for Koreans, especially when they knowingly bump into you and push you), I was grateful for this organized waiting.

2. I’ve had a load of translation jobs lately (that is why it took me a few days to complete this posting) and yes, I do not necessarily enjoy translating work, but I’ve decided to give it another perspective. I’ve been doing this ever since I could read and write it seems, and it’s not fun to be sitting in front of your computer all day and translate. It is also true that some of my translation works are less than ethical, I’m ashamed to admit, but since it comes to my survival and livelihood, I’m going to apply the well-known ‘demand and supply’ principle, which seems to apply to any sort of situation anyways. So yes, although it is not my ideal part-time job, how many ‘idea’ part-time jobs are there anyways? At least the ‘demand’ doesn’t stop coming in and it helps me get a fair amount of money to survive on. At least I can control my own hours and stay within the comforts of my room, an office, or anywhere with internet and a lap-top. So yes, thank you, all of you people who need something to be translated.

3. As I was waiting for the bus (yes, all my three thankful things came within the short span of time I was waiting for the bus. When I get my mind to something, there’s no stopping me!), I heard this girl talking on the phone. She was telling her friend that she didn’t really want to go to this gathering because although she was very hungry, she didn’t really want to meet the people who were there and talk to them. It seemed it was some kind of gathering where you basically know everyone who’s present, but whom you’re not necessarily friends with. She was saying what seemed nonsense to me ‘I wanted to go there, but didn’t really want to, you know what I mean?’ (Erm, no…how does that work?) and so on. And I was thankful I didn’t have such gatherings I felt obliged to. Throughout the years I have learned that life is short, the world is big, so you really shouldn’t be wasting your time with people whose company you find it hard to appreciate. I only meet with people I like (yes, they may exhibit some annoying traits from time to time, but well, who doesn’t?) and I don’t waste my time explaining to a friend there was this gathering I wanted to go but didn’t really want to go, not really. I just don’t think about such gatherings. If I get word or an invite on such event, I make up my mind in the split of a minute and then it’s out of my head. So I was thankful I didn’t have to go through this dilemma anymore, which, if you think about it, is really not worth your time thinking about it. You just need a few good friends.

As soon as I was done with my three happy and grateful things of the week, I had this sudden rush of so many things I was actually grateful and happy about, to which I firmly said, ‘Stop invading me, you madness!’. I have to save some for the weeks to come by, don’t I?

Yes I am!

And please don’t mistake me, I do know how to have a good laugh on a daily basis, and I too can smile in the middle of the day, walking by myself alone, just like that, because some crazy or happy or heart-fluttering thought crossed my mind. I just don’t think they’re as much fun to read as my miseries, so I keep those to myself, well, except for that day at Kwanghwamun (which is another thing I’m grateful for, it’s my favorite place in Seoul), there was too much happiness I couldn’t handle it by myself.

And…of course, I’m always thankful and EXCITED about…