Tuesday, September 12, 2006

韓国 Part 2: 皆さんと一緒に

Aside from an uncomfortable personal situation that's tinting my time here, it's truly wonderful to see everyone. Just to share physical contact, a hug, a quick pat on the back... To be without that is one of the hardest things about being in Japan. I find I can't stop touching people. I'm sure they don't understand; my verbal and written contact has been sparse, to say the least, just a few postcards and an occasional quick email, and this tactile desire is not really in keeping with what they knew of me in A-100. It doesn't help that from time to time the personal matter overwhelms me, and I suddenly have to walk away rather than risk exposure. At dinners, topics unmentioned out of respect for me hang in the air like overripe fruit; I'm afraid to talk, afraid of shaking loose a taut-skinned globule that will smash on the table, upsetting the dishes. It's a mixed message I'm sending, to be sure, yet people have been kind and allowing. I thought I might feign illness to avoid anything discomforting, but it turns out there's no need to pretend -- regret and self-pity, having mixed in some fabulous chemical reaction, are burning a hot hole in my stomach. Eating is an impossibility. A shame, as we're paying $38 for each lunch at the hotel, and I have a special fondness for kim chee.

But I digress.

The conference here has been really quite good, much better than I expected. The planning and organization speaks to the high quality of the JOs and management at Embassy Seoul, and I'm rethinking my earlier reticence with regards to serving here. At the recommendation of a friend, I spent one session of the conference having a meeting with a higher-up to discuss my 'career goals'. To be honest, I didn't think I had any; I've always just wanted to go where I'm needed, where I can make a positive difference, and the thing is I really mean that. So I was taken aback to hear myself say, "I'm not sure I would want to return to Mission Japan..." The supervisor's surprise echoed my own. But seeing people I care about again, drinking in casual touch, listening to stories about camaraderie in the face of hardship, I realized that I want to be where there's a tightknit community, and people reach out to support each other. Of course, no post can guarantee those things, but some circumstances favor their creation more than others. It's what I had loved about my time in Japan before. I don't want that love to be diminished by an overlay of new, less pleasant experiences.

So I find I have a lot to think about.