THE KOREA KRONICLES, PART XIV: Dispatches from the Ice Palace

This morning was the first on a day off from work since I came back to Korea a month ago that I didn’t wake up next to someone, and it felt really strange. This weekend is 설날 (“Seolnal”), also known as the Korean New Year or Lunar New Year. Typically, it falls on the second New Moon following the Winter Solstice and is a time when Koreans return to their hometowns to be with their family, eat traditional food, drink soju, celebrate the passage of another year, and perform ancestral rites. The practical effect of this for me is that my boyfriend, who we’ll call DG, won’t be coming to see me until Saturday evening, even though the both of us have a long weekend. He’ll be celebrating with his family in Busan and, as a result, I hope to be forgiven my mild melancholy. Okay, I admit, it’s not that bad. It’s just that it’s cold and it’s nice to be able to snuggle up to someone special when the chill starts to bite, which it does in my sometimes frigid apartment.

As much as I would like to celebrate the holiday with his family, he and I both know that’s an impossibility at this point. Unlike me, he hasn’t spoken with his family about his sexual orientation. In fact, he may never speak to them about it. Korea is not a place that has historically had a culture of openness or acceptance of the full range of human sexuality and definitely doesn’t have one now. Korea may well have the technology most of the world hopes to have by 2050, but it has a lot of the same social mores and cultural values the United States had in the 1950s. In Korea, so deeply-ingrained is the cultural expectation that people marry and produce offspring that even articulating the concept of same-sex relationships is possibly comparable to Galileo’s attempts to show the untruth of geocentrism. Granted, the United States isn’t exactly a paragon of social acceptance itself; the state of my birth, Oklahoma, is quantifiably one of the most culturally backward and intolerant places in the Western world. Nevertheless, in a society as focused on rigid conformity is as Korea’s, LGBTs often face devastating ostracism.

In the end, though, I suppose it’s nice to have some empty time I can use to sit down and write again. This blog has changed a lot since I first started it, as you’ll quickly see if you ever delve deeper into the thread of posts. For a while, it was a random assortment of things I found interesting and then took on a more political tone for a while. As time went on, however, it gradually became more a personal journal than anything else, but a personal journal that was public on the Web. This is good because, I confess, I am notoriously bad at keeping a journal. Not bad in the sense that it’s a skill I’ve never mastered, but bad in the sense that it’s a chore I would never do if I didn’t have some sort of accountability. At this point, that accountability takes the form of a blog that evokes feelings of guilt if I neglect it and a domain name that I pay money to maintain.

Kyungpook National UniversityThat said, I’ve struggled with finding things to write about of late. It’s not that there aren’t new things happening in my life, it’s just that I’m not sure what I want to say about them yet. A couple of days ago, I began my twelfth month in the Land of the Morning Calm, which is somewhat surreal considering how much has changed in the relatively short time I’ve lived in this country. Also, it feels odd to know that had I not extended my contract at the village for nine additional months, I would be leaving Korea (or at least my current job) in just under a month. Where would I have gone? I have no idea. While most might say, “Wow, I can’t believe it’s been that long!,” I’m the one saying, “Wow, I can’t believe it’s only been that long!” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that time has drug past and that I can’t wait to leave. I like Korea. I like Korea far more than I ever thought I would when I first arrived. I feel more at home in Korea than I would have initially thought possible. There are things I’ve seen, found, and felt in Korea that not only was I not searching for, but didn’t even know I could find had I been searching for them. Not the least of these things caught me totally by surprise: love.

Yes, you read that right. Love.

I fought it. I resisted it. I pretended it was something else. It made, and still makes, no sense. I held the words back until they literally burst from my mouth like water from a ruptured fire hydrant. There are some moments I hope to remember as vividly at 90 years old as they were in the brief, fleeting seconds of their occurrence. I hope I never forget the glow in his eyes and the way he caught his breath when I said, “Babe, can I tell you a secret? I think I love you.” Even as the words left my mouth, it seemed as if I felt the last vestiges of who I used to spend so much time and energy trying so hard to be crumble away into the ether. When, after a slight pause, he said to me, “I love you too,” no truer magic could be found anywhere in the world to compare to the way my heart leapt inside my chest. I’m not scared of the fact that, now, there really is no going back, nor am I afraid of the rejection I will inevitably face from certain people. After all, it’s one thing to say you’re gay, but quite another to by your actions prove your words true. There are only a small number of things that scare me and the only thing that’s scary is that I meant those words when I said them. I have no idea where our relationship will go, whether it will be something to last for just a short time or a lifetime, but I pray I never forget how it felt to say those words to someone for the first time.

If life is a series of stepping stones in a stream, the only stone behind me is home and, to be quite frank, there is no way in heaven or hell that I am ever moving back home again. The closest I ever came to losing my mind was when I was marooned at home for nine months after I finished college. I don’t yet know what the next step after Daegu will be, but it most certainly will not be a step backward into a place completely devoid of opportunity for me or into a role that I most definitely no longer fit. For sure, it’s still far too early in my and DG’s relationship to worry about how it will affect my future decisions but it’s still something I think about. Maybe the endgame will be that I’m in Korea for an extended period of time or maybe it will be that he comes with me when I leave. Maybe it will be that he and I say goodbye to each other knowing that there just isn’t an avenue open to us where we can both be happy together. I’ve been told all my life that, sometimes, loving someone means knowing when to let them go. Whatever the case, I anticipate that the choices will be anything but easy or simple.

It may be that you’re reading this and wondering how any of this happened. Maybe you knew me some time in the past and you’re now wondering, “How did he end up gay, in Korea, and with a Korean boyfriend?” All I can say is that somewhere along the way, something unexpected happened. Actually, a lot of unexpected somethings happened. That’s really the best explanation I can provide–and hopefully all that will be necessary–to explain it all. Somehow, I’ve managed to stumble into something at once terrible and beautiful, bewildering and illuminating. I simultaneously feel that never have I had such a grasp of my life and that I’ve never been more frustratingly adrift in a vast and uncharted sea. With each answered question, I find at least three more unanswered ones to take its place. Fluxation such as this, I have been told, is often the sort of thing that begins to engulf a person toward the middle of their third decade of life, gay and living abroad or not. So, in light of the relative mundanity of a twentysomething trying to figure his life out, I suppose I could take comfort in the knowledge that I’m not the only one.

When DG stayed with me this past weekend, we watched the movie Frozen together. While taking in the delightfully fresh story and doing my darndest to sing along to the songs, I couldn’t help but feel a strange camaraderie with Queen Elsa. In much the way that many LGBT people identify with Maria from The Sound of Music, I wouldn’t be surprised if Elsa were to gain a similar (if undoubtedly somewhat lesser) iconic position. In any case, from my own “ice palace” on the eighth floor of the 105 building at Woobangtown by the Geumho river, I can similarly say that, whatever happens, there is definitely no going back for me. It’s all been let go. I know for a fact there are more than a few people in my life who absolutely hate it when I say things like that but, when you’ve finally found your footing in a place that’s all your own and, especially, when you’ve got someone special to pull in close, whatever noise they manage to make is little more than a chilly wind at your back. And, hey, let’s be real: the cold never really bothered me anyway.


1 thought on “THE KOREA KRONICLES, PART XIV: Dispatches from the Ice Palace

  1. Roygene your amazing and a good writer. And glad you have love in your life and glad your gay and you are sure alright with me. Sometimes it isn’t easy dealing with all the personalities at DGEV. How to remain neutral when I truly have no need to be against anyone but just never understand when they seem to be, not too pleased with me. And that’s when that Frozen song becomes so critical “Let it Go” and I can. Love you kiddo and good to work with you.

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