40 minutes away from landing in Seoul. The time change and flight put us more than a full day ahead of when we boarded. This will be my first time back in Korea in 10 years.
I have always found it hard to express my thoughts on Korea. Any attempts to verbalize this deep reserve of nonverbal understanding has most often been for a purpose external to myself, in response to some demand that i explain or justify my connection to this place for the understanding/approval/validation of another.
Instead, I choose to write about my experience because i understand the richness to be gained by making sense of this part of me for myself, and also as a way of communicating with people who share these experiences, to help create the language that can more adequately capture our existence. Up until now, i have not found that language.
Korea is a place I was never from, but the source of so much meaning and truth in my life. It weighs in on all my paradigms, and colors the way I see and interact with my world. It was the constant reference point for my upbringing, and the stitching of my community.
The choice to go back to Korea, now that I have become more conscious of my identity and how I negotiate across my disparate/merged, embellished/blurred bicultural existence, is one whose significance I do not yet understand.
Korea has always served as an ideal for me, most real to me through feelings, relationships, traditions, and language. Throughout my life, I have used this ideal as a foundation for my sense of self. Korean or Korean American ways of life have served as a constant foil for my analysis of American society, and I have often chosen to see only certain aspects of these hardly monolithic cultures that could offer solutions to the imperfections of the dominant society in which i exist.
When I observe Korea becoming Americanized, it strikes a deep fear in me, a fear of erasure of something so much larger than nationality, culture, or ethnic identity. It is the fear of erasure of the truths that are available to us all through the existence of thriving differences. These differences coexist as sovereign parts of the whole until certain parts begin to undermine and colonize the rest, forcing the rest into a status of alterity that slowly erases them completely.
As these necessary differences become blurred, not by evolution through shared understanding but the forceful violation of the existence of others, through military, economic and cultural imperialism, the truths available to us in examining these paradigms become lost, and the power of one state’s mistakes takes a greater hold on our shared future.
It will be difficult to be at the center of my ideal, to physically experience and interact with a nation and society that has often served as a source of psychological protection, even though my complicated connection to it has made me constantly feel wrong in both worlds.
Once I enter the physical place of my cultural nostalgia, I must confront a more realistic examination of how cultures and people are formed, transformed, actualized, and destroyed as the forces that have always clashed within myself very literally play out in the contours of an entire nation, continent, and world.
So here is to learning, transforming, and opening my ideas to revision and deeper challenge, to reach a place of greater clarity and definition.