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Friday, August 26, 2011

Back in the Ghetto

It has been more than a decade since I first arrived in Seoul, South Korea, knowing absolutely nothing about the country, its politics, its history, culture, food or people. In the interim, I have spoken to experts in their fields here and people in the street; watched; observed; sometimes listened, sometimes ranted; communicated with yesterday's and tomorrow's leaders; and been honored to work in the South Korean media with many brilliant and inquisitive colleagues.

One constant throughout that voyage, as for most other foreigners in Daehanminguk, has been the suburb of Itaewon. I was introduced to the foreign ghetto within days of my arrival and have spent all of my Seoul-time living within walking distance of this most non-Korean of suburbs. I have also been frustrated and irritated by the many  Westerners who come to South Korea for a year or two and never venture beyond Itaewon's borders. You're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy, and there's a whole wide world beyond the comfort zone of English-style pubs, familiar food choices and reliving your campus days with people who understand your language.

By the time of this current return, I'd not resided in my former home for about six years. I'd visited semi-regularly for much of that time so still had my finger on Itaewon's pulse intermittently, but I hadn't been paying this crazy place the attention I did in earlier days.

Now I'm back. And, as with a family member who hasn't seen a child for a long time, I see the immense growth that those who helped closely nurture that growth barely notice.

I've spent the last few days working on a feature article on Itaewon for the Yonhap news agency, for which I have written for the past year and for which I will soon be a full-time copy-editor. As happens, the story turned out very differently than I expected when I pitched it, but it has been fascinating and fun throughout. In the process, I have gained a deeper appreciation of this unique area that I am fortunate to know as one of my homes. Its residents have become ever-more diverse and I love that when I venture out, I never know what I am going to find.

I love being back in my ghetto!  


  1. WB!
    It appears you are re-adapting to your new/old environment rather well.
    I hope to see you, and have lunch or dinner sometime.

    I planned to visit Jeju, but have not yet...

    yillbyung Lee

  2. Prof. Lee,
    Yes, we will have to meet up whenever we both have the time. I want to hear all your sailing stories.
    I also plan to visit Jeju, but it probably won't be for at least a month.
    - Tracie

  3. Wish I was there with you my friend!!!