Sunday, April 9, 2017

Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye, going away
Seems like goodbye's such a hard thing to say
Touching a hand, wondering why
It's time for saying goodbye
Saying goodbye, why is it sad?
Makes us remember the good times we've had
Much more to say, foolish to try
It's time for saying goodbye
Dont want to leave, but we both know
Sometimes it's better to go
Somehow I know we'll meet again
Not sure quite where, and I dont know just when
You're in my heart, so until then
Wanna smile, wanna cry
Saying goodbye
La la la la la la la la
It's time for saying goodbye

—"Saying Goodbye" from The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)

The time has come... after 4 years and 8 months, I finally decided to pack my bags, leaving Seoul to return to the USA. My Seoul Adventure is thus... over.

Goodbye to the SVP who brought me to Suwon
(now Cisco Korea president)
To be honest, this wasn't a spontaneous decision by any means. My wife and I had made the decision to move months before, and once she received her USA immigrant visa then the decision was a done deal. However, we kept our intention quiet from almost everyone around us, not wanting to disrupt the natural rhythms of life and also take the time to enjoy the beginnings of married life together in my adopted expat nation. Slowly, slowly, we started telling our friends, one by one. I told my Senior VP at Samsung in January — I anticipated he would tell other Korean colleagues, but he mostly kept silent.

The near unanimous reaction was surprise. I suppose once you stay in a strange place such as Korea long enough, well past people's expectation, then people just assume you will be there indefinitely. You come to be viewed like furniture, an object that always sits in the room, only really noticed when unexpectedly moved out one day, suddenly leaving a gap in the space once occupied.

As I wrote about a couple years ago, there seems to be a natural cycle to expat life in Korea. You just know when it is time to go. You start expat life in a state of wild wonder, then you confront challenges and if you overcome those you get more comfortable and decide you're comfortable in your adopted home. Then slowly over time, circumstances change, friends leave, and you need to decide whether you will reinvigorate your life and double down on the expat experience. Or, as Steve Jobs once famously put it, if you wake up day after day, look at the mirror and don't want to do what you are about to do that day, then you need to make a move. My gut knew before I could even admit the feeling to myself.

Farewell beers with some Samsung colleagues

The last 2 months felt like endless preparation for moving... saying goodbye to the in laws in Vietnam, working out the logistics of when to fly out, selling household items on Craigslist, tying up all my finances, and progressively telling more and more people that we were leaving. Yet despite the drawn out preparations and despite feeling resolutely that I was making the right decision, I still wasn't mentally prepared for the mix of emotions I would feel along the way. At times I felt excited, anxious, impatient to move on, or fearful of missing out on a last experience or a person to say goodbye to. I had my one sad day where I almost cried at my work desk, and other days where I couldn't wait for the last day. The last couple weeks at work felt very strange ... fortunately my director stopped assigning work to me but I still needed to be in the office for 40 hours/week per Samsung HR policy, even if that time was largely spent finishing personal affairs, calling my wife, or having coffee chats with colleagues one last time. It feels strange to come to work knowing you are not there to build something. I had invested almost 5 of my young years acclimating to living outside of my comfort zone, and yet I was just fading away. Leaving was anticlimactic, nothing like arriving.

My final Samsung GSG 2012 "Survivors Lunch" in Suwon

Up to the very end, many of my coworkers didn't know I was leaving. I didn't want to make a scene and I didn't want to disrupt daily business. But maybe I should have told colleagues earlier. Saying goodbye doesn't come naturally to me. I had a couple nights out for farewell drinks with colleagues and a pizza lunch in the office on my final day at Samsung. My Senior VP gave me a parting gift ... Nike basketball shoes, probably because I had accidentally received an ugly black eye while playing pickup at Samsung Digital City 2 weeks prior.

My final day in Seoul started as a sunny Saturday morning, one of those rare clean air days when I felt like I could just live in Seoul forever. My apartment was almost completely empty — the movers had packed most of my belongings in a shipping container and my wife was already gone as well, having moved to the USA ahead of me. I only had a few items on my agenda: say goodbye to people at the gym, get a haircut, video chat with my wife, and make sure everything fit into my suitcases. The air had a crisp early April chill, great for a morning walk wearing a fleece jacket and jeans. Even on my last day in Seoul I discovered new things... a coffee shop in my neighborhood open at 7am(!) and a new Vietnamese bun cha restaurant opening soon. Something I will never forget about Seoul: its dynamism. Always new shops, new restaurants, old buildings torn down and rapidly replaced by new ones.

Final day at my neighborhood gym

Early on a Sunday morning, I vacated my apartment of 4 and a half years and dragged my 2 big suitcases to the limousine bus stop bound for Incheon International Airport. I was leaving much as I came, with 2 big suitcases, but also a memory bank of wild adventures in a vastly different culture. On my 56th time passing through Korean departure immigration — an average travel rate of once per month — I handed in my alien registration card and said I wasn't returning this time. My final contributions to the Korean economy were a duty-free purchase for my wife, a coffee, and 2 kimbaps from my favorite food stop in the Incheon terminal, Robot Kimbap. I posted a quick notification to all my Facebook followers and had a video chat with my wife from the gate. I felt closure in my Korean experience and ready to start anew in my home country.

Spring is a time of revival and rebirth in Nature — and so it will be for me in the year 2017.

Last minutes in my Seoul apartment, packed up for the final time

No comments:

Post a Comment