from the Korean Army to being published

the blog of an "ex-patriot" writer in Korea

Random #57: Looking for a New Second Home

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My housing contract is up in May, which is giving me a headache because I can’t get a housing loan as a foreigner despite having served in this country’s Army, but it’s a story for another post. I actually have three homes, and I own none of them. My definition of home is not related to ownership or where my heart is but rather frequency, duration, and comfort. The office-tel where I sleep is my first home and the bar where I spend my nights* is my third. My second home is the place where I’ve “lived” the longest and is the most vital to my creative process—the Angel-in-us coffee shop next to Nakseongdae Station.

I should use the past tense when referring to my former second home—it closed down for good on Friday—but I can’t let it go so easily. I’ve spent anywhere between four to twelve hours a day, almost every day for four years there. I’ve seen managers and baristas come and go and I never had to tell them my order, my cup of Americano often ready before I even finished paying. They regularly upgraded my coffee and put extra stamps on my stamp card and gave me promotional items even though I’d camp out in a lonely corner, hidden in a haze of cigarette smoke and wasting their electricity. “Friday’s our last day,” the manager announced with a bittersweet smile as she handed me my coffee and I was filled with genuine sadness.

Most importantly, that Angel-in-us is where I’ve written hundreds of pages, two completely different drafts of the manuscript, and every single one of these blog posts. Making a routine of something is particularly difficult for me but also very essential for me to write. This past weekend was a long holiday, Lunar New Year, and I wrote three or four sentences at most. I blogged about this last year when I moved away from Nakseongdae and although there are perhaps too many coffee shops in the vicinity of my current first home, I still returned to Nakseongdae nearly every day to write. I’m very particular about where I “live” and that particular Angel-in-us had everything I was looking for in a second home—a spacious smoking section with plenty of electrical outlets and a steady flow of other customers who will surround me but leave me alone.

I’ve become a daytime nomad. I’ve been to three coffee shops today and, unable to find what I’m looking for, dejectedly settled on a Twosome Place near my office-tel. There is no smoking section and a single electrical outlet accessible from only two tables. I’ve had one cigarette since I arrived—I had to go outside and watch my belongings through the window—and it just feels wrong. The coffee is also pricier, 400 won more, which isn’t much but adds up when it’s a daily expense. The only benefit is its proximity to my first home; I can swing by and check if one of the two tables is available before heading out in search of other options. Nevertheless, one thing I know is that this place will never be home. There’s no suitable metaphor for how I feel about being in this place. It’s like a motel a widower has to hole up in because his breadwinning wife died and her bitchy sister somehow got the house in the will. It’ll do for now, until I can figure out where I can go, but I have a strong feeling that things will never be as good as they were.

* My third home was also in danger of closing at the end of last year. While it’s still open for business, the threat of closing down is constantly around the corner. I hope it can hang on for at least another year. I don’t think I can handle losing two homes in one year.


2 Responses

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  1. Yeah, that’s one of the harsh realities of doing business in Seoul: real estate is expensive, and businesses come and go, appearing and disappearing like firefly flickers. This keeps Seoul from being boring, but it also makes it hard to express one’s long-term loyalty to a place. Reality constantly pulls the rug out from under your feet.

    My sympathies, man.

    Kevin Kim

    February 13, 2013 at 11:43 pm

    • It’s true. I thought I’d be safe with a franchise coffee shop but I was wrong. After being in that new coffee shop, I started getting a little agitated and depressed so I went to my third home for a beer. It turns out they’re not doing well, either. I was the first customer of the day and there was only one customer the day before. I was talking to the manager, my buddy Tae, and he also shared that the same thing is happening around him. All our places of refuge are disappearing.


      February 14, 2013 at 1:47 pm

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