Where To Teach: Countryside VS The Big City
I lived in the countryside for two years here in Korea when I first arrived. I now look back on it as a simpler and sort of happier time but in reality I'm not sure it was.
I was raised in a big town and therefore had the worst of all possible worlds. Big towns are the worst thing to be raised in. If you live in a big city people might be a little rude or aggressive and maybe it can be a little difficult to find your way, but at least there's something to do. If you're from a small place there might not be much to do but at least the place looks nice and you know the people around you. There is literally nothing good about growing up in a large town. Everyone hates everyone and there's also nothing to do. It was horrible and I wanted to get out of it.
I did get out of it and moved to Belfast in Northern Ireland, which was basically the size of a big town. Then I moved to Utrecht in the Netherlands, which seemed like it would be quite big but turned out to again just be a large town. So I could never escape them no matter what I tried to do. I've spent most of my life in this slightly miserable hinterland in need of escape. I went back to England, got a Master's degree, then asked my sister what to do. She told me to live in Korea and, as I always do whatever my sisters tell me to do; I did.
Which is how I ended up in the tiny town of Muju in the middle of this fine nation. It remains, to me, a really wonderful place to live but it was also insanely isolated. It's odd to think of it now when I have the subway (Line 1) so close by and it's so easy to get into Seoul, but in Muju there was only a bus every forty minutes. You could take it to Daejeon and go from there to anywhere else in Korea. I would often finish work at five and then spend three or four hours getting to Seoul on the long bus journeys up. The bus journeys didn't matter so much – it's always good to see the sights of Korea. They also allowed me to see the areas of Korea that most people never bother to investigate and there was so little stress with work that there was no need to lose my mind at the weekends to really feel like my working life was worthwhile. I still did that anyway, but the point is that I didn't need to.
I got to go to a lot of weddings too. People just seem to love having me watch them get married. I've been to six weddings since I've been here. Two of them were traditional weddings where I and three other people had to carry the bride and groom to the altar in traditional costumes, then a pansori singer started screaming at them once they'd said “I do”, it was quite the time. I went to another wedding where the couple had a song performed about them, with background pictures on a projector, which had been written about how they met and grew to care about each other.
I moved up to Seoul at the beginning of last year and discovered that it was, in part, hell on earth, so my dreams of living the big city life quickly got a reality check. I suddenly went from a really great rural job to a position where they changed my hours on the first day from 10 – 6 to 9 – 9 then proceeded not to pay me anyway. Seoul is good and it's nice to be there but Jesus, there are some bad people and it can be insanely stressful. While the people in Muju were accommodating and friendly and allowed time for someone to settle in, people in Seoul seem to demand so much just for the privilege of living in Seoul, it's a cool place to be but it's not worth killing yourself just so you can go to Club Syndrome pretty quickly when you finish work.
If you want a quiet life it's probably not advisable to get a hagwon job in Gangnam – that's a lesson I've learned now at least. In the rural areas you do miss out on actually doing anything though. My time in Muju is now a pleasant blur to me and that's not really what life's about. It's about chaotic and interesting blurs and memories which are actually worth keeping. Most of my time in the country was spent sitting by the river which ran through the town drinking makgeolli and reading poems aloud with my friend. We also had a weekly movie night where we watched deliberately awful films like 'Surf Nazis Must Die' and 'Osama Bin Zombie' while, again, drinking a lot. Time passed so easily. I would recommend 'Osama Bin Zombie' to anyone, 'Surf Nazis Must Die' is only really good because of the title.
Since moving nearer to Seoul I've found that it's impossible to be content just being still and not doing too much. Every weekend I need to go into the city and go to the MMCA or go to shows in Hongdae or Itaewon. Sometimes I spend all night at Cakeshop in Itaewon just because I feel like I have to keep doing something. The city changes a person. It's a good change though, at least it's an exciting sort of a change. People are a lot more interested to hear you spent the night in Hongdae than if you tell them you spent the night in a rural town in Jeollabuk-Do. Trust me on that. I've lived both lives and I know.
So even though it can be tough to live the big city life rather than having a comfortable time in a sort of happy backwater it's probably worth it. You have to do things in your life rather than just watching people get married and occasionally carry them around – that's just no way to live a life.