"A Case of You" by Joni Mitchell: the line "I could drink a case of you, and still be on my feet" is one of the greatest lines in a pop/rock song ever. And other lyrics get quoted in the comments.
I always encourage my students not to ask the question "What's your least favorite thing about Korea" or "What's the worst thing about Korea?" when they first meet a new foreigner: do they really want to get the conversation off on such a negative note? And what if the answer to that question is something honest, or savage, rather than just another sideways compliment, the way it's often expected to be answered?
My "safe" answer to that question, for a long time, has been "The language barrier" -- it prompts a "fair enough" kind of reaction, and it shifts the onus from Koreans to "fix" something (for example, if I said "corruption") to me, who should really be studying the language harder.
Not long ago, my answer to that question changed: there's a new "worst thing about Korea" in town, and this is it.
People go home.
On facebook today, I discovered that it was Evan's birthday. Evan's one of my boys. Honestly, he's one of my favorite human beings. He's smart, but humble, he has a faith that is strong but realistic, that gives space for others to be who they are, without sending his own moral compass aswing. He was a loyal friend to me for about three years in Korea, and he was one of the few of my friends who'd call me instead of waiting for me to call them. And he always had something good to say, something on his mind, worth talking about.
Evan (on the left)
We never ran out of conversation once.
He's also handsome:
You've read about him here before, at this post (Do Make Say Think concert), this post (Christmas) and this post (his birthday party)
It's been a year of attrition in Roboseyoland: Evan the bum-chin is not the only one who left, either.
Kelly NameChangedForPrivacy, whom you first met way back in 2007, has also flown the kimchipot.
Kelly was another really nice lady: I knew her when we were both WAAAAAY younger, back when I lived in southern Ontario, and she was one of the first Canadian friends of mine whom Wifeoseyo met. Wifeoseyo was absolutely smitten with Kelly's warmth, down-to-earthiness, and sense of fun. Kelly's another one who never ran out of conversation: she always had a story or a joke, and while she was ready to laugh at a good one-liner, she was just as ready to shoot down a lame one.
When Kelly decided to go back to Canada to get her teaching career in Canada rolling, well, it was a sad day for me and Wifeoseyo. We got together and went to see the Rodin exhibit at the Seoul Art Museum by Deoksu Palace, ate the best Kongguksu I've ever eaten, and sent her off to church.
And now she's far away too.
Funnily enough, she and Evan were friends, too: you can see her here at Evan's party.
And last December, my best friend during my time in Korea, Matt, left as well.
This is the guy who not only pulled my fat out of the fire, but taught me how to recognize when my fat was in the fire, and how to avoid getting my fat in the fire for future reference. He backed me up across South China, in some skeezy streets of Yokohoma, and in a few shady situations here in Seoul, too. He and I shared some experiences that make great stories - stories of the type where people almost die - and also some stories that aren't dramatic at all, but involve things like grief, and heartbreak, and loyalty, and betrayal, and restoration. The kinds of stories that bond a friendship for life.
And that's Matt. He's my brother until I die.
Oh yeah... things got silly too.
And he left Korea, too.
Now I'm glad he's moving on to something bigger and better. I'm glad he's living out the life plan he'd formulated in his head. I'm glad he's busy loving the heck out of his fantastic wife (who happens to be another of my favorite people)... but that little, selfish, self-pitying part of me wishes he was still doing those things in Korea, you know?
So you know, life in Korea is good: it's a beautiful country with a bottomless well of things to enjoy, there's so much to learn about this place I barely know where to begin, and wifeoseyo is a stalwart, a wonderful support whom I love more and more...
people go home, though, and it's OK to stop for a bit, and remember them, and say "yeah. Those were good times."
Maybe some long-term expats start to hunker down, and only hang out with other long-termers, because we get tired of the comers-and-goers. Maybe that's what it boils down to... I hope that I never completely detach from the newcomers, I hope that I never become one of those smirking snarkburgers who makes fun of Johnny two-month and his "You know, I've noticed that Koreans are very competitive! Especially in school!"... but then, every time another friend goes home, it gets a little harder to invest in then next Johnny two-month that comes along, lest he also leave after twelve.
Is this the sound of an expat turning into a lifer? Maybe. Maybe this is why many of the lifers I know mostly roll with Koreans, and the occasional other lifer.
I'm trying not to let that happen: one of my favorite poems in the world is Rainer Maria Rilke's "Be ahead of all parting, as if it were already behind you" -- and I think it's fine, well and good, to have some friends who come and go, as long as you can spot and lock onto the ones who are friends for life...
but it's still sad when someone goes.
Evan: happy birthday.
Kelly: we miss you.
Matt: brother, you'll always have a home wherever I am.
Hope you're all well.