A day in the life of an expat on vacation with nowhere to go.
I am an expat from the USA. I have been out in the world since 2007, when the Republicans had George Bush II in the White House for his second term. I knew then things were going to get bad. So, I left.
I went to Korea first because they offered me housing and a job. From there, I traveled all over Asia and eventually re-settled in the Sultanate of Oman. I lived there for two years, and it was nice – the Omani people are very kind and very friendly – but the heat got to me. I lived out in al-Rustaq, in the middle of the desert, near the university at which I was working.
At the time, Oman was ruled by Sultan bin Said Qaboos (Blessings be upon him!). He had left Oman to be educated in the Scottish Highlands in the 1970s. When he returned, he told his father, the then-Sultan, that they needed to make Oman better for their people. They needed to build modern roads, hospitals, and universities (which is what eventually brought me there). His father said, in effect, ‘Nah, son, I think I’d rather keep the money.’ So, bin Said Qaboos launched a coup and overthrew his own father, exiling dear old dad to the U.K. And then he rebuilt Oman and the people rejoiced.
This history shows that perhaps a dictatorship is the best form of government, so long as you have a dictator who truly cares more for the wellbeing of their people than they do for their own power.
Thing was, in the coup, al-Rustaq had supported the father (it was his hometown, you see). And so, al-Rustaq got a college and little else. The other English teachers and I lived in a building we called “TEFL Tower.” We each had our own apartment, and the apartments were large with plenty of air conditioning, because if you don’t have A/C in Oman, you will die. We had fun, drinking at the five-star resorts and swimming in the beautiful cobalt blue Gulf waters on the weekends. (Yes, you can drink in Oman because it’s not Saudi Arabia.) We went camping in the wadis, visited Jebel Shams (the Grand Canyon of Oman), and the various cultural sights and souks. You can read more about that in previous posts. I have gone off on a tangent.
My point is, al-Rustaq was two hours outside of the capital city of Muscat, which is a lovely place. Al-Rustaq, not so much. I lived there for two years and still have no idea what my address was, or if I even had one. When we ordered pizza, we would give directions like “Drive toward the mountains, turn left at the third broken wall, go straight ’til you see the goats.” Eventually, we could just say “TEFL Tower,” and they knew where we were.
The salary for teachers in Oman is the best in the world. I won’t say how much we made, but I was able to spend my summer vacation traveling around Europe for a month. All told, I have traveled to 28 countries since leaving the USA. “Mama, mama, many worlds I’ve come since I first left home.” – Grateful Dead.
Still, Oman was too hot, and dating in a traditionally Islamic culture is very difficult, so I eventually left to take a position as the coordinator of the Intensive English Program at a university in my home state of Pennsylvania. Although it was nice to be home, living abroad has spoiled me for life in the USA. I felt like I was getting ripped off constantly. Utility bills in the USA are shockingly high, as are little things like ATM fees ($5 to make a withdrawal? Seriously?), and I could see the USA was even worse off than it had been when Bush II was in the White House (they were just about to elect Donald Trump, for God’s sake). So, I left again and returned to my old stomping grounds in Korea.
And here I am today. This brings us to today’s “day in the life” post.
I am on vacation for the next two months (one of the perks of teaching at a university overseas). Due to fuel costs, airfare is excessively costly, as would be the cost of a rental car in the USA, so I decided I would not visit family back home until my winter vacation. So, this summer, I am just staying around Korea again. I no longer live in Seoul, but I went up to visit last weekend and had a great time seeing friends there. I went on the Seoul Ghost Tour with a friend, where they take you to allegedly haunted locations in the heart of Seoul (the featured image of this post is from that tour). In two weeks, I will travel down to the beachside city of Busan for another mini-vacation.
This weekend, however, I am just chillin’. I woke up this morning with the AC on in my bedroom, wandered out to the kitchen and had a glass of lemon water. Then I checked email and watched some YouTube videos about Carl Jung and the four archetypes of the subconscious that I had been meaning to get to. Then I found a movie to watch and set it aside for later. I decided to go grocery shopping before it got too hot outside. When I got home, I made lunch. A spinach omelet with asparagus and cherry tomatoes. (I am back on a diet to prepare for Busan.)
Food prices are going up everywhere, and Korea is no exception. It’s not as bad as the price-gouging in the USA, but eventually, it will be worse around the world. You see, our planet is drying up and we are running out of water. No water means no crops, no crops means no food. Right now, they blame it on the war in Europe and shipping issues, and these reasons are partially to blame. But THEY (world government) know the real reason underpinning it all, and they don’t want you to think about it, so the media doesn’t talk about it. Just for an example, though, look at Lake Mead. Lake Mead supplies the Hoover Dam, which supplies electricity for the American southwest. The Colorado River, which feeds Lake Mead, is drying up, and so Lake Mead is at its lowest point in recorded history. When the water level drops another 200 meters, it’s lights out for the southwest. And, like Oman, the people there need air conditioning, or they will die.
And that is just one impending disaster. We are headed for a global perfect storm.
What am I doing about it? Well, everything I can, by God. Today, I saved a snail. I found a tiny snail hiding in the spinach I bought today to make my omelet. I named him Shelby, and he is now resting comfortably in a butter dish with the spinach he was on and about 1/5 cm of fresh water in the bottom. He seems content. Later tonight I will release him by the pond in the park.
So, what is it like to live “Miles from Nowhere” (Cat Stevens) in South Korea? Well, this is it. In case you were hoping for a little more detail on how I’m living here in remotest Korea, this is my apartment as seen from the living room looking back towards the kitchen and bedrooms. It is small, as most apartments in Korea are as they are working with a very limited amount of land. Many, many people; itty-bitty peninsula. Actually, half of a peninsula, as their unruly neighbors to the north occupy the other half. This entire apartment could fit in the living room of my apartment in Oman.
On the other side of the kitchen window is the laundry room and back porch. I can hear the soft strings of a violin coming in through the window. When I went out earlier, I saw a stage and chairs had been set up in the park, so I can only assume there is a concert today. For me, there is no one for miles and miles around. I am the only English speaker here. It gets very boring. So, I have opened a bottle of wine and plan to sit by the windows on the porch with the fan blowing. It drowns out the violin, so I will watch that movie I mentioned earlier. Busan in 19 days.
It’s just me in here, so I am very comfortable. There are windows on all sides, so there is a nice cross breeze in these summer months. I prefer to live small so that I am not adding as much to the destruction of our one and only planet. Pointless now, though, I assume. My dream had been to take my savings and find a plot of land in some sensible Westernized country, like Australia or New Zealand (been to both of those, too – right before the Pandemic hit) and build a little eco-dome house near a freshwater spring. Oh, the hubris of living simply.
And now, here I sit on my back porch, sipping wine and planning to watch a movie. (Tonight’s film is entitled Everything Everywhere All at Once. I have heard very good things.) I decided I should write something first, perhaps out of boredom (because I have oodles of that), perhaps out of loneliness, perhaps out of the growing sense of dread of our world wrapping things up… or maybe it’s just that old familiar dread that comes with getting older? Perhaps the world and I are entwined somehow (quantum entanglement? That’s a thing, right?), and as I die, so dies the planet, like those flowers at the end of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Or vice-versa. Yes, that makes much more sense. I mean, my impending death couldn’t possibly have any effect whatsoever on the planet, but the planet dying, well, that sure as shit will kill us all.
And I am only XX years old anyway – old, but not quite ‘at Death’s door’ old. And yet, here we are. I will spend the rest of my boring summer days here in remotest Korea trying to connect with the entities of the collective subconscious. I have had unintentional success before, and I posted about them many times on this blog if you’re curious. I also wrote a crappy book. But now, I am going to try Jung’s idea of “active imagination,” which I learned about from YouTube videos. I mentioned these videos before. I was going to post one here for you to see, but you can find it on YouTube yourself if you are truly interested. Instead, have some Yusuf Islam (AKA Cat Stevens):
Be well and enjoy your summer. Yours in Isolation,
UPDATE: I now feel a kindred spirit in Shelby. Imagine him, cluelessly on some produce growing on a farm, just being a snail. Some thoughtless human comes along, snatches up his chosen plant, and plops him into a bushel of other plants of the same phylum, and before he knows it, he’s been spritzed, packaged, and shipped. How long was he in transport? How long was he on the produce shelf at that E-Mart? Then I bought his bushel and found him, and here we are. Or she? How do you sex a snail? Maybe I should just refer to Shelby as “they”? I don’t know, but here we are. I’m gonna give him some fresh water, and myself some fresh wine.