Beginning with the moment I stepped off the plane last fall, I’ve been keeping track of my time here. Whenever I met a new friend, I was asked the same series of questions: what’s your name, where are you from, and how long have you lived here. I still get asked those questions, but now instead of listing how many weeks or months I’ve called Korea home, I tell people how much time I have left. I can’t remember when it switched, but it turns my stomach every time. I’m leaving Korea in three weeks and two days.
I’m ready to go home. As amusing as living here has been, I long to be able to make small talk when I’m shopping, to talk to my waitress, to find food I recognize at the grocery. I miss driving my car and listening to the radio; I miss smiling at strangers and knowing they’ll smile back. I want to be able to ask for directions and buy movie tickets and read street signs. I miss my country.
But unfortunately, I can’t return there unless I leave here. And I love here. I love the students I get to see every morning, I love the hustle and bustle of big city life, and I love the people I fill my time laughing with. I’ve been really happy while I’ve been in Korea, and I feel like the more I clutch onto my last days here, the more they drip through my fingers like water. I just want to freeze time and not forget these moments.
Which is why I haven’t written anything on here in the last month. Every time a day happens that would make a good blog post, I wrap it up as tight as I can and hide it away inside my memory. I know it sounds silly, but I feel like every time I write a story on here to share with everyone back home, I have to give that story away to you. When I got here, I wanted to do that. I wanted to break the stories into little pieces and send them out to anyone who was willing to guard a tiny bit of my memory. I liked knowing that people back home were laughing at my mistakes and talking about my pictures. But right now, I just want those things to belong to me. I’m afraid if I share them with anyone, they won’t be worth as much to me anymore, and I need them to stay important. I feel like instead of life happening to me and being something I should share, life is happening for me. Moments that are so heartfelt and emotional feel like they only belong to me, like if I shared them it would somehow cheapen them. I’m overwhelmed by the joyful quality of my life here, and I’m desperately holding onto it with everything I am.
I know you want to read the stories. I rode an elephant in Chiang Mai last week, and one of my kids made me laugh so hard yesterday that I couldn’t breathe. I got kicked out of a coffee shop for being foreign, and I made friends with a girl named Banana on the night train in Thailand. The stories are funny and exciting and what life is all about, but right now, I just want them to belong to me. I have pictures of all those things and hundreds of other moments, but every time I go to upload them to facebook, I become strangely possessive. I want to be the one who looks at the pictures; I want to be the one who knows all the stories. I don’t want to let any of it go because if I do, I have to admit it’s almost all gone.
I know one day I’ll look back on the blog and wish I could read all the moments I haven’t written. One day, I’ll forget about the man who gave me his seat on the subway because I was crying or the family waving goodbye to the girl getting on the night bus to Bangkok. I may not remember all those stories, but I hope I remember the feeling of being filled with gratitude and appreciation for the story I’m living. I hope I can remember being so passionately in love with the life I’m living that I didn’t want to risk losing a single drop of it.
So that’s why you won’t be reading the stories just yet. Maybe once I get home, I’ll write down the ones I know people will enjoy the most; or maybe I won’t. Maybe you’ll have to sit across the table from me, sipping an overpriced (but fair trade!) Starbucks coffee and ask me about the time someone peed on my pillow or the time a prostitute showed me pictures of her precious two-year-old daughter and I hugged her because I didn’t know the Thai words for what I wished I could say. Maybe that’s the way stories are meant to be shared anyway, watching the other person’s eyes light up when they laugh or fill with tears when the story is hard to bear. I’ll always appreciate the power of the written word, but right now, I don’t want an audience. I want a conversation.
And I want to slow time down a little bit before Korea disappears into just a memory.