Saturday, July 24, 2010

Post Air Travel Rambles

The past 24 hours have proven to be both tiring and inspiring. First off my flight to SFO was delayed due to waiting for other people from other flights to connect to mine. Then while in the air we were delayed landing because SFO was having a traffic jam. When I looked at the mini-map on the screen in front of me I saw a loop-de-loop shape over Oregon.

The flight itself was pretty good, which was Asiana Airlines by the way. I think, however, that because I have regularly flown Korean Air that I have been spoiled. Let me just say that Korean Air has their butt together, and the food tastes better.

Yet once the lights turned off I put in my ear plugs and put on my eye mask and made myself a comfy little corner near the window and tried to get some sleep. I kept on waking up to adjust myself and  move my neck around.

Before they turned off the lights I think they tried to entertain us to compensate for leaving an hour and half late from Korea. They did this by parading around the plane in traditional Korean clothes, like it were a show at a folk festival.

The rest of the flight was pretty smooth. Then came landing and I made my way through the immigration maze.

Yes it was great to see English all around me and hear it being spoken too, but this was still the International side of the airport. It felt as if I was at the delta of a huge melting pot river ready to burst out.

As I waited outside for my hotel shuttle I had a view of the mountains, houses and freeway.
It doesn't look like much but concrete and blue sky, however to my eyes it was like seeing something for the first time again.

First off if you have never been to San Francisco and the Bay Area then you might not know what I mean by all this. The air smelled fantastic! It had the distinct sea smell mixed with eucalyptus. It was home in every sense of the word from scent to sight.

I nearly cried as I looked out over this imagery. Sure I had been in America last year on my summer vacation but this time around something struck a nerve in me.

I checked in to my hotel, called family and took a long hot bath. It had been since last November when I took bath, which was in Osaka at the hotel during my visa run.

Then I watched a little TV to chill out, which was interesting as I had somehow forgotten that American TV has a lot of commercials.  My hotel room...

After vegging out I decided to go look around the neighborhood.
This is the suburbs of San Francisco, which is up in the more Northern parts on the peninsula. It is suburbia, quiet and quaint. Soon many things felt like a novelty, like having to push the button to cross the street.
Yet as I walked through the neighborhood my emotions ran high. This was just a typical street on any here in Northern California, but to me it became so special.

It brought back memories of when I lived around Northern California in various places. The quietude and sharp contrast to a Korean neighborhood started to get to me.
Seeing the American flag people had put out to decorate their lawns or houses felt so symbolic.
Of course, it was recently July 4th.

I have been trying really hard in my tired and fatigued head to talk about this experience without painting Korea as this god-awful place and America as the ultimate utopia vision.

What I realized was that it wasn't really about that Koreans live in tall apartment complexes while Americans (in most areas) live in houses. No, this was personal and was touching on the emotional roller coaster I have been riding since I have been working at my current school.

I can't tell how many times I have cried, crumpled my forehead in anger and lost all hope over what are probably trivial occurrences at work. Last February when I was having the worst of it I felt so desperate that I wanted to just pack up and go home.

Seeing these houses with their comfortable curtains and green lawns made me become aware of what I value so much in life. That is comfort, both in work and home. A sense of peace and comradeship at the workplace.
It feels like every since I went to Korea all I wanted to do was get it right. To do the right things and not disrupt their culture. To learn and accept the differences and be a perfect little diplomat. Yet ever since things messed up at the hagwon my faith in myself to accomplish this has always been shaken.

For some reason coming back to America and seeing the suburban houses I felt a sense of relief that it is all still there and solid. But, most importantly, everything here revolves around a different society, one which is familiar and like a soft pillow.

Before getting on the plane, yesterday, I ran into these two very crucial aspects about Korean culture, that of Kibun and nunchi.

Kibun – The word kibun has no literal translation in English, however, as a concept that permeates every facet of Korean life, it can be described in terms of pride, face, mood, or state of mind. In order to maintain a Korean’s sense of Kibun, particularly in a business context, one must show the proper respect and avoid causing loss of face. In a culture where social harmony is essential, the ability to identify another’s state of mind, often referred to as nunchi, is crucial to successful business ventures. For this reason, you must be aware of subtleties in communication, observing non-verbal and indirect cues that often suggest the true sense of what is being communicated. 
After reading up on this a lot of the broken pieces started make sense and would fit into a focused puzzle.  One example from my experience is asking my coteachers in a direct manner about matters at work.

The point I am trying to make is that Korea has this kibun and nunchi society, whereas America mostly and practically doesn't have it. Sure Americans are perceptive to each others moods, but our values are elsewhere.

Seeing these houses reminded me of how hard Korean life has been and how much I strive to understand yet seem to always come out even more confounded.
To move on with my return-to-America story I then went on to find a Walgreens (Pharmacy) and went inside to see what they had. Then I moved on back towards the hotel to have a bite to eat.
While I did so I saw a Korean tofu house restaurant.
Tomorrow I will get back on another plane and fly out to Florida to visit family. I know my initial reaction to coming back to America was emotional. Inside I don't feel it is really negative, but something that will allow me to asses better the past 2 years in Korea and see more clearly into my future. 

If anything what I really know is that my biggest battle with living in Korea isn't with accepting the different scenery, rather is the experiences I have with my Korean work-relationships. So, if I desire to make a life in Korea then that is one area I truly must grow in.


  1. WOW!
    That blue sky & fresh air....I know exactly what you can see the marine layer in one of the fotos!
    Of course this is an emotional experience for you. You have returned to YOUR homeland where you can intrinsically relate to the's in your bones!
    I imagine it is a feeling of comfort and soothing....and then again northern California is SO unique quite different in many ways from other areas in the US & especially from South'll experience that tmw.. There is a more "homey" feel to the neighborhood you photographed that is typically Californian...not what you'll experience in Boca! You'll see!!
    I relate having lived in both places. Never-the-less you have South Florida in your bones also! described it as a soft pillow!
    Nice photos....

    The costumed characters on the plane to entertain while waiting was something else....I think it would have really annoyed me at that point!! Like "cut the BS" & just take off already!

    Why haven't you discussed the Kibun Nunchi before....that's IT! Did you just come across this? It should be included in every person's orientation for living in Korea!

    Well please bottle up some of that air & bring it along with you!
    Hope you had a good nite sleep & safe travels tmw!
    Big Hugs waiting for you on this end!

  2. Enjoy the time in the US while you can! :)

    Yes, kibun and nunchi are two basic concepts Koreans follow. I'm sure you'll read more about them in the future (and I look forward to reading your thoughts). At the end of the day, however, relationships are a 1,000 piece puzzle; kibun and nunchi are simply two of them. Mood, time of day (time of month?), other aggravations, personal stresses, financial stresses, and so on and so on are all pieces as well.

    I can't say I completely / entirely understand the two concepts, but I'm relatively happy with how my current relationships stand, both personally and professionally. In some cases the person / people you're working with makes all the difference; some people are not happy with anything you do, and there's nothing you'll be able to do to change their minds. In other cases knowing when to accept something and when to stand your ground is important; not being a pushover or an ass is important as well.


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