1.4 Spring 2020 (COVID Archives)

August 13, The Grass is Greener

C asked me about Busan and sighed wistfully at my response.

“I’m really tired of Seoul,” she confessed, “I’ve only ever lived here. I want to try living somewhere else. But my family and my life and my new job…”

I heard what she said and everything she didn’t. Family obligation, a long term boyfriend who doesn’t want to move, a five year contract at this school.

I asked her when these thoughts came up and she said they’ve been around for the last few years. She had secured a job at an international school on Jeju this year but ultimately declined in favor of keeping her life here.

Regret is the wrong word but the sigh had some bitterness in its resigned acceptance. I wanted to tell her that her younger sister could take care of her mom (all three live together). That her boyfriend and Seoul could wait.

I understand her, though, even if I wouldn’t do the same.

Still hurts. So much of young Koreans’ pain seems to be self inflicted. The internalized filial piety, a market of cutthroat image and status competition, rising housing costs in a city whose real estate speculation is about to implode… like Americans, none of it is required but still is heavily implied for one to succeed.

Sometimes I am overcome by this feeling I’m supposed to be living a glamorous and important life. I’m not even sure what that would entail except that I would be respected, connected, and never think twice about buying name brand at the grocery store.

It’s a feeling I get when I pass through rich financial districts with sparkling skyscrapers winking in the late hours. I don’t want to be that poor office worker at 9pm but my brain sometimes cannot compute that grass seems greener on the other side.

I wonder how much of it is my own neuroses and how much is residual imprint from the childhood education of a gifted kid. You can be special or you can be nothing.

Maybe it’s that in HBC and Namsan and Gwanghwamun people seem to be living easily and with purpose. I mean, he’s wearing a suit and has a watch! He must be doing something right.


Maybe it’s because over there restaurants seem warm and inviting, stores accessible, and life comfortable. On my side of town I see dead mice and once tripped over a knife in the street. Welcoming is not the word I’d use for my neighborhood.

Maybe it’s none of those things and is instead the gap between expectation and reality.

C and I are not so different in that we are both trying to understand where that gap is and what it means for us.

I imagined living in Seoul would afford me that glitz and glam; instead I have to turn on music so I don’t hear the alley cats fighting each other. Maybe I can one day aim to live in glamor, just to say I did and that it was in fact not any greener.

Don’t get me wrong, my neighborhood offers lots of unique experiences that I certainly wouldn’t find in places like Gangnam.

This entire train of thought started about halfway through my hair appointment in HBC, an international neighborhood with beautiful hilly views and diversity I don’t normally see in Korea.

The stylist asked what I was doing after my appointment and I paused. I didn’t have any plans, should I?

I wandered the neighborhood back to Itaewon and was amazed by the greenery, the trails, the English menus. Life could be this easy?

I started to think about the haves and the have nots and wondered about my life going forward.

The clamp down by the CCP in the last year has put a serious pause on any China plans I had. And for English teaching, China is where the money is.

I had planned to work in a hardship country like China to stash away funds so that upon eventual return to the US I could secure some property and have money to take care of my parents when they’re older.

In Korea, Taiwan, Japan… the markets are saturated and salaries are low.

I’ll have to reassess after my next Korean contract. Who knows what the world will look like in 2022? And if there’s ever a point where my career doesn’t serve me, I have the freedom to pivot into one that does.

I would like to get a Master’s— likely in applied linguistics but potentially a hard science depending on what life looks like in the future. I have no desire to teach public school in the US which leaves me with the eventual question of, what will I do when I go back?

Before I’ve considered real estate, professorship, international business of some sort, or foreign policy. Or a hodge podge. Or something else entirely.

But I don’t want to go back yet, teaching is calling, and I want to do my best while the world still wants to learn my language.

Now I’m just happy to take a break to do what I love most and study language.

Prepare your inbox for posts about grammar that I enjoy writing and no one enjoys reading.

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