Sunday we drank makkoli. Bowls of it at first with our Korean bbq. I burned my lip on the heat of the pork and shoved so much lettuce wrap in my mouth I nearly choked. The smell of grease and fried pork clung to my hair and shirt the rest of the night.
The silence of Seoul.
I didn’t sleep much on the plane until I was delirious and then everything hurt from sitting. How do you sleep through the ache.
We rode the bus through the city in the rain but it didn’t feel any differently because I was with Taryn.
The bowls of makkoli turned to bottles. And my mouth turned to puddles and I drank until I felt the hangover settle in behind my eyes and in my throat and then we chugged bottles of water like we had been stranded in the desert for weeks.
Sunday we went to Olympic park and browsed around the world peace gate before going into the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the art museum. A strange suffocated display of a great female artist. Of someone who was comfortable being an analogy an icon an idea. An abstract human. I love Frida Kahlo.
We wandered around the area of Seoul akin to the city district. We stopped at the palace where Taryn befriended a group of European men. “Where are you from?”
We walked along the stream and tried to have beer but that was interrupted by a city patrolman who apologized to us for enforcing the law.
We ended up outside a convenience store with an older Korean gentleman who tried to express his distaste for the Korean government. A city being overrun by welcome foreigners while the locals are being ignored. Being an outsider.
To be so obviously something. White and pink and brown.
Chicken and beer with Johnny. Michelle. What do you see?
Richard is always around.
Chips and cookies and ice cream bars of delicious unfamiliar flavors
I want to want something more. But there is nothing more.
“My stomach hurts. I hope it’s not the duck’s blood.”
There’s always this moment during travel when you forget this isn’t always what you’ve done. You don’t take early morning flights and take your chances on buses and down streets and listening to directions in a language you don’t know. You haven’t always bought your food out of convenience stores and stared at symbols that are meaningless and converted the cost of a can of beer into an amount that makes sense to you. You haven’t always lived out of hotel rooms and ended every day sweaty exhausted but fulfilled.
Taryn and I are in Taiwan. She fails to switch from Korean to Mandarin. I say things like, I meant to say xiexie in Chinese but forgot.
I enjoy Seoul. It is a massive towering city with overwhelming options of food and 7/11s and people who speak minimal English. A city with glass buildings and tree lined sidewalks that double as parking spaces and pedestrians making their own way along the taxis and delivery scooters.
But being in Seoul didn’t feel like travel. I had to remind myself of where I was, even though the quiet Koreans engrossed in their cell phones on the subway should have been reminder enough.
Being in Seoul just felt like a visit with Taryn. Taryn led me around and ordered food in Korean and knew the best menu options and had her regular stops where we could get the chicken and beer and sit outside with snacks.
Taiwan has felt like travel. Like learning and wandering and discovering some place new.
I turned 28 a week ago, but my birthday could have been ages ago, so much has happened in that week.
Richard. Richard is a figment of my imagination most days. A face in a frame. A laugh over my shoulder. A dark haired boy with broad shoulders who will turn and look away. Who will not be quite right.
But seeing Richard’s parents has brought him back wholly in my mind. He did exist. These are the things. This is the way he moved and laughed and spoke. This is why you loved him. This is his assuredness, as his mother flags down a taxi and moved us from table to place. This is his sense of humor, as his dad inserts a one word response or polite disagreement. This is his confidence moving about the world, as his parents were comfortable in our discomfort of one another. Telling us to order not the 5 course but the 7 course meal, you are young. Asking if Richard told us about when he moved to Illinois. Remembering my face from the video he made the last time we saw one another. Laughing at my memories but also getting that bubble of grief in your chest as you know, never again.
Talking with them was so many things: it was hard, it was incredible, it was closure. It closed this circle, filled in these gaps. I gravitated and resisted his father: his mannerisms so alike. The way he nodded his head yes or reached for his wallet or held his face before a laugh. You are Richard, before he was Richard. And it was resistance as I felt my presence had to be painful to them in the same way theirs pushed at me. They bust at the seams with him: all of him which originated in them. But mine is almost worse because it creeps out, these pieces I have of him. His words and his movements and his ideas for life after college. All those times he wasn’t with them but wanted to be with them. All those times he spoke their language or craved their food or taught me to count with my hands. When he sat in the back of my car, inconsolably sad with this yearning for his family and his home.
His home which is beautiful, sprawled in its small way. Shorter than Seoul, I can see the sky as I walk along the streets. Muggy, tropical, with one sighting of a big scuttling beetle, and store clerks who speak perfect English and sweaty vendors at the night market.
Which is dirtier? Asked Terry
Why? Asked Taryn
We have our own style, they clarified.
I don’t mind the dirtier. It feels more comfortable to me. Open. Less like hiding and more like trust.
They see you too. When a small boy makes a funny face at a passerby, when a group of school kids gets rambunctious, when a young man walks past with a bag over his shoulder: there you are.
You’re everywhere in this city, and you’re everywhere that I’ve wandered since. Where do we go to get the ending? Where do we go to say goodbye? To isolate the feelings? To commemorate the feelings? To capture them and bottle them for the right moment? There has never been a right moment. It has been always and it will continue.
Such caliber of feelings. You are loved. They love you so, and all we can do is continue to let you go. Continue to let you wander. Let your travel lust win. But how hard it is.
Despair and joy and attachment and trust. How do you learn to love with open hands?