I originally started writing this over a year and a half ago when I said goodbye to the first big group of people leaving Namwon. I was still pretty new, and I was imagining what it would like to say goodbye to a town I called home for two or more years. A few weeks ago I found what I wrote again and decided to clean it up and share with you guys.
The truth is there is no art. Goodbyes are hard. Goodbyes in Korea are a prolonged, bittersweet tours that get harder and harder each day. You say goodbye to your students, all 300 of them. Your co-workers. Your church group. Your friends outside of your city. Your friends within the city. The old man that’s forever gardening under your window. The big, orange roof, instantly noticeable on Daum Maps. The apartment that has been yours for the last two years from the little spots on the wall where photos hung and the giant gold stain from when you tried to DIY.
You say goodbye to the post office, the bank, the local BBQ, the local Kalbi restaurant, and the nearby mandu place with the best meat dumplings in Korea. Who knows when you’ll get to have a latte at your favorite cafes again or even if they’ll be there when you return.
You take one last walk by the river that you loved so much. You remember the bright pink of the cherry blossoms in early spring and bare branches of the trees in winter. They’re a multitude of colors now with autumn in full swing. If you walk far enough you’ll pass by apartment buildings where some of your students live, and you know they’ll be outside playing and ready to wave and shout your name.
You say goodbye to your home of the last two years, a place that helped you mend old wounds and plan new adventures. It was your own version of Windy Poplars. You hated this place only a very little and loved it a whole lot. As you walk away from your ramshackle building, you know you’ll probably never say, “Dongbukkyohae kaseyo” to a bewildered taxi driver again.
As you get on the bus, sweating under the weight of two years in one suitcase, you sit and watch the Koreans pile in slowly. You think of all the people that have come into your life these past two years. All these people brought together in this one tiny town in the middle of nowhere. You imagine what they must be up to now. Fast asleep across the ocean, spread around the world from the US to Canada to Australia to South Africa and beyond.
It’s been a crazy two years, and all you know now is the future is wide open. Germany is in the distance, still a full year away. You have a year to make something of yourself online, but those thoughts are silent for the time being as you soak in your final goodbyes.
The bus starts moving past the mustard walls of Lotte Mart, and soon it’s driving through the tunnel that leads out of Namwon. The city of love fades in the background, and you see the “See You Later” sign one last time.
Then it’s over.
You still have some time left in Korea to explore last minute locations, but your life in this town is over. The person you were when you arrived has changed and grown into the person you are now. There is no art to saying goodbye. You just have to let yourself feel all of it. All of the sadness, the excitement, the nostalgia, the relief… It’s too late for regrets or what-ifs. Namwon is becoming a part of your past as the miles roll by. A piece of you that will remain frozen in memory for years to come.
So, here’s to you Namwon, the city of love. And here’s to all the wonderful people I’ve come to know because of you.