Durban, South Africa
Before I start I want to make it clear that I have had the most fantastic year in Korea and I still love being here! This blog post is about how my time away has really made me appreciate the country I call home and how South Africa, with all its flaws, will always be where my roots lie.
In February I went for a two-week whirlwind trip home to South Africa. It was absolutely fantastic and I’m only sorry I couldn’t see everyone while I was there. The time was too short and the country is so big! I managed to do a short stint down in Knysna where I visited my sweet goddaughter and her mum who are lucky enough to live in the place that many only associate with fabulous holidays, champagne and oysters.
Knysna is a tourist destination. In the holiday season it is jam-packed with foreigners & South African tourists coming to see the beautiful sights and to eat zillions of oysters, for which Knysna is famous. What we did most was eat and drink which was heaven for me as I appreciate “normal” food so much more than I ever did before! Don’t get me wrong, Korean food is quite enjoyable now that I know what I like and dislike, but nothing beats the treats and flavours of home food. There are SO many things that you just can’t get over here.
It sounds so cheesy, but going home after nearly a year away awoke my senses and truly delighted my soul. I was very aware of, and appreciated, the vast variety in cultures. The many colours, shapes and sizes of people. I noticed and commented on how South African women look healthy, bronzed and wholesome. Freckles are endearing back home, whereas in Korea they are a major flaw. I noticed how the many men back home are vastly different from one another and that there are so many good looking guys, all with unique ways of dressing.
In Korea, tanned skin is a big no-no. The paler the better, hence the many kinds of facial products that promise to “whiten” your skin. Yes, of course it’s not good to be too exposed to the sun, but I think a happy medium can be found. Fashion in Korea tends to be trend after trend after trend. People often dress in similar styles and colours, so as someone looking in from outside, it can sometimes seem a little drab. Skinny girls teeter along in their incredibly high heels, even in the snow & ice. Teeny tiny shorts and skirts are acceptable (and I MEAN teeny tiny), yet showing shoulders is not. Back home we (most often) dress for practicality. It was wonderful to be home, in hot South Africa, and be able to bare my shoulders to the sun.
Stepping off the plane in Johannesburg, I immediately noticed the smiley, friendly staff and the spotlessly clean and fragrant-smelling toilets! (Yes, I said fragrant & toilets in the same sentence!) I wanted to pump my fists in the air and shout out “I’m home!” but I managed to control myself. Pushing my trolley out of the sliding doors at arrivals, a girl about my age was walking next to me and said “damn but it’s good to be home!” and I just nodded and grinned a silly grin.
I had to wait for a short connection before flying on Kulula Air to Durban. Looking out the window at the vast expanse of land, space and greenery I was overcome by emotion & felt so silly fighting back the tears! All that was going through my head was “why would you ever leave here?”
Waiting for me at the Durban Airport were my parents, Dad complete with a beautiful flower arrangement as well as a handwritten card. This was something very, very special for me. Instantly I felt as though I’d never left, and it was hard to imagine all my new friends 7 hours ahead of me in time, probably asleep, in Korea.
Seeing my parents, our dog Maggie, my wonderful friends and (many of) their children was what I went home for more than anything else, and I was so glad I did. As an added bonus I indulged in facials, pedicures and back massages. I shamelessly shopped for shoes, which I got with ease in my South African size 7, as they need to last me the next year in Korea. (Shoes in my size here are nearly non-existent and mostly very ugly.) I drank copious amounts of South African wine and ciders. Ate whatever I felt like with zero guilt and had to contain myself from moaning with delight as the flavours exploded in my head. It was heaven!!
As I said at the start of this page, I love Korea and I love the lifestyle. I love my students, the amazing people and animals I have met and the many opportunities Korea has given me. This year I am focused on learning the language (I am having lessons from a teacher at school) as well as doing more and seeing more of Korea. However, of all the things I have learnt from living here, I think the most important thing it has taught me is that there really is no place like home.