First impressions are funny. Whether accurate or not, they are never complete. I barely scratched the surface of Korea, despite hitting most of the main tourist areas in Seoul. I think I got a good taste, strong enough to assert my obsession with the place, but it was too brief, too tantalizing, and it made me upset to leave after such a short time. Upset. More like I wanted to hug the ground and cry and never let go until I knew Korea like I know Taiwan, like I know America. Til I can call Korea home. The fact that that could be another two years is painful. Maybe I’m being melodramatic.
I’ve never done anything like that before – going somewhere foreign all alone and figuring out what to do and where to go all by myself. I always assumed people who did that were so cool and brave and had no trouble. No, “Ohmygosh I don’t want to leave this room just let me lie here in my puddle of nerves and watch life go on around me without actually taking part,” moments, no uncertainty, no fear of talking to strangers. It’s like I thought backpackers and travelers were privy to some grand secret of travel that made them better at it.
Well, maybe some are. But I’m sure some of you are like me, equally scared and excited, forcing yourself to be adventurous because you know you really do want to, but it’s just buried under a lot of insecurity.
But now I know that when I return, it will be a return, not an introduction. Every time now will be another time, not the first. I’ve done the first. It’s over, and now I can be more confident each time I go. There’s nothing so psychologically unnerving as a first time.
The one thing I do sort of regret is that I didn’t meet very many Koreans. None, in fact. I spoke to a few, but didn’t get a chance to know any. Of course, this was a very brief vacation, so that’s hardly surprising. I got an impression of the country, not the people. Next time I go, I intend it to be a longer stay, one in which I can get to know the Korean people.
It’s been a few weeks now since I was in Seoul. Memories are already starting to blur, with a few highlights standing out clearly. I wonder if chronic travelers ever have trouble remembering everything they’ve done. Do cities start to feel the same after a while?
I still have my map of the Seoul subway. It’s starting to tear along the creases. But when I open it, it seems like I’m back in the stations, sitting at a random bench, marking my course, hearing the trains and gate noises, waiting to go somewhere new. I can close my eyes and recall the adventure, the feeling of complete control and yet a total lack of it, the thrills and the underlying uncertainty. It can be addicting, I think, and now I really see why so many people travel constantly.
I didn’t feel ready when I went to Seoul. The days leading up to it were a mixture of “what have I DONE?” and “Almost, almost, almost, almost, almost…” There were plenty of moments when I just wanted to cancel my ticket and stay home. I just didn’t feel ready. But I knew that, as Lemony Snicket so wisely said;
“If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting the rest of our lives.”
So here’s to never being ready. Here’s to the people who do things that scare them. Here’s to the adventurers and seekers of life. Huzzah!