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He said he almost always had nightmares when he slept over at her place. And that he’d wake up in the middle of the night and see her sleeping next to him, and realizing everything was okay, drift to sleep again.

They wore her blanket down until it was in tatters, the cottony stuffing exposed, sticking out in soft tufts and pulling away from the rest of the thing. When she woke up and he was still asleep, she’d get bored and pull at the tufts. She made snowy peaks rise from the surface. She watched them move gently up and down as he continued to sleep, continued to breathe, his chest rising and falling to a steady beat.

He had a way of reminding her of the rare, exquisite things that she lives for, the weird things that surpass reality. He could bring her out of any kind of gloom, even the indelible sadness of feeling unwanted. And he had a way of showing up with the most delightful surprises, like he did today, without notice but with a wild pink flower in his right fist, mud and roots still attached.

And now she’d seen him again, her friend, and it was happy, seeing him again, right outside her door, that half-smile of his on his drunken face. Worried he might get sick, she gave him some tonic and vitamins. She didn’t have any Pocari Sweat for him; she knew he liked it but she didn’t and never had any at home.

He smelled like alcohol and joy. She gave warmbug a hug and sent him on his way. After all, he was just a tunnel and bridge away.

——

Earlier this week, I was writing a “Top 5 News of 2017” feature article for my client. It was a big year for Microsoft, from opening a datacenter in Korea to launching its mixed reality platform, a first for the industry.

My 2017, on the other hand, was rather uneventful. But a lot changed within me that made it a very significant year. I also didn’t want to go yet another year without having written anything on my blog, so voila. My 2017, in top 5 news:

#1 Finding a lifelong passion and career

I changed tracks in my career from education to PR in 2015. While a lot of the work in PR came naturally to me, it definitely was not an easy ride. The first year was an extension of my editing career, with the opportunity to apply my writing and editing skills to the field of PR and digital content marketing. I learned how to make content calendars and interview executives for stories.

Year 2 is where things got rocky – I was juggling work from two teams – tech PR and digital – and found myself liking media PR more. I was adjusting to working with newly hired team members. In the end, I transferred to the tech PR team and it’s been full speed ahead since. Managing PR and IMC campaigns for challenging clients who are also some of the biggest names in the tech industry has taught me a lot, not just PR knowhow but lifelong skills of persuasion, diplomacy, and decision making. I think the next step is to learn leadership and stress management, and I look forward to the challenge.

I also learned that I truly love the work I do, because I talk about it all the time. I love coming into work every day and reading what familiar names at familiar media outlets wrote overnight. I love getting calls from journalists and clients, because it means they trust me and respect my opinion. I get to help them, which I find rewarding. I want to do PR for tech companies for as long as I can foresee – I can’t imagine myself doing anything else for the time being.

#2 Becoming comfortable with Korea

It took 7 years. I came here in 2010 to teach English, and socialized with mostly foreigners and gyopos (Koreans raised overseas) like myself. Even at my office job of curriculum development, I worked with mostly foreigners, gyopos, and Koreans who had worked with foreigners and gyopos for most of their career. Exposure to the full breadth and depth of Korean culture didn’t happen until I started my current job, where the mostly-Korean staff and corporate culture hit me with their Korean-ness full-force.

This year, I found myself wanting to express certain things in Korean and posting certain contents on social media in Korean. And writing in Korean has become enjoyable – I still have a long ways to go, but I’ve become comfortable enough with the language to write in it at length and on various topics. I’m going to keep working at improving it and extend my practice to hanja (Chinese characters), and eventually, Chinese. I also learned that I will always want to work in a bilingual capacity – it’s just more fun that way.

I owe a lot of this assimilation to the patience and understanding of my friends and coworkers. I’m not gonna say it doesn’t still trouble me when attitudes deeply rooted in Korean culture – such as Confucianism and cutthroat competition – affect me directly. But America isn’t perfect either, and in some ways, Korea is more malleable and receptive to cultural change.

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There is only one person I’ve ever met that could give me unsolicited advice and get away with it.

“I noticed you haven’t been yourself lately. Is everything okay?”

I’d say I’m fine, what do you mean I’ve been different, nothing’s wrong.

Three bottles of soju later, and he’s ladling 김치찌개 into my 앞접시 and I’m telling him how much it hurts me when students let me down. He’s telling me whether I realize it or not, my words are hurting them.

“Think of how much confidence a student has to work up to walk into the teachers’ office and tell you that he forgot his homework,” he tells me. “And you immediately shoot them down, not allowing them a chance to explain or giving them the benefit of the doubt.”

He’s right. I have nothing to say.

And then he says to me, in the gentlest and most loving way, “I know how much you care about them. But I care about you, too, and I want others to see you, to recognize you as the generous person that you are. Because if they see that, they’ll appreciate your passion so much more.”

Even to this day, in moments of doubt or crises of faith, I think of Peter and ask myself, “What would Peter have to say about this?” And it doesn’t matter that I can’t talk to him because he’s an ocean away and not here to ladle soup into my bowl. I know him well enough to know what his answer would be, and to know him this way, I am lucky.

— —

When I met André, I was barely making ends meet, with only a few freelance jobs helping me pay my rent. The only thing that kept me going was the spring air. It’s been almost two years since then, and André’s back for a visit. And I am again on the hunt for a new job. It seems I can’t make it a year without creating significant changes in my life. I guess that part of me is still the same, but when I meet André this weekend, he’ll see that I’ve changed.

Two years ago, I was still a fool. It’s almost too embarrassing to write about what kind of person I was then. In some ways, I feel myself getting weaker. I never settle — I still strive for more, I still work hard and play hard — but there are yoga poses I could pull off last year that I can’t anymore. I can’t drink as much. I find myself leaving clubs earlier or not going at all, choosing instead to stay in, cook a light dinner, and watch Buzzfeed videos. I look through drafts I wrote about my colorful twenties life, posts about not giving a shit about a lot of things. Posts about drinking to feel, self-medicating to not feel, seeking immediate gratification in various forms. The rational decisions I would make from time to time just to keep my life on track.

I read these things, and I don’t identify with it anymore. That pseudo-reckless lifestyle of a bourgeois girl who takes controlled doses of danger once in a while to make up for the monotony of her day-to-day life. So who am I now? I don’t know, and I don’t think it really matters. I just… know that I like who I’ve grown into, and I really like the people in my life. One thing that will never change about me is my love of people, and I hope to meet many more, even ones as maddening and incorrigible as André.

We went to the jungle first, where we picked bananas and tapped a tree for rubber. I’d always wanted to do that—tap a rubber tree—and before this day, the closest I had come to it was picking off a leaf from my Ficus Benjamin and watching the white goo ooze out of the wound. I took out an old jar from my satchel and started filling it with the sap, now flowing freely from the trunk. He looked at me with a raised eyebrow and I beamed at him.

Out of hunger and boredom (probably boredom moreso), Harry whittled a stick to a sharp point and harpooned a salmon with it in the little stream. I couldn’t watch him do it. “I need more than bananas for supper,” he said.

I looked up, and looming above us was a canopy of wide, leafy leaves, thin and translucent and overlapping as if to one-up one another, hiding the sun. I missed the sun.

——

The last time I saw Harry, he looked good. He was as lighthearted and curious as ever, and as the night went on, we changed our plans on every whim, as we always did. The clink of brimming glasses. The ringing of the car bells, the candle lights, yellow bulbs, and disco rays reflecting off bottles and cigarette cases. My hand reached for a cig; the tobacco crumbled into a fine dust between my thumb and forefinger, and he took it from me.

There was a bus to the club district waiting outside the bar, but we hopped into a taxi instead. We resisted the temptations of the night and the city and escaped to better places.

Somewhere better than this place—that’s what we always sought. And seekers find each other, Jamie would say. But I didn’t find Harry so much as run into him, at full speed. We were just two kids looking for fun. And we didn’t care about anything else.

——

Life has been…interesting. So much happens day by day, week by week, that I wish I could just collect the events in my life and my thoughts about them in a jar as they occur and drift it off your way.

The little joys and trip-ups seem so significant when they happen, but once I sit down to write to you about them, I exhale once, and they are blown away like a dry leaf in the autumn wind.

I have nothing left to share with you. Only vague feelings and torn images and words remain, and I’m afraid a collage of mismatched information wouldn’t do you any good.

I’m awfully lonely without you here; I remember when we saw each other every day, talking about our day over snacks and drinks. You had the best cookies and I had the best teas. We pulled out all the stops when others came over; we loved to host and entertain, and we knew we were the best at it.

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