Learning to be Proud

So last weekend I made kind of sudden plans to get approximately eight months’ worth of social outings in. To be honest, I didn’t really even make plans. But I ventured.

It was what I want to call Seoul Pride but is actually called the Korea Queer Culture Festival and on Saturday afternoon there was a parade. I had never been to anything of the sort and figured it would be a different opportunity as my first out thing to do. So I thought I’d go down, check it out, and go home. Hour, hour and a half probs. In the event, I was there like four (it may not sound like much to you, but it was ages for someone whose maximum socializing is typically under an hour daily).

The first thing was that it was raining. Raining to the point where I abandoned the idea of taking my raincoat in favor of only an umbrella, which I typically abhor (because I’m a Washington snob). So I get to Seoul Plaza, where everything is happening, and it’s raining. Good thing I have an umbrella. Then it’s raining really hard. Because monsoon. And the nature of crowds+Keegan+umbrellas is that I get soaked because there are so many umbrellas and most of them end up stabbing me in the neck at some point and gushing rain down my back and shoulders. But whatever, being soaked meant I wasn’t too hot (which I definitely would have been otherwise). By the time the parade started, about two hours after I arrived, it mercifully stopped.

The second thing is that I ran into a coworker and her friends. As I said, I had made no plans and didn’t really have any expectations. There were some booths, a pretty good sized crowd, and loud music. Not really my scene, was planning on making an appearance and jetting. After I had browsed all the stalls and picked up a rainbow fan from France (I think it was the embassy handing them out, there were several Western countries in attendance) I was heading back to the subway when, in the middle of the crowd, I saw someone I knew. So I attached myself to their group for a while, did some more browsing of the stands, and ended up– surprise– marching in the parade.

The third thing is that there was a protest, though it was admittedly small in accordance with the event in general. As we slowly made our way from Seoul Plaza onto the street, there was a large-ish stationary float thing and the first protest signs I had seen in both English and Korean. I recognize that I say this from a place of great and multifaceted privilege, but I felt strangely wonderful when I saw it. I can’t really describe it, I just smiled and almost laughed. I felt kind of giddy. I’d never been personally protested before and I didn’t expect that to be my reaction. But I guess that it just felt good to know so deeply, with truly every atom of my being, that loving Jesus and loving myself is good and right and complementary.

Overall, I think it was an excellent experience. I didn’t really know what to expect, both because I had never been to anything of the sort and because we’re in Korea. But my general feelings were that it would probably be smallish and restrained-ish but that if there were any out queer people in Korea, they’d be there. It was a decent crowd, I guess, though the parade only blocked off half a street along its little route. It was enough to make it into a Huffington Post video and article, so that was kind of cool. There are plenty of other little details I want to fix in my memory (for example, the zillion dragonflies hanging out) not really because it’s a memory I want to cherish (I was underwhelmed) but because it’s a memory I want to remember.

The reaction to last week’s post was not what I expected. Well, to be honest, I wasn’t sure what I expected. There was a part of me that figured other people would get what I was talking about but another part of me somehow imagined that I was the only one, that somehow the stream of life had stranded me in some wayward eddy.

I am relieved that the latter was not the case. Hearing from a number of people how much they identified with what I wrote felt empowering, in a way. I’ve had a couple conversations with different people in the past while talking about similar topics–the difficulty of finding friends, of feeling like you belong, the fear of being left out. I confessed to an adult in my life that I often feel like I’m better friends with people than they are with me, if that makes sense, and she responded by saying that she felt that way too sometimes.

It’s liberating to realize that there is some element of universality in our experiences. I don’t want to dwell on it too heavily here, perhaps at some later date, but I did want to take a moment to recognize how important it is to talk about things that are hard to talk about. When we share ourselves with others, I think we will often find that the sharing doesn’t end with the self.

In stating a similar sentiment, with much sincerity, John Green addresses his love for fiction by saying,

I understand in the abstract that I am not alone but reading good fiction helps me feel un-alone in, like, the deepest ways. It makes me feel like even my inexpressible fears and demons don’t separate me from humanity.

That also neatly sums up my views on reading.

If my post last week could help you feel any of that, in any small measure, then I am honored.

And as for the rest of it… here, queer, not alone.

Alonesickness and the Aching of a Tender Heart

The following post I wrote in early 2016, in a particular mood resulting from a particular time and experience. It does not reflect my normal state, nor a state which I tend often to find myself in. But part of me writing this blog is striving to be genuine to myself. If this were a normal journal, it would be over because I’ve already written it. But this is a blog and, having written it, I felt like it ought to be shared. Nothing of note happened this week, and enough time has elapsed to avoid parental freak out (I hope). I mean no disparagement to the friends and family I hold very dear. I simply reflect on my personal experience as an individual often alone, rarely (but occasionally acutely) lonely. Anyway, here goes.

Who do you talk to when you’re lonely? The first people that come to mind–close friends, confidants, parents, siblings–are out. If you felt like talking to them, you wouldn’t feel lonely, would you? I’m an introvert, distinctly so, and I don’t often feel lonely. I once saw a little comic explaining introverts and one frame said, “Often alone, rarely lonely.” And that’s very much true for me. But sometimes, usually in the evenings, often when watching a show or reading a book with a particularly poignant friend moment, I’ll feel a low ache in my chest. Perhaps cry a couple tears. Sigh. Lie awake.

It’s unfair to my friends to say that I lack a solid friend relationships. Because my friends are the absolute coolest. They outshine other friends by many units of whatever scale it is that measures the brightness of stars. Sorrynotsorry to everyone else’s friends.

But still. Every once in a while I’ll get a feeling that I can’t shake. That I lack the quintessential ‘best friend.’ Or even the non-quintessential one. There are a variety of things that go on in my life and I’ll think, “Ah, I need to share this with X.” A funny quote (or a depressing one), a conversation, a feeling, complaint, or joy. Other things, though, I’ll think, “Ah, I need to share this with….” and no one fits the bill. It’s not that I need to share everything with someone, necessarily, but that I want to be able to share anything with a particular someone. Maybe that’s a byproduct of my voracious consumption of story-media. In stories, there’s so often the friend character that the main character knows is the one. Their relationship isn’t perfect, but it’s clear. And when they’re upset late at night or excited about good news or just bored and want to chat, there’s no hesitation. It’s obvious who they’re going to call. Maybe it’s my own inadequacy in not knowing who to call. Maybe the people are actually there and I just can’t see them properly.

Then there are other lonelinesses where I know who I want to talk to, but they’re thousands of miles away and electricity is an insufficient parody of real life-to-life contact. Sometimes the distance, the pixels of written words easily deleted, makes communicating hard things better, softer. But other times every mile is like another fracture in an already tender heart. And it’s not homesickness exactly, but an alonesickness that strikes, perhaps, even deeper.

I don’t know. Probably these words won’t make it to my blog. But I’m writing them all the same. Sometimes the only person I can talk to when I’m lonely is myself. And so I’m here, writing. Writing words that can’t take away the hurt, but can soften it. Make it intelligible. Baring darkness can be painful and scary, but it can also be a release. A freedom. And even if I never publish this, having real words–at least, pixels on a screen–is a way of revealing. Sometimes loneliness is crushing, paralyzing. And here, even though I’m still alone, I’ve summoned up another spirit of myself to talk to and for now, that is enough.

Amsterdam (almost) and Angry Crying (almost)

Of the five working days since last week’s post, I’ve had four half days. So congratulations to me. Since many of the middle school students were taking tests at school, my later classes were canceled.

In that time, from Friday night, I’ve read five books and gotten more than a quarter through another. And though they haven’t been hefty, dense ‘literature,’ they’re certainly been plenty large and not the light and airy teen fantasy drivel we all know I’m often susceptible to (and not ashamed to be. usually).

And it has been magnificent. I think I may have given some impression before–I really, really love reading. And I’ve done a poor job of it the past several months. I’ve read some, but not as much as my free time should have dictated. There’s something wonderful about sailing through books like they’re as light as so much breeze. Immersing yourself in another reality for hour after hour, and still thinking of it as you go on your way.

If you’re interested, I first completed the All for the Game trilogy by Nora Sakavic then the Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo. I’ll give you a quick rundown because they are the worlds I’ve been living in all week.

My sister’s introduction to All for the Game was essentially ‘made up sport…angry boys…bad parents.’ She did warn me that the first book was only alright but that the second two more than made up for it and I heartily agree with that assessment. As someone who really actively doesn’t care about sports, I was wary. But it truly is about the relationships. I’ve never wanted to angry cry so fiercely for such an extended period of time (though in the event no actual tears were shed). I feel like other people must know what angry crying is–when you are so angry that all you can do is cry–and that’s basically these books. Just… bad things happen in the world and it’s awful. I actually hated most of the characters most of the time, but they grew on me. And are growing on me still. One of those things where I was just coming around when the trilogy suddenly ended and I just wanted more story (my sister was kind enough to direct me to some little things the author had written post publication for that very reason). By the end, the main character’s love/hate interest/story was my everything and I just needed more.

The other was significantly less emotionally fraught but was a mature(r) fantasy adventure and I got caught up in it as well. Overcoming prejudice, overcoming issues, but mostly exciting twists and turns in an elaborate heist and the efforts required to finally get paid. The world was all fantasy but it had some very clear models and the setting was probably my favorite part. Something like eighteenth century Amsterdam was the main deal with plenty of Sweden and Russia thrown in, sprinkled with Roma, some miscellaneous East Asian something (Chinese?) and culturally ambiguous black people. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I feel like I could live in Amsterdam, I loved my week there so much.

So there’s nothing else to say for this week. I’ve for real spent it all reading. I did also want to say that yes, monsoons are real. I haven’t really seen much different than, say, summer storms in D.C. but it’s definitely monsoon season here. Maybe I’ll do something else next week. But I kind of hope not.

One Hundred Things That Have Happened in the Past One Hundred Weeks

  1. I moved to Korea.
  2. I read Pictures of Hollis Woods and The Graveyard Book for class and enjoyed both.
  3. Britain decided to leave the EU.
  4. I lived in a house that was perpetually cold and had no heating.
  5. I got a Kakao and a Line account for work. Kakao is much better.
  6. I developed a deep and abiding love for Tesco.
  7. I felt at home in a place that was not my home (more than once but not often).
  8. I visited my sister and checked off two more US states (AZ and NM).
  9. I learned that LG originally stood for Lucky Goldstar not Life is Good.
  10. I watched Inside Out and thought it was alright.
  11. I consumed gochujang in many forms and still don’t like it.
  12. I received this picture of my cat. Bubba2017-6-29
  13. I learned how to use screen mirroring because I do it in class every day.
  14. I despaired of finding real cheese in Korea.
  15. I found some real cheese in Korea, but only on one particular dish.
  16. I learned Hangul.
  17. I started playing D&D again (virtually) and it’s great.
  18. I felt lonely (more than once).
  19. I ate some tangerine named after Hallasan (the tallest mountain in South Korea).
  20. I killed a rosemary plant and nearly a mint but the mint is still hanging on. Barely.
  21. I washed a quilty-thing when I probably should have had it dry cleaned but it’s fine.
  22. I visited Antwerp.
  23. I read The Count of Monte Cristo.
  24. I tried aged kimchi for the first time. Better than regular, but still gross.
  25. I moved to Ireland.
  26. I got over not having a dryer.
  27. I learned more Konglish than Korean.
  28. I moved into an apartment that is always hot but has AC.
  29. I went to Jeju. IMG_20170621_105549827
  30. I graduated with an MPhil from Trinity College Dublin.
  31. I took a trip on a single line of the Seoul metro that was almost two hours one way.
  32. I visited Amsterdam.
  33. I had a Belgian waffle (with Nutella) in Belgium. Exceeded expectations.
  34. I started saying ‘grand’ all the time because the Irish do.
  35. I worked in retail at midnight on Black Friday (but not directly with customers).
  36. I had ox bone soup. It was delicious.
  37. I tried and failed to figure out how to turn down the temperature of a toilet seat.
  38. I learned that Ohio is the only US state that shares no letters with the word mackerel.
  39. Donald Trump was elected president.
  40. I read A Man Called Ove and am still emotional about it.
  41. I got over not having a key but still sometimes check my back pocket for one.
  42. I found out who BTS was and kind of wish I hadn’t.
  43. I became a teacher.
  44. I climbed Ansan multiple times.
  45. I reread Stargirl for the umpteenth time and still enjoyed it.
  46. I found an English-speaking church in Seoul that I like.
  47. I received this picture of my other cat. Camaro2017-6-29
  48. I got Snapchat. I mostly don’t regret it.
  49. I learned about gene doping because I had to teach a lesson on it.
  50. Three members of my family visited me in Korea for a week.
  51. I felt embarrassed (more than once–often).
  52. I read the Chaos Walking trilogy and very much enjoyed it.
  53. I made many new friends.
  54. I grew to hate air pollution personally rather than in the abstract.
  55. I told my French cat joke to more than one native French speaker.
  56. I watched The Bourne Legacy and wasn’t impressed but was entertained.
  57. I planted basil and it’s doing well.
  58. I went to many museums in Seoul and learned a lot about Korean history.
  59. I turned 22.
  60. I ate small octopus (different from squid and normal octopus) for the first time.
  61. I got used to waking up at 2:30 in the morning.
  62. As soon as I was able, I stopped waking up at 2:30 in the morning.
  63. I watched Man of Steel. It was decent.
  64. I saw a few of the original Dol Harubang (stone grandfather) statues on Jeju. IMG_20170622_120728388_HDR
  65. I managed to live without a microwave or an oven (so far).
  66. I visited Oslo.
  67. I tried Pokemon Go but gave up because I don’t have data here.
  68. I learned how to pay bills at a 7-11.
  69. I possessed more money at one time than I have ever done.
  70. I successfully completed a dissertation. Or thesis. Still not certain what it’s called.
  71. Macron became President of France.
  72. I walked almost two miles in the rain at night during winter because I am stubborn.
  73. I worked retail on Christmas Eve morning (but thankfully not Christmas).
  74. I started to give a slight bow instinctively in certain situations.
  75. FARC signed a peace deal with the Colombian government.
  76. I visited the Hoh Rainforest.
  77. I had a lovely visit with a friend who had a twelve hour layover in Seoul.
  78. I felt proud of my accomplishments (more than once).
  79. I climbed a (dead) volcanic crater in the pouring rain. IMG_20170620_152819588
  80. I got a smartphone for the first time.
  81. I got another, better smartphone.
  82. I became a multimillionaire after only two paychecks.
  83. I came out.
  84. I was in Dublin for Irish elections to the Dáil.
  85. I was in Seoul for a presidential election.
  86. I visited Gyeongbokgung Palace. IMG_20170619_092830670
  87. Rio de Janeiro hosted the Summer Olympics.
  88. I became increasingly sensitive to and aware of nationalism.
  89. My sister visited me in Ireland.
  90. I did not visit the DMZ because of a mix up but was promised a trip at a future date.
  91. I had to drive to Seattle three times in one week and it made me sad.
  92. I bought a mask because spring air pollution in Seoul was killer (it hasn’t improved much).
  93. I bought a leafy green which turned out to be spinach still attached to the root.
  94. I saw many beautiful cherry blossoms.
  95. I read the Farseer Trilogy and thought it was good not great.
  96. I existed in closer proximity to more humans than I ever had before.
  97. I received this picture of my sister’s cat. Beegashii2017-6-29
  98. I visited Paris Baguette for the first time.
  99. I learned a lot about the Sami.
  100. I started a blog and here we are.

Long in City Pent

I kid you not, our guide on Jeju was a Russian from Vladivostok. His name was Viktor, which was also my name in Russian class. Obviously, I’ve gotten way ahead of myself but I had to tell you about him straight away since I was literally taking about Vladivostok in last week’s post. Anyway. Allow me to backtrack a sec for you.

This week I have some family visiting: my younger brother, step-mom, and her mom who is Korean but has been living in the US basically since the Korean War. So we’ve done a bunch of touristy things (including a number of things I’ve been meaning to do but had been to lazy to do alone). It’s been great so far.

We started on Monday with a pretty full schedule of running around Seoul and seeing as much as we could. We visited Gyeongbokgung Palace (the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty), a number of mountains around Seoul, Namdaemun market (where I had actually been before), and a variety of little sights around the city. Lots of driving. Like I said, very full.

Now they had booked an actual tour deal, but it was just us. This meant basically that we had most of our time fairly scheduled, but that we got a cool, personal guide. It is very different from how I usually travel–I also usually travel alone–but it was great. Our guide in Seoul is rad and it’s nice to have someone who knows where they’re going and can take you there witout much ado.

On Tuesday, we flew out to Jeju Island, which some have called the Hawai’i of Korea. It was absolutely lovely. As I’ve stated, our guide on the island was actually Russian, do that was neat. But mostly, Jeju is just wonderful. We visited natural wonders: waterfall, lava tube, cliffs, crater, beach ect. We also saw a wonderful temple (all the way from the 1980s!), historical governor’s palace thing, a stone park with lots of cool rocks and stuff, and a traditional folk village. We had some tangerines, for which the island is famous, and some fried chicken, for which it is not. I got sunburned (thankfully not too badly) and we climbed a mountain in torrential rain and strong wind.

Nothing we did was actually super impressive or absolutely amazing (not to disparage it at all) but the thing I loved most was just being out of Seoul. It was astounding how much I reveled in being surrounded by green. I guess not astounding because of course, but still. Sea breeze. Trees that are actually true green. Everything so, so lush. Driving along country roads with the windows down.

Everything was made of black volcanic rock. There were some columns that looked like a baby Giant’s Causeway, some cliffs that reminded me of Carrick-a-Rede. There was a crater on the coast that, from a distance, looked like Howth, even with the little low-lying isthmus connecting it to the main island. So basically I was in a hot, Korean Ireland.

I truly had a wonderful time there, in all the different weather. It really felt like a vacation. But I’ve just flown back from Jeju tonight, a couple hours ago, and I’m sort of pooped. So I’ll write more next week, I promise, and maybe include a few pictures. Tomorrow we’re going to the DMZ and I probably won’t say much about that, but we have a few more things to see on Saturday, and my brother and grandmother are leaving on Sunday and my step-mom is leaving on Wednesday.

Anyway. I know I talk a lot about city/nature but golly. I really needed this green. If you have green around you, please appreciate it on my behalf. I won’t be leaving Seoul (at least not for more than a day or two) until March. So read some Keats (that’d be the title) and nature as much as you can.

A Map of Asking

A bright idea I had before coming to Korea was the thought of visiting Vladivostok. It’s not too far away and it’s been a long-time dream of mine. Before I ever imagined living in Croatia, I hungered for a visit to the Russian Far East.

From a pretty young age, I was obsessed with maps. Looking at them, memorizing them, creating them for the fantastical realms in my mind. Two towns in particular captured my fancy, for no discernable reason other than they seemed isolated and uninteresting (hipster childhood, what can I say)–Vladivostok and another town across the Sea of Okhotsk called Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (that’s Владивосток and Петропавловск-Камчатский for those of you who would like to know the Russian). In fact, those two cities are farther apart than Washington’s border with Canada and California’s with Mexico.

Fun fact, Vladivostok means Lord of the East. Also, fun fact, the Kamchatka Peninsula is not accessible by road. There are roads on it, but none that connect it to the rest of the country. Mind you, this is a peninsula about the size of Colorado.

Having learned more about the region (and it’s many, many volcanoes), I’ve long wanted to visit, but it’s one of those pipe dreams, you know? Like, the only real thing on my bucket list (that I don’t really have) is to do the entire Trans-Siberian railroad in winter and have a nice visit in Vladivostok at the end.

It always pleases me when people ask me questions about Russia–history, politics, (more rarely) language. I am certainly no Russia expert, but I definitely know more than the average American. And one thing I’m proud of, if I may, is my willingness and often eagerness to look things up if I don’t know.

My roommate in college and I shared a passion for Wikipedia. Being intellectual college-y types, we were of course fond of having intellectual, college-y conversations. This often led to disagreements both philosophical and practical. On these practical questions, we would turn without hesitation to that wellspring of easily accessible and digestible information (yes, he was usually right). Sometimes our battles of facts were about which was harder: Russian or German. Who could produce the most abstruse, confounding, absurd rule or grammatical structure. Often, they were about the minutae of historical and political discourse that delights us. We were pretty ideal roommates for a number of reasons, not least because our arguments were almost always extremely short-lived–typically only the time it takes to skim the relevant header on a Wikipedia page or two.

Like I said before, I am not an expert. In Russia or in anything. But what I lack in outright knowledge (which is admittedly 94% useless and obscure trivia), I make up for in curiosity.

In  couple of my classes recently, we’ve talked about charisma (a difficult concept to explain, let me tell you). I was reading just a couple days ago this guy who was saying, in a massive paraphrase, an important aspect of charisma–and even just happiness–was curiosity. To be genuinely interested in other people and the world around you. Not that I’m super charismatic or anything, but you gotta thing it’s maybe something important.

I also want to take a second to note that I’m also generally pretty apathetic about things. In some sectors this is waning, but it still looms large in my personality. And sometimes I’m overeager to share the answer, or overly meticulous about correcting small mistakes. And I do get embarrassed when I’m proven wrong and feel vindicated when proven right, even at the expense of another’s feelings.

I keep getting distracted by these caveats making sure I’m not painting myself in overly flattering terms. Whatever, you get it, I’m not great. But I’m not meaning to talk about me. I’m talking about curiosity.

Basically what I’m trying to say is: it is okay not to know, as long as you’re willing to find out. Ask questions. Listen to answers. Be honest about the extent of your knowledge, and try to increase it.

I love talking to people about things I’m interested in, especially if it’s waaay more than they really wanted to know. And, likewise, I love listening to people explaining things to me when I ask, even if it’s waay more than I wanted to know. In my limited experience, I’ve found that people with knowledge are generally pleased to be asked to share it.

So go forth and ask questions; you’ll probably make someone’s day. The only way to fill in a map is to go off the edge of one. To get what you’ve never had you must do what you’ve never done.

Unexpectedly Delicious

There’s really very little to say this week. Classes have continued to be alright and I think I do prefer this term’s classes to last, though it’s hard to say. My extra class of very small humans is trying to me but it’s not really that bad. Sometimes getting answers out of students is like pulling teeth but again, it’s nothing exceptionally unpleasant (so it’s not really like pulling teeth after all, but you get the idea). Maybe rather boring, but it isn’t awful by any stretch.

I’m trying to venture out more with my fellow teachers, just to socialize after work and the like. “More” is a relative term so it doesn’t mean much actually, but it’s the thought that counts. My outings have increased in frequency; that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. It’s much easier to be social with this group because, while I really liked the teachers from last term, they had all been together for a year at least–not that they were exclusive, they were just used to each other. This new batch is new, so it’s not like I really have to break into super established social circles.

I do have one quick story. Last Saturday night, my neighbor’s alarm went off. I didn’t note exactly when it started, but it was around 9:30 pm. It continued all through the night, was still going the next morning. I left at 10 am or so, it was still going strong. Luckily, it had stopped by the time I returned a few hours later. It wasn’t incredibly loud, but it was 100% audible for the duration. It wasn’t a great night’s sleep.

This story comes to mind because I just heard the same alarm, starting at 10:19 pm, but it lasted for less than ten seconds. So they weren’t actually dead, the killers returned to the scene of the crime, or zombies.

If it’s the zombie apocalypse, you heard it here first.

I recently purchased a bottle of peach and golden kiwi drinking yoghurt and it was really good. There are few delights in this world to compare with consuming something that is unexpectedly delicious. (Also, I spell yoghurt with an h. Sue me.)

This week has furnished precious few moments worth mentioning, but that one was particularly enjoyable. If you’ve never had the pleasure of tasting some great peach golden kiwi drinking yoghurt, I’m sorry. I hope you do someday.

In the meantime, feel free to share with me your experiences of things that you may or may not have had expectations about but which turned out to be super tasty. Precedence will obviously be given to bread products and things that are sweet, but I won’t discriminate. I like food.

Until next week, here’s to tasty things. Especially the unlooked-for kind.