We humans are creatures of habit, so it’s unsurprising that even when faced with a new location and culture it doesn’t take long to fall into a routine. I may be halfway across the world, living in a country that is drastically different from my own in history, demographics, language, and culture, but my life here quickly adopted a routine, (whether out of habit or as a matter of coping is unimportant). Indeed, the largest change in routine has nothing to do with my move to Korea, but instead with my move from the academic world to the working world. But, take that out of the picture and my life is filled with many of the same mundane activities as before: working, running errands, and keeping house. I go to yoga four or five times a week, frequent the neighborhood gym, and meet friends at our usual restaurants, coffee shops, or bars for mid-week mental breaks. I’ve become partial to a certain pharmacy, grocery store, dry cleaner, phone card vendor, Mini-Stop convenience store, and even a shoe repairman who camps out under a tarp shoved in between two buildings. (Although, I must say I get disappointed when I suddenly come to find that my favorite grocery store or dry cleaner has disappeared or been replaced, due to Korea’s odd habit of tearing down businesses without warning and putting up replacements within days.)
In addition to my neighborhood stops and shops, there are the familiar neighborhood faces. The cashiers at the grocery store who have come to know I never need a bag, and the subway Mini-Stop woman who smilingly gives me freebies insisting “gift-uh! Ok!” The young bank security guard who assists all my transactions (requested or not) and is never bashful to remind me that he “very much likes to assistance the pretty foreigner.” The kimbap cheonguk employees: an ajumma who maternally pats me on the bum saying “pretty pretty” and the ajusshi who likes to lurk as Allison and I eat and do our crossword puzzles until he thinks it’s an opportune moment to practice his English, saying things like “you friend, but you stranger here,” “ah America, what colony you from?” and, “My think you have fun with boyfriends last night! Ha Ha!” And of course there are always the students who live nearby and who are always overeager to wave to their teacher in the street.
This isn't to say that everything has become commonplace, my neighborhood always has something up its sleeve to surprise me. Nevertheless, life and all its routines must go on, in the country I call home or not.