Then the few moments happened when I transitioned from traveler to normal citizen. I had my backpack on but I didn’t need to have anything prepared and written down in Chinese or Asian characters. I knew my way around. I knew the voice of the subway lady announcing the stops in three (sometimes four) languages. I wasn’t the only foreigner in the subway car, in the subway station and walking the street. In a metropolitan city like Busan (or Seoul) Westerners have been coming to teach English for almost two decades so lots of Koreans are pretty unfazed by a round eye, especially the young generation. No one stared, no one wondered why I had a big backpack. Koreans travel all the time. They spend weekends hiking mountains or flying to Jeju, their subtropical island to the south where all the lovely ingredients in their awesome cosmetic products come from. Giant outdoor adventure shops are plentiful in the Korean city, so intense backpacks are pretty normal. When I got off at Gwangan station I knew which exit to take; I didn’t need to spend time scrambling around trying to find a map I could read…do I go West? East? North? I walked down to Gwangan-li beach as if it was a year prior and I was meeting friends for a drink. I found my new apartment with my new key thoughtfully put in the mail-slot for me, checked into my new place, showered and UNPACKED! I was back home, and had a new home, even if it was only for five weeks. Then I left to spend the evening with old friends.
By the way, I was a vegetarian for over ten years. The first time I was in China, back in 2009, I ate all kinds of animal things I never thought I would, in the name of politeness and also in the name of survival. You order plain rice in China and there’s likely to be pork bits in it. Don’t get me started on what you get if you order tofu. But I didn’t let that experience break me. When I moved to South Korea a few months later I went back to being “vegetarian”. I could afford to because I had a paid teaching job, and I lived in a developed city with all kinds of food options, even a chain of vegetarian restaurants. In big group dinners when my friends and co-workers indulged in juicy barbecue I stuck to the rice and greens. Some seafood too. So the top-notch Korean dishes like Samgyupsal, galbi and bulgogi (all involving fatty delicious parts of the pig and cow) I left to my imagination. But there I was, having just finished China trip number two where I returned to my old ways and ate anything that looked edible, regardless if it was kosher or not. I wasn’t stopping there, I decided. I ate pork in China. Heck I even went to a KFC. Korea deserved the same treatment. I wanted to truly respect its unique culture (food) and live it up Gangnam style. So I ate meat, in Korea. It was so amazing that I didn’t even feel bad about it.
Juicy barbeque, great friends and beach time. Who ever said you can’t go home again? You can, even in the middle of a backpacking trip.