Between travelling and intermittent internet connections, I haven’t had many chances to publish.  Here it is, the last post.

 

July 30, 2008

 

It has been more than a year since my soles have walked around on their home soil; it seems they should be aching for it – the gravel in the drive, the grass on the lawn, the fine, dusty sand in the lane up past the barn.  Kelly and I have less than 24 hours left in Frankfurt before the long flight home on Thursday and suddenly a year seems like such a short time.  We’ve used 7 different currencies, learned to say Hello, Goodbye and Thank You in 4 new languages (never did get Thai), we’ve loved the food and hated it, we’ve loved the people and been mystified by the cultures…  I guess I’ve been thinking about what to say as we near the end – good bye, good luck, thanks for reading.

 

At one point I thought I would have some final conclusion, some over-arching summary of our time, our thoughts, our experience, our growth, but it is hard to see it that way now – the journey was only begun on the road, all of the lessons must find their own root at home.  I think it is still unpredictable how this trip has changed us and will change us, but here’s what I hope I can remember – the road really does go ever on.  Just as you think you’ve started to crystallize, to become rigid in one direction or another, and you sigh and think, “Well, this is it, that’s just who I am”, you suddenly find that you’re on a plateau, a little higher up than where you had been – the air is clearer and there is a breeze, and you’re looking back at where you were and who you were – and it is different than who you are now.  Those revelatory moments were intense in Korea:  “I get better!  We get better! – Thank God, it gets better!”

 

The list of thanks is long.  I’ll start with Kelly – Mr. K, or just K.  From the beginning of this adventure, he knew that we would be fine in the end.  It was his confidence, his patience, his kindness and his wicked sense of humour that got me through the worst parts.  The crucible of Korea is just one of many tests that we are going to survive together.  You rock, sir, and I am honoured to be your back-up singer, because I know you’ll be mine.

 

And to those people who remembered us everyday, and called us, emailed us, wrote us, played their Scrabulous turn persistently everyday, and read our blog and said nice things about it (I check the readership statistics everyday when I can – it helps me cope!)  All of those things reminded us that, even if we were living in a country that doesn’t show it’s love very openly, we were still loved, and there were still people waiting for us to come home.  Thanks to our families, our friends, and a special shout out to Leigh M – for being the most persistent turn-taker on Facebook.

 

Also to the package senders – first of all, my wonderful sister, who actually filled orders for me when I was in desperate need (do you have any idea how hard it is to find a size 41 ladies shoe in Korea!), to Amanda and the Gulmans, to Nan, to Rozanne, and to my Mom, who knit and sent me a pair of socks, one at a time.

 

Thanks to Hope and Cam and Emma for the camera – we now have 2500 pictures and you’re going to see every one of them.  😉

 

I owe a debt of gratitude to my boss in Canada.  It takes a very modern imagination to let one of his staff members torque off to far flung places for their own personal development!  I’m eternally grateful, TH.  I extend my thanks to my co-workers, who understood and picked up the slack.

 

And to our amazing hosts!  Petek in Turkey – she knows how I feel about her.  I am so proud to be her friend.  To Renata, Daniel and Marisa in Frankfurt – from the night we arrived, and Daniel and his friends cooked up a barbecue, they have made us feel welcome in Germany (Renata and Marisa just returned from Canada – it has been a bit surreal to get news of Orillia from our German hosts, just before we disembark for the same place ourselves).  Renata was a welcoming host and Marisa was a charming and gifted tour guide.

 

Finally, to the friends we made while teaching – from Korea, in Korea, or far and wide, especially the “Friday” Wa-bar Set – times spent with you guys were the best of times.

 

(It’s a good thing this isn’t my Oscar speech – they would be playing the music at full volume by now and John Stewart would have to let me come back out after the commercial break.  Wait a second… what’s that noise?  No!  Not yet!  I’m not finished!).

 

July 31, 2008

 

Kelly and I arrived safely home this morning.  We were met with freshly baked date squares, and after a lovely lunch together, I came to the farm with my parents and he went home with his dad – our first separation in quite a long time.  Life is about to get very different for us.  Kelly has been accepted at Western University to do his Masters in Library and Information Sciences (we’re all so very proud!), so after a year in a tiny box of a life – eating, sleeping, working, walking, relaxing, everythinging together, we’re about to have the opposite experience.  I’ll admit to some separation anxiety, but I’m sure we can surmount this problem, too.  I’m going back to my grown-up job at the Legal Clinic in September – I’m looking forward to getting back into some real work.  We don’t know where we’ll stay, yet, but we’ve got some time to figure it out (it turns out that we’re much more flexible about our living standards than I ever believed possible).

 

August 1, 2008

 

I know I said that I wasn’t capable of summarizing our experience, but there is a subject that has been occupying my rear lobes, and our arrival home has given me some new perspective.  One of the things I thought about a lot as we spent our time abroad was the new sense of personal freedom that I had.  Korea is a very foreign country – I will never understand it, and it will never understand me – and I found so much freedom in that.  There was no one there to measure myself against in my conventional understanding of what is valuable.  Between Kelly and I, we had to decide what mattered, what priorities were, what morals were – and we could do this largely free of our own culture, and free of the culture of the country of our residence.  I know that this kind of freedom is possible almost anywhere, but sometimes it’s harder to see it, and the pressure to conform is much more intense when everyone speaks the same language.

 

Once we began to travel Europe, the feeling of freedom increased, and it combined with a sense of opening and warming – a feeling of rejoining the society of the world.  But still, something was missing.  That freedom is a double-edged sword.  To live in a country where no one really has any expectations of you often meant living in a country where no one really cares about you or understands you.  While we were away, sometimes I felt like an intensely magnified version of myself – seeing what was different, understanding myself and my culture in a new perspective.  But more often, I felt like a shadow of myself.  So much of who we are depends on our ability to relate to others – to tell our stories, to laugh together, to feel sympathy and empathy – to feel understood.  I didn’t realize how much of that self was missing until I was back home in the hothouse of my own family – people who know my mind, who get my jokes and understand why I tell them.

 

As I write this, I sit on the porch of my parents’ house.  The sun is shining, Willie purrs, a little breeze ruffles my new German haircut and I’m drinking my second cup of coffee.  Dear old Jetlag is my eternal companion, but I feel so relaxed and free of care.  At the end of it all, Kelly and I agree that we are happy that we did what we did, but we wouldn’t do it a second time – one year was enough to get a little perspective and a ton of motivation to move on.

 

Kelly and I want to express our deep thanks to you for following along with us during this period of our lives, but from now on we want to do it in person.  This is the last post.   Beginning August… (what, fourth, Kelly?)… beginning August 4th, we’ll be available for brunches, ladies luncheons, dinner parties, after-dinner speeches, and other non-profit events.  For nominal compensation, (usually a sandwich and a beer each), we would be happy to give you the whole story.  Email us to book now!  J

 

Kamsa Hamnida, Domo Arigato, Teşukkuler, Danke Schoen, Thanks.

 

With Love…

 

Kelly and Megan

 

 

 

What makes Germany so great?

The list is long – all of the people are we have met have been great, really friendly and free, cheerful and confident (with the exception of one really awful train station worker), I love the bicycles everywhere (airport workers ride bikes instead of golf carts), and the wind turbines everywhere – this country appears to be so tidy and responsible.  And oh, how I love the food.  After a year of rice and sweet toast, to see hearty sandwiches, endless pastries, slabs of meat, and potatos in every incarnation – dumplings, french fries, mash, and some miracle called spatzle – I’m pretty much in hog heaven. 

Mr. K and I are tired and sweaty, but finally back at our homebase in Frankfurt.  We figure that we spent as much time on trains and buses over the past four days, as we did off.  We discovered the German Twin Pass.  For 130-something Euros, foreigners can spend four days over the period of a month travelling around Germany (the circular trip we made through Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin would have cost us more than 700 Euros without the pass).  We’ve seen so much pretty German countryside – I think they must have invented nestled villages here – these things are so friggin cute.  Of course we also spent time in Berlin, and while it was fun and interesting, I think it could also be described as grueling.  It was hot and we did a lot of walking through the unpleasant memories of the city, the country, the world.  The Wall, of course.  The Holocaust Memorial.  An outdoor museum called the Topology of Terror – it is located in the foundation of the old SS headquarters – the building is gone – and is heavily peppered with those graphic photographs that it must show.  All of these things in stark contrast to the bustling, friendly city that we spent our time in.  It made for a fascinating trip.

Then I came home to hear about the bombings in Turkey – 13 people dead and 100 people injured.  My trip there left me with such a warm feeling that everyone could get along and live together, but it was tourist whimsy.  Kelly and I spent a lot of time talking about it with Petek and her friends while we visited.  Turkey is one of the crucibles of the world right now – it is divided in so many ways – it spans continents, religions, cultures, history.   I hope it can be the bridge.

I’ve said it before – going to sleep on the train is a lot nicer than waking up on the train.  Kelly and I are (the opposite of) fresh from the overnight train from Munich.  (I realize all of the catching up I have to do – you  missed out on the continuing adventures of Istanbul – believe it or not, we got to watch a performance of the whirling dervishes in the Aya Sophia on a day when the museum was closed – I have connections!)

Munich was fantastic – we visited the big fairytale castle at the foot of the alps and drank our share of beer at beer halls and beer gardens – a trip I recommend to anyone.  With 5 minutes left on my (very expensive) internet connection, I wish you all well.  We´ll be home in less than a week!

 

In Korea, I had time.  Time to think and write.  Here in Turkey, I have no time, but I have so much to write about.  Since Kelly and I have arrived here, we have met so many wonderful people and had such an unfair share of pleasure, I feel a bit a greedy.  Almost immediately after arriving, we headed to the island of Bozcaada in the North Aegean Sea.  It is just off the coast of a place called Cannakale – the site of the Trojan War story, and the World War I battle of Gallipoli.  Bozcaada is pretty sleepy as near-Mediterranean islands go.  They make their own wine, catch fish and host tourists in tiny pensions.  As a result of a small problem with our reservation, we ended up with the upper floor of a white stucco house, a room for each of us, and a terrace on the roof.  Poor us.  J   We spent the days on the beach, and the evenings sharing drawn out meze dinners with my friend Petek and her old friend Emrah.

 

On our last day, we took the local bus out to Troy.  It has been recklessly excavated by a foreigner who is referred to as the thief of Troy.  He was so desperate to find the treasure of Priam, that he destroyed layer after layer of the city in his greed.  Is there a Trojan horse there?  Not one, but two!  In 1975, after tourists’ complaints that there just wasn’t much to see in Troy, a big horse was constructed.  You can climb up into it and take pictures.  It looks kind of like a hobby horse.  The other horse is the one from the set of the Brad Pitt movie.  It now graces the boardwalk of Cannakale.  It’s so much newer, but it has all of the wonderful phony authenticity that Hollywood could muster.  We ended our stay on the coast with a visit to the waterfront apartment of one of Emrah’s old friends – a dancer and a teacher, and her boyfriend – a translator of poetry.  I would have been happy to let our ferry sail away without us.

 

After the long ride back to Istanbul, through fields of sunflowers and watermelons, behind trucks towering with the reddest tomatoes you’ve ever seen, we had a new imperative.  Saturday night was Petek’s fourth annual summer party and we were on duty for invitations, decorations, and party favours.   And can my friend throw a party.  Filmmakers, designers, hairdressers, dancers, and even a wanna-be Afghan War profiteer.  I had a conversation with a man on the tiny French balcony about the value of not belonging to any place – Petek later told me that he is a rising Turkish rock and roll star.   (I admit to a tiny thrill of groupie-ism).  Petek finally managed to clear the last of her guests out about 4:30 am, just in time for us to fall in bed and hear the morning call to prayer. “God is great!  There is no god but God, and Muhammed is his Prophet.”  Only in Arabic, somehow they manage to make that last for 20 minutes.

 

Yesterday, Kelly and I took some time to ourselves at a small café to collect our thoughts and compare notes.  This trip to Turkey has made us feel like we are authentically living – like we are intelligent, engaged people – it is such a relief after the relative coolness of Korea.  People here, the friends we meet, are happy to engage in enthusiastic discussions (in English for our benefit!) about all aspects of life, culture and politics – both within Turkey and without.  They are happy to talk to us and to listen to us.  I think Kelly would agree with me that our year in Korea actually made us feel, in some ways, like children – learning lessons more than teaching them.  Turkey, on the other hand, treats us like adults and it feels so good.

 

My computer doesn’t get along with the internet very well here, sorry for the dearth of blogs, emails and turns taken.  I will try to post some pictures of this friggin’ awesome holiday as soon as I can.  The time is growing short!  We will see you all again so soon!

It is the strangest feeling to be on the edge of the Marmara Sea and look back on Asia, the continent of our chilly residence for the past year.  The sky is so blue here, the clouds are so creamy.  The gulls look grey until they wheel their bellies toward the sun, then they flash gold.  My thoughts are scattered far and wide and I’m having trouble gathering them, but I am blissfully happy and completely empty of care or confusion.

 

This is my second time in Istanbul, but it has all of the fantastic magic of my first trip, and this time I have the added pleasure of watching Kelly fall into love with it beside me.  And it is such an indescribable pleasure to see my friend again.  Tonight, we are taking an overnight bus to the Aegean Coast, then a ferry to an island, where we will spend the next couple of days remembering love.  I feel like I’m waking up.  Evet, evet, evet.  Yes, yes, yes.

Not after tomorrow, anyway.  Kelly and I arrived in the Land of the Morning Calm on 7/7/7, and now, a little over a year later, we are getting ready to go again.  I could describe the situation in tedious details that are causing me anxiety right now; how many boxes have been shipped, how much money must still be converted, all of the luncheons and dinners of saying goodbye, but that is the stuff that my brain will click through in the background while I try to distil the strangeness for you.  I think it is mainly this:   How do you love a child for just one year, and then leave them?   I really hadn’t considered the ramifications of it before.  It seems to me that, whenever possible, children should do the leaving, not the ‘being left’. 

 

Today we walked home with bags full of teacher loot – slippers, mugs, bookmarks – and hearts heavy with sighs.  It was silly, sweet fun to be amidst the clutches of dramatic girls who cling to each other as they cry out their undying love for you, and you know that will last until they, as a single unit, fall in love with their next teacher (a girl with a Welsh accent – that will delight them!)  But then there is the little girl that loves you on her own, not as part of a group, but just because she loves to be with you – wow, she’s the one that gets to you.  Here is the email that I found in my inbox this morning from one of my students, about 7 or 8 years old:

 

Hello! Megan Teacher^*^

My name is Katrina

Megan Teacher How are you?

Katrina is Sad

Megan Teacher No go to the Canada please~

Megan Teacher! I love

by-by -Katrina-

 

To think of these hundreds of kids that I have known, that will always remember a little bit about me – just as we all do with our teachers – and I don’t even know their real names. 

 

 

 

This may be the last dispatch for a little while.  After work tomorrow night, Kelly and I will get on a bus for Incheon Airport for our flight to Turkey on Saturday.  The friend we are going to stay with tells me that our particular blog server has been unavailable in Turkey on occasion – I’m blindly optimistic that we’ll be able to keep in touch with you during our next stop.  If not, we’ll see you in Germany in a couple of weeks!

(Indulge her, please.  She may have sunstroke.   Ed.)

 

Melancholy, that sweet sadness that is more likely to make you smile and sigh, than to cry; that’s what we’ve got around here these days. 

 

As dull and repetitious as life can sometimes seem, as it falls into routines that simplify things and sometimes define us, it passes relentlessly and irrevocably.  It is the routine that helps us cope with this perpetual trickling away of life.  “Oh well,” we think, “there’s always tomorrow.”  Once in a while, though, circumstances force an acute awareness that every day, no matter how you live it, is a day you can never live again.

 

Today, we spent the afternoon on a rooftop next to a crane sanctuary, celebrating a birthday with people that, in our lifetime, we will never again see all at once.  We did the things that people do at parties:  we ate the food and drank the wine and had the conversations that people everywhere always have at these types of parties.  But as the cranes wheeled overhead, in the back of my mind, I knew that this was the last time I would ever be at this party.   It was so strange and so sad and sweet. 

 

Melancholy is completely distinct from depression.  Sure, melancholy may flow from loss or separation or pity; but it always flows from love.  Melancholy feels like it reaches farther than laughter, like it reaches back as far as you can imagine, like it reaches as far as God, like it unites you with people instead of separating you from them.  There is a song called “Melancholy Baby”, but everyone knows that it is not a song about a baby – there’s no such thing as a morose baby, there are no sad babies, no babies with the weight of the world on their psyches and their tiny shoulders.  Melancholy is something you grow into, the weight you gain in your heart.  Adults, as they should, shoulder the weight and let children grow into it as slowly as possible.  Passing it on only makes it seem heavier.

 

There were hundreds of cranes in the trees and in the sky.

A hot, dusty day in a small village in Africa – “David Locke”, an American journalist, is interviewing a “Witch Doctor” on a hand-held camera.

 

Journalist:  Yesterday, when we filmed you at the village, I understood that you were brought up to be a witch doctor.  Isn’t it unusual for someone like you to have spent several years in France and Yugoslavia?  Has that changed your attitude towards certain tribal customs?  Don’t they strike you as false now and wrong, perhaps, for the tribe?

Witch Doctor:  Mr. Locke, there are perfectly satisfactory answers to all your questions, but I don’t think you understand how little you can learn from them.  Your questions are much more revealing about yourself than my answers would be about me.

Journalist:  I meant them quite sincerely.

Witch Doctor:  Mr. Locke, we can have a conversation, but only if it not just what you think is sincere, but also what I believe to be honest.

Journalist:  Yes of course, but…

(The angle jumps askew as the “Witch Doctor” takes the camera and turns it back on the interviewer)

Witch Doctor:  Now we can have an interview.  You can ask me the same questions as before.

 

This scene is from a 1975 movie called The Passenger by Michaelangelo Antonio.  Jack Nicholson (what’s he still doing here?) plays a journalist who assumes the identity of a dead gun runner.  He learns that you can change your name and you can change your job, but there is certain baggage you will always carry around with you – the kind you can’t lose in an airport.

 

So that’s me – the journalist cum gunrunner in Africa.  (It’s only slightly less rock and roll, I convince myself, to be the erstwhile anti-poverty advocate and farmer’s daughter cum idealist “teacher”).  My point, in any case, is that everything you hear from me must be taken with a grain of manure, as I’ve always got one boot planted in the cow field of white, middle class Canadianism.    

 

What this means is that, on occasion, I’ve allowed my sensibilities to be offended by one thing or another over here.   Some examples?  If you are a foreigner discovered to have AIDS, you are immediately deported.  If you are a woman applying for a relatively low-paid, but high-profile job, like a flight attendant, you probably won’t be hired unless you’ve had eye-opening surgery (which, luckily enough, is often given as a graduation present).  It is not common, but it is not unheard of to see an adult man in business clothes throwing up in the street in the middle of the day from too much alcohol.  What do you think?  How does this make you feel?

 

When a person like me plans to come to Korea, they’ve probably got visions of changing children’s lives and connecting with people on a deepish sort of level (and I should know, being a person exactly like me) – fantasizing of discovering a global community and discovering one’s self.  It is a fulfilment of one of the modern pursuits of being cool – to be a person without borders.  To be unfazed by the way that other people eat and talk and do their business.  To be above geography, as it were; outside of culture.  But you can’t get outside of your own culture, you carry it with you.  And if all you do is hang around the outsides of another culture, all you do is watch and judge, you don’t really learn or understand.  For short periods of time, this provides the tourist’s exhilaration – taking delight in the strange and the new.  The danger is letting it tire you out without finding a way into it – to let disillusionment set in and cultural alienation get the better of you.  I’ve met many people that this has happened to.  Some days, I am one of them. 

 

What it takes is loving someone.  Someone who doesn’t just explain it to you, but shows it to you through their eyes.   To get this kind of glimpse into the heart of a person and the heart of a country, it takes trust, and trust takes time.  With less than two weeks left to go, I finally got this foothold – a more than friendly friendship – and the whole trip, the whole year, gains a new vibration.  She gives me new perspectives on the things she likes about Korea and the things she doesn’t.   Having these feelings for her forces me to have a new care about what happens next, both to her and to her country, I’m not just a journalist gathering information.

 

So now I wonder, does this give me more baggage?  Or less?

Once, the last part of the journey was on always made on foot.  A ship to a train to a ride in a carriage or maybe on a bus, then the footpath out of town, through the woods, across the fields and up the lane.  Walking lets you move slowly into spaces, to let yourself feel them – to notice what has changed and what hasn’t; and to let them know you are coming.  People might see you and have the chance to wave, surprised, and later say, “Hey, guess who’s back?!  I saw them today!”  But now we live far apart and we have cars that deliver us, quickly, anonymously.  We are packaged for our trip, unlabelled.

Our blog statistic page says this is post number 100.  100 posts in 346 days.  That’s right, I counted and we have 20 days left in Korea.  I can’t believe it.  Not that we’ll be seeing you any time soon.  K and I have planned some holidays in Europe, so we won’t actually be home until July 31st, but we can’t wait to see you.  Kel and I had been talking about throwing a big party to mirror the one we had when we went away, but after lots of talking, we’ve decided against it.  The intensity of a party like that would be wonderful, but overwhelming.  I don’t want you five minutes at a time.  I want to meet you in a place where I can see everyone’s faces, all at once, and hear all of the jokes.  Where I can savour the hugs and become un-alien again. 

Once we get our Canadian lives sorted out, then we’ll throw the party. 

 

Korea is making me really angry right now and I don’t want to talk about it, so you’ve got two choices: “My Ancestors” or “Zany Road Movies” – by a show of hands, please?

Just as I thought.

Alright, it is a little embarrassing to admit this, being that my university thingee -diploma, whatever – was in capital F “Film Studies”, but have I ever mentioned my deep love of mindless comedy? Especially those movies that could be described as zany road movies?

This runs the gamut from It Happened One Night with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert to Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. In the best comedies, the travel should not be undertaken for its own sake. There should be an imperative for the journey, but it should as ludicrous and implausible a premise as possible. There should be a two-person core, and a constellation of wackjobs along the way, leaking crazy wisdom all over the place, or simply mindlessly chasing the heroes, for reasons which should be explained, but which should be quite as unlikely as the plot (if the chase is not, indeed, the plot). And I’m usually quite pleased when they all end up in Hollywood (see PeeWee’s Big Adventure, The Muppet Movie and Jay and Silent Bob).

There is another kind of road movie, of course. The intense voyage that happens as much inside the main characters as it does out. Vanishing Point, The Straight Story, Y tu mama tambien. I like these movies, too, but I prefer to take them in by myself. First of all, I always get antsy trying to estimate someone else’s tolerance for slow movies (The Straight Story literally moves at 4 miles an hour), and the fact that I almost always cry at the end.

And some of the best ones hit the balance right between hilarity and insight – Darjeeling Limited, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I would recommend any of these, any day of the week, in the unlikely event that you haven’t seen them.

I think it would be great fun to make a road movie. And if I ever show any follow through on my teenage aspirations, it’ll be the first thing I do. Making road movies would make me part of a Canadian tradition, by the way. I think I had to do a paper on the Canadian road movie when I was in university, or maybe one of my friends did it and I just had to read it so many times that I thought it was me – Goin’ Down the Road, Road Kill, Hard Core Logo, Hiway 61. And you can sneak Harold and Kumar go to Whitecastle on to this list if you count that is was mostly shot in Southern Ontario.

So I have a couple of questions for you.

1) What is your favourite road movie?

2) Why do you think road movies speak to Canadians, or do you think that is an unfair generalization?

3) Wanna be in a movie?