When West meets East and Vice-Versa

Sitting here at my desk with my second cup of instant coffee this morning. Just looking out the window and watching the snow coming down. In the distance the mountains are shrouded in a veil of falling snow and low-lying clouds. 

Another cold, damp, rainy/snowy, gray day in Daejeon. Actually, I love these kinds of days. Feels more like November weather than January weather. I am sure, right now it is snowing a lot somewhere in Korea. It’s 9:30. Another hour and I will hit the gym for two hours. Then stop off for—at what has become my favorite little Korean restaurant—a take out of kimchi-fried rice. That’ll be my next few hours. Mapping out my day; making all the necessary arrangements and adjustments to the schedule that I have this week with these government children’s classes I have to teach in the late afternoon and early evening. One thing is for certain; this week is going to fly by. Then just three classes next week followed by one the following week and then, on vacation again for twelve days. 

To the untrained observer, this might not sound like the exciting and exotic life of an expat teaching English in the Orient. Then again, I have been here for so long I am not always certain myself what is supposed to be exotic anymore or what was supposed to be exotic in the first place. It was kind of like when I first came here and had certain preconceptions on what I thought life was going to be like in the Orient. Imagine my surprise when I first came to Seoul in 1990 to teach English and ended up living in this block of apartments that could have been in Chicago or New York. And then, imagine my further surprise when I turned on the television my first night in Korea (the apartment the school had set me up with was furnished) and I could watch David Letterman.  

Perhaps a lot of people are the same way after reading about the Orient and deciding to come here for a few years. One of my friends said that he first became interested in Japan after reading Shogun. Sometimes that is all it takes—a novel or movie to feed one’s desires to leave home for any length of time and see a part of the world, and perhaps, even become an expat. 

However, once one is lured to the Orient, it’s not all about quaint Buddhist temples tucked away in spirit-filled mountains, disciplined tea ceremonies, terraced rice paddies, glimmering statues of gold, mysterious ancient cities and misty groves of bamboo.  Just visit places like Shinjuku or even here in Korea Itaewon to have all those images and romantic notions dashed. 

And at the same time, I am sure that a lot of people might feel the same way about what life is supposed to be like in the States. When I was in Japan in 1989 and told students that I was from Chicago, they wanted to know all about Al Capone and all the gangsters. One student even asked me if I had a gun when I was living back home. Maybe these students had seen the movie The Untouchables. 

These preconceptions, and sometimes misconceptions, which drive us, fuel our imaginations, and for better or worse, make the world an interesting place to live. Even when we get some things wrong, or are way off base, it is what makes the world go round and round. It definitely makes life colorful and interesting and perhaps, that’s what we really want in the end.

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