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Sorting through the piles of papers I always manage to accumulate, I came across some scribbles about Korea, written maybe a year ago:


Korea is old men with pink umbrellas and serious-faced peace signs. Korean is stray cats and service goods. It’s gifts and glances. It’s being naked in bathhouses and covering shoulders outside. It’s rain and dragon flies, snow and clear skies, smart phones and square glasses. It’s an endless photo shoot. It’s unwillingness to offend. It’s enjoyable weekends and days by myself. It’s time off school for holidays or exams and panic about open lessons. It is self-work, missing people, having hobbies. It’s making next-step plans. It’s passing through and staying for years. It’s learning Korean and being stared at. It’s not smiling at strangers but sharing fruit on mountains. It’s rice rice rice. It’s ‘good for health’. It is K-pop and maybes and lovely, giggling girls.


I said the first of my goodbyes today. As the end of my time here is approaching I took my beloved bike to the shop I bought it from, Imagemany moons ago. The shop is owned by a kind and friendly middle-aged couple who have sorted me and bikey out a few times since we began our adventures together. They have also thrown many “service” items – water bottles, head scarves and lights – my way. As well as being generous people, I think they were pleased by my Seoul trip last year.

I told them (in my broken Korean) that as I’m leaving Korea soon and selling my bike on, I wanted it looked over. Telling Korean people that you are planning to leave Korea incites a very common reaction. It is like they have just heard that not only are you going off to fight in a war, but also that their winning lottery ticket has just expired… A delightful mixture of genuine disappointment and deep concern. My bike-shop friends were no exception. After a few saddened shakes of the head, Mr Bike Man said “don’t forget us”, asserted that I “must come back” and when I do I must be sure to come and visit them. It was sad. I nearly cried. God knows how I’m going to say goodbye to the people whose names I actually know. But then, in a way, it is these connections that I will miss the most. I can stay in touch with my good friends here, but these day to day interactions that make me feel like an honorary local – there is no way of recreating them. And so I said simply that no, of course I won’t forget them. And yes of course I’ll come back, one day.

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