As I went through the photos he made publicly available on Interpals, I had noticed there were quite a few photos of him in a military uniform. He didn’t strike me as a military type of guy so I asked him about it. He had explained right away that South Korea has mandatory military service and that almost every Korean man had to do it, including him.
That’s how I started to get to know Kimchi Man, but also how I started to get to know Korea.
Now, more than three years later, I still haven’t had the luck of visiting it, but I have garnered a massive amount of knowledge about it and understanding of it. Naturally, there is still an even longer way to go, but compared to three years ago, the change is obvious.
Of course, there is the simple change of me now having a bigger knowledge about Korea and in a way, about the world. I am able to entertain people with new stories, from mundane ones, like Koreans using metal chopsticks; to surprising ones, like Korean children being locked in high schools for most of the 24 hours, and outright fascinating ones like Korea just 60 years ago being poorer than any African country whereas now it’s one of the richest countries in the world.
But there is also the more complex change, and much more profound one, where it’s much easier for me to accept that there is more than one way to do things and that doesn’t automatically make any of them wrong.
I have always thought of myself as an open-minded person, but it’s different to be one in theory and to be one in practice.
So looking back, how can I regret my relationship with Kimchi Man, when I am a better person for it?
And the truth is, I do not regret a second of it. Just because our relationship didn’t work out, doesn’t make it a waste of my time.
I am reminded of when I first started thinking of making a blog, when not-so-kind-hearted people on some forum asked me what am I going to do once he breaks my heart and I start hating Korea and everything about it.
My reply was that it’s never going to happen. I chose my man carefully and I had no doubt even at the very beginning of our relationship that Kimchi Man is a kind and reasonable man. While I couldn’t guarantee that we would stay together forever (as much as I had hoped we would), I could guarantee that at least our parting would be dignified.
I am ready to say now that I was right.
This has been the most difficult break up for me yet, because even as I suggested that our relationship wasn’t working any more, I still had (have?) feelings for him. And yet he took it with maturity and grace, agreed with me, and continued to be kind and compassionate, in situation where most others would start hurling insults.
Neither of us blames the other for the demise of our relationship, and we both agree it was just an insurmountable difference in what we wanted out of it. Neither of us wrong, but together incompatible (and that not due to our nationalities).
And what his grace with handling the situation has left me with is no bitter feelings towards neither him nor Korea.
I feel regret when I think what we could have had, but I don’t feel regret when I remember what we had.