Korea is safe. That’s one of the things that surprises a lot of people who’ve never been, who only hear about the Land of the Morning Calm when nuclear tensions get ramped up by one windbag of a world leader or another. South Korea is hosting the Olympic games this year, yet there are many individuals and countries who won’t come for fear of what might happen. But for those of us who’ve experienced this place, and for those of us who call it home, this is a safe and comfortable corner of the world to dwell in. And yet, despite the ease with which I make a living here, I’m leaving… again.
It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” — J.R.R. Tolkien
The last time I left Korea, I swore I’d never come back. “Two years was enough,” I said with conviction. I’d even taken a job in China, and had plans to move there in early 2017. But when the opportunity came up to return to Pohang, the pull was irresistible. Safety, comfort, the existing friendships I still had…
I canceled China and returned.
All in all, it was a good year. I explored a few new corners of my second home, like Andong and Ulsan. I participated in a martial arts temple stay just south of Pohang at Golgulsa. I made tons of new friends and improved my Korean to the best it’s ever been. I visited Taiwan and Japan — not new countries, but both ones I’ve had a desire to return to (still do!). There were downsides, to be sure. I managed to break my leg pretty badly and was laid up for a good portion of the year recovering. I worked too much and have come to regret going back to an employer I didn’t have the best experience with the first time around. Midway through the year, I knew I wouldn’t stay for another contract as I’d initially thought.
The cogs and gears of travel planning sputtered into motion. I’d move to Bali, get an apartment, and enjoy the tropical weather and food while working on my blogging business. I’d get a scooter, maybe learn a little Bahasa, and hopefully get in some awesome scuba dives. But in the throes of planning, I realized something. I’m not a tropical kind of guy, nor am I a huge fan of beaches. I like them well enough, but I realized I was going to Bali because, well, that’s where bloggers go to be digital nomads.
To be honest, I’m not sure exactly when Georgia first popped into my head as a possible travel destination. It’d been in the corner of my thoughts for years, ever since I’d seen pictures of Gergeti Trinity Church on a blog… somewhere. The desire resurfaced while I was recuperating in Dushanbe after a close encounter with altitude sickness, and I sampled Georgian cuisine for the first time. But it really coalesced when my friend Fiona backpacked through Georgia and I Facebook-creeped the heck out of her pictures.Epic mountains. Ancient history. Fantastic food. A language utterly unique. More stunning hikes than you could shake a walking staff at… why, if you were to believe John Steinbeck, it’s pretty much Eden rediscovered:
Wherever we had been in Russia, in Moscow, in the Ukraine, in Stalingrad, the magical name of Georgia came up constantly. People who had never been there, and who possibly never could go there, spoke of Georgia with a kind of longing and a great admiration. They spoke of Georgians as supermen, as great drinkers, great dancers, great musicians, great workers and lovers. And they spoke of the country in the Caucasus and around the Black Sea as a kind of second heaven. Indeed, we began to believe that most Russians hope that if they live very good and virtuous lives, they will go not to heaven, but to Georgia, when they die. It is a country favored in climate, very rich in soil, and it has its own little ocean. Great service to the state is rewarded by a trip to Georgia. It is a place of recuperation for people who have been long ill. And even during the war it was a favored place, for the Germans never got there, neither with planes nor with troops. It is one of the places that was not hurt at all.” — John Steinbeck
Obsequious descriptions by Steinbeck and others aside, it didn’t take long for me to convince myself that Georgia would be a good match for me, and by the time I found a great deal on a flight one day last spring, I was ready to make the leap. Booked. Done and dusted. I was heading to the Caucuses in March.
Since then, it’s been a matter of staying the course. A lot of things got put on the backburner this year as I’ve buckled down and tried to save money, but Georgia is the light at the end of my tunnel. And it’s almost upon me. In just over 3 weeks I leave my home in Korea and set out to the Caucuses to make a new one, if only for a few months. I’ll be in Tbilisi at a great little AirBnB apartment for two months, then I’ll spend another two months traveling around the country and hiking until my knee blows out.
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In preparation, I’ve been studying Georgian, and doing so has further stoked my desire to explore that corner of the world. Learning a language accomplishes far more than easing one’s passage through an area. Language is so vital to all aspects of life that the study of it yields nuggets of insight to cultural norms, history, folklore, etc. By studying Georgian beforehand, I’m hoping it will let me connect more quickly with my new potential home.
There are many reasons I’m chomping at the bit to go to Georgia. But perhaps the biggest is something not related at all to the country itself, but to me. To put it bluntly, I’m ready for someplace new.
I want to experience a place that is totally unfamiliar — to fall in love with it for the first time. I want to have challenge infused into my daily routine, to be mentally engaged while doing something as simple as buying eggs from the supermarket. I want to cast off and set myself adrift, with no contract or itinerary binding my steps. And really, for the first time in my life, I think I’m about ready to make that happen.
See, the truth is, I’ve always had something planned on the horizon. There’s always been the next destination. And as awesome as it is to have something to look forward to, I’m relishing the idea of being able to stay or leave when I want.
Our lives are defined by the choices we make, the junctions at which we pause and take a deep breath before setting off down one fork or another. Sometimes we only see them in retrospect, but others we see coming inexorably towards us. This is one of those. It’s an ending, perhaps a beginning — though for what I can’t say…
I guess we’ll find out together 🙂
Thanks for reading! When’s the last time you set off on a new adventure, or reached crossroads in your life? Tell me about it in the comments below!