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Korea, Goodbye for Now

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“Remember me and smile, for it’s better to forget than to remember me and cry.” ― Dr. Seuss

Things sometimes move too fast for us to look back and say goodbye. After just a few minutes walking, a taxi appears with a red light indicating it’s empty. Life is just that easy here and one quick ride to the station later, there we are. This is our final train from the Expo to Seoul yet something’s missing. We hop on the train and it takes off like any other train but for some reason, there aren’t any tears like I’d expected. After 3-plus hours riding through familiar places we’ve visited, our train arrives at Yongsan Station like all those others have before. There should be tons of memories from walking through that busy beehive but no time for that.

We quickly and quietly punch in our next destination and the ticket dispenser does its work. This will be our final weekend in Seoul and for the most part, it’s a perfect way to go out. We have one last meeting with friends and get to see some familiar things and some not so. A few days later, we board that final flight away from the Korean Peninsula and feelings are a mix of happy, sad, and scared. Emotions aren’t always my forte but at the moment, I’m full of them. My eyes aren’t tearing up but they are as close as ever to forming the beginnings of a very pure Niagara Falls moment. Why am I not more emotional? Today is a pretty big deal, isn’t it?

Sentimental, Cliché

I am sentimental at the thought of leaving Korea forever, and for a lot of good reasons. This place changed us in ways that I could never imagine. It feels like yesterday that we were getting on that plane and heading towards an uncertain situation here. Not now though, as my eyes remain dry during takeoff. Christina’s working full duty because she knows how to show those emotions. She remembers the things we’ve seen along the way and how this journey has left its mark. That cliché about travel changing a person doesn’t sound too silly after 4 years in this country and bouncing around a few others.

We moved around as much of this tiny half of a peninsula as possible, and LOVED about 99% of it. Sure there were traffic jams and other hang-ups but what would travel be without a little failure? As the plane starts to take off and we hold hands like always, memories start flicking in and out of the back of my mind. All of a sudden, I can see our first week and those beautiful cherry blossoms around Hwasun on the outskirts of Gwangju. A flood of other highlights flash through my mind and I try to put them away. It’s too difficult right now. The plane takes off and takes my mind with it, away from Korea.

Accomplishments, No Regrets

The plane arrives at a comfortable altitude and lunch is served. I sip on some post-meal English Breakfast and think back to those flashes that came as we were taking off. They fill up with memories of the things we accomplished and won’t ever regret or forget. Working with those kind folks in Gwangju and watching others, I re-learned how to write. There are so many great people spreading wonderful stories and sharing vivid photos of Korea’s and beyond. I see something spectacular everyday and hope that never changes. I’ll always be thankful for the connections that helped me love writing again. My stories are essentially theirs and would be nothing without them.

Christina wakes up from a nap but decides that wasn’t enough and back she goes. I think about her accomplishments and how she’s changed while living in Korea. Arriving here without any hopes or dreams aside from traveling, my wife used her skills as a listener and has truly grown. Aside from always helping people and coaching them through fitness and health, her photography skills picked up enough to gain recognition in magazines and online mediums. I want to tell her about this but will wait until her nap is over. She wakes up for good as the plane begins its descent towards Kuala Lumpur.

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Land, One Last Look Back

We hold hands through the landing and the plane calmly taxis after touching down. It’s much hotter here than in Korea and the sweat that follows forces away any thoughts back to Seoul and our old home in Yeosu. Our train comes and takes us away from KLIA, which is a nice upgrade from the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) that was our first impression of Kuala Lumpur. We barely get off the train and the heat is back, reminding us that it won’t go away until we leave. These next couple of months will be sweat-filled reminders that thick air is an everyday reality for some parts of the world.

After a night of relaxation and a meal of mee goreng, I have some morning coffee at our nicely placed backpacker’s, walking distance from Chinatown and the bus terminal. Our plan is to spend 24 hours in KL and move onto the Cameron Highlands, before springing onto a series of spots over 2 months. As the coffee revives my slowly waking brain cells, I think to those flashing memories from the plane. I focus on our time in Yeosu and all the smiles that we had while traveling around the country in that beat-up ’99 Sonata. We touched every corner of the country and put lots of miles on our hearts and minds.

Thankfully we can always go back to them and think about how great Korea was to us in so many ways. It helped my wife and I learn that life isn’t going to come to us, even though the ease of everyday life can spoil a person. It’s time for us to move on and see some new things and understand what it’s like to struggle again. Goodbye for now, Korea. You’ll be missed but I know you are never too far away.

Take Care.

Do you have a place that you’ll always miss? Why did you leave? 

6 thoughts on “Korea, Goodbye for Now

  1. Jeri says:

    Best of luck on your new adventures. I will always miss Yellowstone. Always. It played such a huge role in shaping my identity. I’m truly lucky to have lived and work there for nine months of my life spread across three summers. I had to leave because the real-world beckoned, but there are days when I seriously am about to sell my house and get an RV so I can go back to working in the parks.

    • Duke Stewart says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Jeri. I’ve been meaning to pick up copies of your books about Yellowstone, even before you mentioned that place’s effects on you as a person. I bet you’d love that life back in the parks. Can you tell me if it’s really worth getting a job in them or should I read your book for more info? Anyway, I hope to stay in touch and will drop by yours as wifi permits. I go from good spots to bad and am trying to enjoy our trip at the same time:)

      Take care Jeri and have a great week!

  2. Nathan Anderson says:

    Leaving is tough, but in my opinion it’s best to leave while you still appreciate a place. Makes the memories that much fonder 🙂

    It sounds like you and Christina really did a great job experiencing Korea as much as you could, and we were all lucky enough to come along for the ride. While I’m going to miss your Korean posts, I look forward to your take on Malaysia and beyond.

    Korea is my place that I’ll always miss; it really is my second home. I keep finding myself drawn back whenever I have an excuse to layover in Seoul, or if there’s some event happening I feel I should be a part of. Something tells me I’ll be coming back for years to come.

    Many happy returns 🙂

    • Duke Stewart says:

      Hey Nathan, and thanks so much for your comment. It’s too bad we never met up but maybe that will change as we’ll both be in the U.S. at some point. I’m not sure if we’ll ever make it back to Korea but there will surely be some wonderful stories and memories that will be shared for a long time. I’m sure you feel the same way, huh? Anyway, I hope you continue reading and stay in touch as we both move on to different and interesting places throughout our lives. Take care and have a great rest of your week!

  3. Wayne Liew says:

    I just started traveling last year so this may not count. Once in a while, I do look forward to revisit South Korea.

    We visited Busan and Seoul during our last trip. Both these cities made us want to explore more of the country, especially the lesser known towns and cities between them. I couldn’t really put the why in words but it was something about the country, people and culture.

    And I guess that’s why I was drawn to your blog after discovering it on Facebook.

    By the way, are you still traveling in Malaysia? How do you find the country so far?

    • Duke Stewart says:

      Hey there, Wayne! Thanks for the comment!

      Korea is a wonderful place and more than just Seoul or Busan, as you seem to think. I’m working on putting together some guides to those lesser known spots in Korea and should have them up in due time:)

      Btw, we just left Malaysia a few days ago but I’ll always look back on that place with a smile. We’ve mostly stuck to the West Coast (KL, Penang, Cameron) but have heard wonderful things about the Perhentian Islands and Borneo of course.

      Great that you found me via Facebook. Once I get a more reliable wifi connection, I’ll stop by your page and have a look. Thanks again for commenting and I hope to stay in touch:)

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