My job in Korea is generous with vacation. It's standard for university lecturing positions: 8 weeks off per year, at least.
When we signed contracts, I thought it would be perfect. I could visit Canada frequently, maintaining ties with family and old friends, keep homesickness at bay with biannual pilgrimages home. I would have my exotic Korean job and keep one foot where my roots lie. I'd have my cake and eat it too, for a few years at least, until it got too taxing.
Before, I would come gratefully back "home" after a year or more abroad. Then, my senses would take in Canada thirstily, greedily. I had staked my adult self as a traveler, a seeker of adventure. It almost felt guilty, traitorous, taking such pleasure in the familiar.
I would pause with gratitude a thousand times a day, for the smallest moments I didn't realize I missed. A full-sized oven, coffee with milk, big bookstores. I'd smile at shady oak trees, an overheard Gatineau accent, a pair of kids on bicycles, riding slowly up the wide, empty sidewalk.
I'm in Canada now, the second visit in less than six months. The transition between cultures wasn't breathless or tiring or reflective. It was easy. I've met with friends, strolled my old neighbourhood, eaten family meals, barely thinking of Korea and my life there. I don't feel like a visitor here. I don't feel temporary or conditional. I certainly don't feel strange. Instead, I feel strange about how easy it's become to slip comfortably between my two lives, to immerse fully into one, barely thinking of the other at all, then switch, then back, then switch a few months later again.
Here, I read newspapers in the late morning on a sun porch, round mugs of tea in hand.
There, I watch CNN at night, usually while painting my toenails or laying out tomorrow's clothes.
Here, my meetings with friends start and end with strong, clapping hugs.
There, I see friends daily, and our goodbyes are brief and, we know, short-lasting.
Here, I chat with shopkeepers and baristas. Ten times a day, I say "how are you?" to strangers, and hear it back in turn.
There, I nod my head reverentially to cashiers when they praise my clunky, timid Korean.
Here, I eat Greek food, Italian food, maritime food, Mexican food; Montreal bagels and local berries, bought from French-speaking vendors at the market.
There, we get Indian as a treat, maybe fries at the pub on Fridays. We know the ladies who do rice rolls and tofu soup across the street. We still haven't found good pizza.
Here, I'm a daughter and sister, childhood friend, old classmate, old neighbour, sharer of the past.
There, I'm not anonymous but not rooted either. There's always change in the students, colleagues, friends coming and leaving.
Now, it's easy. Now, also, I know it can't last forever.