Strange how things change. I was watching the birthday party unfold in the kid’s room today and it struck me that this is the second monthly birthday party I’ve seen here, and that I see these children and these teachers every day, and that their simple tics and mannerisms are wholly familiar to me… and that this is my life now. This is the place where I live and work, the entirety of my being. These are the people and the things and sounds and the smells that I experience every day.
My hometown no longer exists, except as a memory, or in digital format as photos and emails and grainy skype videos. All the things that have made up my life over the last 20 years are as insubstantial and unreal as World War I or the First Fleet. The balcony over the swamp at Carine Open Space. Fishing on the beaches along West Coast Highway at one in the morning with my sleeves and cuffs rolled up, standing in the moonlit surf, casting in silence for an hour before Chris eventually says, “…fishing blows.” Bees drifting through spring flowers outside my primary school. The first warm evening in November. The relentless beep of the checkouts at Coles. The musty smell of my faithful Hyundai. The baking sun, the endless curbs and footpaths, the daily commute down Marmion Avenue. A city seemingly designed for cars and cars alone. Open blue skies you could drown in. Magpies trilling in the garden. Lying on my towel at the beach covered in grit and frying in January heat. Bracing ourselves against the bulkhead of the Sea Vixen as she plows through the Gage Roads on a choppy day, every wave bursting over the prow and soaking us, so that by the time we arrive on Rottnest at dusk our shirts are rigid with salt. Going to Northbridge and seeing people vomit in the gutters, brawl in the streets, the hideous stink of booze and sweat and urine mixing together on the sticky floor of every single club and bar. The freeway and the train lines, the CBD and the suburbs, the rolling hills and the long unspoilt stretch of white coast.
None of those things exist anywhere but in my mind. All that exists is this school, this sterile kindergarden, the walls plastered with rosy-cheeked template cartoons and simple sentences, the warped chiming of the period bell, the paper-swamped office with its tiny window offering a view of smog-choked suburban Seoul. And my apartment, perched on the top floor, the drains submerged under pools of water they can’t swallow, wine and beer bottles sitting on every surface, the stink of unwashed socks and bad plumbing. Techno blaring out of every store, the whining tones of Korean, the cruel humidity, the blast of cool air that comes with every arriving subway train. The imposing northern mountain of granite outcrops and riotous green foliage. Concrete makeup and hooker heels on the young women, frizzy perms and sun visors on the older ones. Flaming metrosexuality on the young men, khaki pants and singlets on the older ones. The refreshing, startling feeling of seeing a Caucasian face on the street. Bumpy green and yellow footpaths. Tanks full of eel and squid outside every restaurant. Motorcycles everywhere. Homeplus. Emart. LG. Seven-Eleven. Lotteria. Samsung. Paris Baguette. South Korea – the totality of my existence, and the only thing in the world.
Yet! When I leave, it will be this place which ceases to exist, and its antipode that swells back to life, as vibrant and colourful and real as I remember it. Check and balance – there is room for one world and one world only, and while it sits in the centre of my perception all others that have been or will be must remain dormant. This elegant law ranks alongside certainties such as the rising sun or the falling apple, and in dark hours it grants me comfort to know that this place is no more permanent or inevitable than a bad dream.
am i going insane? y/n