Today I left behind my home, my friends, my whole world from the past six months. For half a year I have called Seogwipo, a small city on Jeju Island, my home, but now I have drank my last soju, avoided my last kimchi, and no longer have to eat plastic cheese. As I sit here in Tokyo airport during my seventeen hour layover, I know that I will probably never set foot in Korea again. Or if I do, it won’t be the same as it has been this time around. I am sad to have left, sad for all the people I will not see again, sad not to swim in the sea every day, but more than being sad, I am happy that I went. I never intended to stay for six months, but things change unexpectedly and I should never say never.
As I sat on my flight into Tokyo an hour ago, I looked out the window and I thought, “Wow.” Wow more than ever before for everything because it’s all so big and right there before me. As I cruised at 670 miles an hour, my orange juice resting peacefully on the fold out tray before me, I was privy to an epic display of forested mountains for minute after minute. The tallest ones reached through the clouds, puncturing the sky, topped with snow. All of the others were green and lush, more epic than any movie could hope to achieve. It was a view I wasn’t meant to see, that just decades ago, was impossible for humans to see – the Earth from the sky. Think how much ‘Wow’ there is when you realise that we can now fly at 40,000 feet above the surface of the Earth. Despite being a densely populated country, there was so much of Japan untouched by humans – we cluster in towns and cities, leaving innumerable worlds of undiscovered delights. I happy to be reminded of how much there is still to discover.
Most often on planes, I like to close my eyes and pretend I’m somewhere else, anywhere but on a plane. They freak me out for their confined spaces and the fact that I was not blessed with the gift of flight or the skills of Icarus to achieve it. But today was different. When the clear skies gave in to clouds, I looked down to see two clear layers of perfect white fluff. It was so well balanced, like everything in the world, even the fact that we have an atmosphere. And the fact that we have consciousness to think about it. And now I can write this nonsense and you, and wherever you are and whoever you may be, you can read it.
Next time you go on a plane, think of this. Where do the clouds begin and where do they finish? Enthralled, I watched as we broke through the clouds, but I couldn’t tell. They are like fire, indefinable, clearly there, but exactly where?
When I got into Tokyo airport, I was ushered through by friendly people because of my passport. All I had to do was fill out a simple form. That was an anti-wow. Shouldn’t it be that we can all move where we like, when we like, doing what we like, regardless of our birth right? When I filled out the form, it asked me to pigeonhole myself by defining my occupation. I had no idea what to put, so I made a job up. Writing ‘I do what I need to’ would not be considered an appropriate response.
After seeing how big the world is, how much is untouched, I then had another thought – if I can fly from Japan to England, a journey of 6,000 miles, over one fifth of the circumference of the world at the equator (25,000 miles), in a mere 12.5 hours, that makes the world seem incredibly small. It is both at times. It is as big or small as we want it to be and many of us are free to do as we choose – but we have to choose. I am choosing to go to England, to Norway, and then to Iceland, for no reason other than I think that doing so would make me happy. Many people tell me that things are not possible, that they can’t do what they want to do – but I disagree mostly. There are some of us who are limited by responsibilities or physical limitations, but most often, we all have an ability to exercise our right to choose what we do and how we live life.
I feel I am taking things further than necessary, but that moment on the aeroplane, a time when I went from very sad to very ‘Wow,’ had quite an effect.
For my final weekend on Jeju, I finished it in a better way than I had hoped. On Friday evening I played in a charity badminton competition in the wind, dark, and rain, finishing after 2am, but still having time to watch some football, to see more friends, to say some goodbyes. With a couple of hours of sleep, I rose to good food and a visit from a friend, then leapt from rocks into the ocean with the rain beating down upon my bare skin. Jumping from high rocks into pools, I was elated and the day turned to a night of pizza, of soju, of people. In the early hours of the morning, we headed to a popular waterfall and had it all to ourselves. Seizing the opportunity, we leapt into the swirling pool and swam until 6am when security found us and escorted us off the premises. We went climbing, then slept for a few short hours, then made the most of the final day. After feasting on waffles, we climbed onto motorbikes and rode to a secret canyon, accessible only by climbing and swimming, then leapt from the rocks into the water once more. The place is a huge crevasse, carved from nature, with a cathedral roof of trees. I have seen nothing like it on this island. Then we jumped from more rocks over a dry waterfall and finished the day with too much Mexican food. I could not think of a better weekend to end my time here.
Jeju has been my home for six months, but it is no more. At the time I went, I could have chosen anywhere in the world to live and I was hesitant about Korea, but I had to choose somewhere and it had something special going for it. Still, I had no idea what to expect and was nervous about returning to Korea after not enjoying it first time around. Yet it delivered. Seogwipo allowed me to feel positively about Korea despite my last experience, gave me the opportunity to write a book (The Boy Who Was Afraid of the World), and offered me much, much more. I have left on a high, feeling good about the world, happy with my six months, knowing that I won’t go back, but not regretting having gone in the first place. Thank-you Jeju and all the great people I met there. I’m glad that I came. I have no more words, but it’s been more than fun, it’s been an experience of life that I am grateful for.
Until next time.