I have been reading this expat blog in China lately called ChengduLiving – a blog featuring expats in China – specifically Chengdu, reporting on his life there and experiences throughout China. My interest in China has spiked recently – mostly due to the conflicts between China and Japan over the Senkaku Islands and also a Chinese Culture class I am taking. Previously, I have tried to take Chinese culture courses and found myself uninterested – but this professor I have right now is in charge of the Chinese language program at USF, visits China every year, and has over 20 years of experience in China which is really quite amazing. I sometimes even jokingly think he has a Chinese accent instead of an American one.
Senkaku Islands Dispute
Anyway, back to my main point. I stumbled on to this expat blog by writer Sascha when I was looking up stuff on the island disputes and was very interested in his post called Don’t Believe the Protest Hype – where he suggests that Chinese people are not quite as angry at the media seems to be indicating and many people are jumping into the protests just to do something instead of out of anger. Of course, he wrote this early on in the conflict and it seems the overall response has mostly shifted negatively now – though intellectuals do seem to condemn the violence. His blog was the first time I read a positive point-of-view about the Chinese who are protesting in what seems to be an endless wave of media coverage and speculations that Japan and China will go to war (essentially meaning the USA and China go to war).
I would imagine this can be a scary thing for the Japanese people considering any military action would likely be sought by China before Japan. Many articles and reports suggest this conflict (either through force or economic power) isn’t in the best interest of the Chinese Community Party though – especially in a time when China’s exports continue to slow and they face inflation and the economy slows as most countries do when the middle class begins to climb out of poverty. I do believe that cool heads will prevail though since China has control of it’s people (who it unleashed) through it’s immense military funds.
Enduring the China Blues
Another blog ChengduLiving has that I found interesting was Enduring The China Blues, where the same blogger talks about recent decisions by expats to flee from China back to their homes after realizing they can’t assimilate with China and feel a longing to return home. Now this was something I could really relate to since last year I had similar feelings when I was living in South Korea and I’m sure that many expats have at one point or another had the feeling that they just don’t belong in this world they have decided to explore.
I would like to share something in regards to this – the grass is always greener on the other side. A famous saying with a ton of truth behind it. When I was living in Korea – I truly missed the United States and Florida. I missed the my family, my friends, the beaches, the food, the warm weather (Siberian winds in Korea were no fun), my car, and many other things I previously took for granted when I lived in the United States.
Now that I have come home and live in the United States it is fair to say I overly glorified the home I came from – this probably had much to do with the fact that I had never traveled abroad before and was not used to homesickness and coming to a no place. That’s not to say that I didn’t assimilate into my life in South Korea – because I truly did. I learned how to work with taxis, bargain with shop owners, travel in subways, find good restaurants using Korean search engines and social networks, and so many other things. I became accustomed to people staring at me because I looked different and to nobody understanding anything I said.
Now that I am back in the United States there are several things I miss about Korea and I can now reflect back on now that I am home. Here are things I really missed about Korea in retrospect and that make me want to go back and explore the world again.
- The cheap Korean food – specifically samgyapsal – which cannot be found anywhere in Tampa Bay is something to miss. After a few weeks in Seoul, I arguably became tired of Korean cuisine and the search for decent foreign cuisine was a true issue that bothered me daily. Still – I wish I could have great Korean food AND great foreign food. I have spent over $500 in Korean food this year (with only about 10 visits to Korean restaurants) in Florida which would have fed me for quite a long time in Seoul.
- Taxis, Subway, Buses - Although I missed driving, I totally forgot about expensive gas prices in the United States and have watched gas gobble up my earnings in the United States. I also have to be cautious about going out and drinking which was never a problem in Seoul where a taxi was just a minute away from taking me home. Combined with the cheap subway and bus – transportation in Florida truly needs to improve someday.
- City events – Life in Seoul is never dull. The Seoul Lights Festival, The Fireworks Festival, Chuseok, the list goes on. I really miss living somewhere – where the city was often putting itself ahead and trying to be competitive in the world instead of trying to figure out what teachers to lay off and how to save money.
- Nightlife – The nightlife here in Tampa Bay is disappointing and completely uninspiring. Compare the streets of Gangnam, the crazy clubs in Hongdae, all those fun spots in Itaewon – my nightlife has been completely demolished by coming back home.
- Arcades – I love video games – but video games in the USA have become more of a home hobby than something you can enjoy with others (except for online play). The arcade era is dead in the United States, but still thriving in Korea and Japan.
- Bargaining – Shopping was a sport for me. How low could I drive the price and make the seller give in to my demands? A true stress relief and something that became very interesting once I learned the hang of it. Shopping is boring in the USA – see a sale and buy it – the end. The style of things here is nowhere near as unique as in Asia either.
- Cheap haircuts – I normally don’t pay for haircuts in the USA because my Mom is a licensed cosmetologist – but in Seoul haircuts ranged from 10,000-14,000 won which is really cheap compared to the United States where it be $20 average and you don’t get the awesome head massage by a cute Korean girl like you do in Seoul.
- Cafes – I frequently complained in Seoul about the $7+ coffee that many coffee houses served – but after coming home to a dominated-Starbucks coffee world where coffee is frankly nothing but syrup – I would much rather go to the independent shops in Seoul and also enjoy the cool themes that they enjoy.
- Late-night options – Seoul never closes. You can go have food late at night, karaoke late night, club til 6am, anything you want to do you can do it. Here everything closes around 10 p.m. A definite bummer.
- Noraebangs – I miss you karaoke. Korean karaoke spots are $25+ an hour in Tampa Bay.
That’s not to say there were no drawbacks to living in Seoul, but I realized later that I needed to be more objective in my analysis of comparisons between my former and new home. After coming home – the friends that I missed so much turned out to not be the best of friends. The family I missed went about it’s business after we reconnected briefly (except my parents which things have been up and down with), the club I missed went about is way, everything I missed wasn’t here when I came home or just seemed better thinking about it in retrospect. I believe I should have kept on going in Korea and traveled more and that is exactly what I intend to do once I get my degree. Suck up the differences – there is a world out there to explore.
Always remember the grass is always greener on the other side. Remain open-minded and continue exploring. It’s worth it! My next stop will be Japan next year.