At the end of August 2011, I flew from South Korea back to the United States. I had spent a full year living near Seoul and a full year not being in the United States. It was, and still is, the longest sustained travel/living abroad experience of my life.
And at the end of August 2018, seven years later, I flew back to Seoul. This time I came from Vientiane. It wasn’t my first time back in Korea (that would be just eight weeks earlier, this July); but it did mark a bit of an anniversary. Seven years since I left; eight years since I first arrived there.
In July I spent five days in Korea, this time I spent 19. They were wonderful; Korea has been, and will continue to be, one of my favorite places to visit in the world. Why? Well it helps that I know the country and culture a bit (even some of the language). It makes it easier to navigate; physically and conversationally. I know how to get what I need to there. But it’s also most certainly the country itself; weird, (surprisingly) geographically diverse, traditional but also cutting edge. It’s full of interesting and unique people and others who work had to blend in. It’s also safe, modern, clean, etc….Those all help too.
This time around, I wasn’t entirely in Seoul. Thanks to an more ambitious-planning friend; this time we hiked in a Korean national park, went to another metropolis that wasn’t Seoul or Busan, and even went to Jeju Island; Korea’s “Hawaii” (but also kind of its “Scotland”? It’s in the featured picture of this post.
I wrote almost every day in Korea, which is good. But I didn’t feel like I wrote all that particularly well. In a journal I’ve been keeping, I said that I never felt like I wrote well there (even in 2010-2011), though of course this is just my subjective judgement. And there seems to be no good reason for it. I wrote that perhaps it’s just in my desire to be out, mixed into the culture, observing instead of creating (words/stories, etc…). So perhaps that’s it. Still, I had a great time there and am so glad I swung back for the extra weeks in Korea.
Because now I am in Hanoi, Vietnam. And while there are some really interesting things on on here, it hasn’t been my favorite city. It’s different, in many ways, to Seoul and where I’ve spent my last few months. It’s loud, busy, and full of motorbikes. The last one wouldn’t be a problem except the motorbikes do very little to obey any sort of traffic conventions, so a pedestrian is constantly dodging them. Constantly.
But while I reflected that I wasn’t writing well in Seoul, that’s changed in Hanoi. And for that I’m highly appreciative. Most days here I duck into a coffee shop (of which there are an infinite supply it seems) and write. And read and then write some more when I go back to my Airbnb later. When I first got here I said I wanted to finish my first draft (not entirely sure how much more I had to go) within my first 10 days here; and I finished it in 5. Mostly thanks to a coffee-fueled four hour writing session on a Friday night. But I got it done. My first draft came in at 161,000 words and took my about 12 weeks to write (the last week of which saw the highest contribution even when not considering the final sprint toward the finish line).
Here’s the screenshot I put up on social media of the first draft numbers:
In this way, I’m thankful for the chaos of Hanoi—for pushing me to write and keeping me awake and alert with your honks and busyness.
More pictures from September here. Next up is Thailand!