Feeding Teenagers, Feeding the Soul: My Life in Korea

In Pyeongtaek, South Korea, the city I’ve lived in for the past month, the air is alive. Inside the house of my hosts: the gentle thrum of air conditioning and the persistent meows of Zelda, a large and ever-hungry cat. Outside on the balcony: the hum of cicadas and the barking of three dogs who single-mindedly confront whatever bird or squirrel might have wandered too close to their territory. The late summer heat, mitigated by recent typhoons, presses on the wind and makes it dance, celebrated by the wind chimes that hang nearby.

Unlike Seoul, a city punctuated only here and there by cultivated parks, here the straight-backed buildings with their glittering or faux stone exteriors are balanced measure for measure by greenery and rolling hills. The slim trunks of trees meander upwards from slope to sky, silently judging humankind’s uglier industriousness. When I occasionally bike into the center of town to buy fresh produce, I’m grateful for the fancy electric motor that helps me pedal uphill with ease and cuts out when I glide downhill.

Each day in the last couple of weeks has revolved around two main events for me: meditation in the morning and cooking in the evening. For a hot minute I thought I’d try to become a Buddhist nun, so I read a bunch of online texts about Buddhism and the monastic life. I concluded that I was far too attached to meat, sex, and video games to make a real go of it, but the philosophy made sense to me overall. I started a practice of meditating for 20-30 minutes after waking up, usually with a YouTube video by Thich Nhat Hanh or someone like that narrating and keeping me on track. Once I have enough space in my mind to encounter the day, I noodle about the house reading, researching, petting dogs, playing video games, and doing chores until late afternoon.

There are three other people currently in this house with me, all around 17-18 years old. Two are siblings and part of triplets, and their brother is off in the USA with their parents getting accustomed to college life. One is a student from South America who’s been stranded in South Korea for the better part of a year due to COVID-19. We get along quite well and the house is certainly big enough for everyone, with grand comfy couches and TVs that I use for instructional yoga videos and the occasional Studio Ghibli movie. I’m not exactly in charge here or responsible for anyone, being a short term guest, but I am the only one who really knows how to cook (plus I enjoy cooking for other people). So, I’ve put myself in charge of the big evening meal where all of us are awake and in the mood to socialize.

As this idyllic moment in my life draws to a close, I can feel the many experiences I’ve had in the past few months — both fictional and IRL — mixing into a stew of useful lessons and references to draw from. I’ve had more fun doing nothing than I really thought I would, and fun is a great teacher. I have a great deal to share with the world and I’m looking forward to doing so as the need arises.

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