In the past four days I have had a couple of experiences that reminded me why I am so fond of Korea, and one of the things that moving to Korea has meant to me personally.
Last weekend, as my fiancee and I sat in Yongsan Family Park (By the Korean National Museum, Ichon Station, lines 1 and 4) I was amused to watch a young Korean girl in the middle of the playground. She ignored her surroundings and concentrated on waggling her left arm in the air. She found this intensely interesting, and so did I although I don’t think I would have been interested in doing it myself! In fact, as I watched her work her way around the playground, I noted that she found everything extremely interesting.
This started me watching all the kids in the park, and I noticed they all had remarkable ability to find things new and interesting. The boy who watched a bug intently for 10 minutes, then sprang up to chase a dog, could go back to the very same bug with the very same intensity as he had the first time he observed it (ok, the first time he poked it with a stick, he was a young boy after all).
I forgot about this until yesterday, when two things happened. First, as I was running through my daily blog list, I came across a blog that quoted the movie, Knocked Up (which I have never seen) in which two characters watch children playing in a park.
What's so great about bubbles?
They float. You can pop them. I mean, I get it. I get it.
I wish I liked anything as much as my kids like bubbles.
It's totally sad. Their smiling faces just point out your inability to enjoy anything.
Second, as I walked home and enjoyed the coolish autumn air and the spectacular foliage in and around Namsan Park, I settled in behind an older man, probably in his 60s. He walked along, but it was clear he wasn’t going anywhere, at least not in a hurry. He kicked at pebbles, he “high-fived” low hanging leaves, every once in a while he stopped to examine some small thing on the ground. When the sidewalk leveled off, before ascending to the Hyatt Hotel, he pulled a very thin, dead branch out of the bushes, yanked off the smaller end so that the switch was approximately cane-lengthened, and then swept up the hill like D’artagnan, poking and prodding at things in the bushes, waving the switch in front of himself, and pushing things (very small things) around on the sidewalk. I thought to myself, “what a great day, and what a great model for enjoying it.”
These three happenings, and the excellent mood I was in, crystallized something I like about children, about Korean society, and about what moving to Korea has done for me. Almost all children and much of Korea, is able to find pleasure in the smallest things, and they are able to find that pleasure again and again. I’m not sure I’ve met a jaded Korean.
Coming to Korea has restored this semi-childlike wonder in me. I had spent the last few years in the US weaving together banded bits of thread into something that throttled my ability to have spontaneous fun; there was always some important thing to do, or some way I had to act, and, at least where I was, there was no culture of spontaneous fun. In Korea, I was able to turn much of this around.
Part of it, of course, is that all of Korea was new to me when I arrived. So it was easy to be enthralled by the differences. This is one reason that people travel, you are a passport and a ticket away from a quick and easy return to a state of wonder. But another part of it is the spontaneous (a word expats often don’t associate with Korea) public culture that breeds the opportunities to have fun and new experiences. I think back to my hike up Bukhansan and the family that shared food with us (and others) and the climber who insisted I toast my summitting with Makkeoli. This kind of experience may happen disproportionately to foreigners, because we are so obvious, but I see it everywhere I go. Finally, there is also what I interpret to be (although it might be something else entirely) the Korea solipsism (I mean that in the good sense of the word) that allows Koreans in public, to ignore others and do their own things.
All of this has combined, for me, into an opportunity to reconnect with the little kid inside of me. Who knew he had emigrated to Korea?