It's not 2005

In an apartment in Jinju, South Korea, I am sitting on the ondol-heated floor, smoking another cigarette.

CNN International is on. It's a full hour before I head back to class at a small hagwon down the street, on the main road, on the third floor, above a restaurant where we often have our dinners brought from, unless Emily, the director, makes her excellent kimchi jigae for us. Once or twice, she splurged and bought Chinese take out, which she noted was very expensive. It was probably the chicken, chicken always seems expensive in South Korea, except for the chicken sandwich at Popeye's I got one time, not because I was hungry, just because I wanted to see what it tasted like. It tasted like a chicken sandwich bought at a Popeye's in South Korea.

Steve has left. He had enough of South Korea. Madeleine has said nothing here thrills her very much, and if the writing on the signs outside the window to the Pizza Hut were not in Korean, she'd be hard-pressed not to mistake downtown Jinju for some spot in Toronto. But, The Boss tells me to hang in there. Hang in there, Jersey, she tells me. Give it time, we all get the blues, yeah? she says in her Australian accent. Kristy says it took her three months before she started settling in, and now she is having a great time. R. tells me over the phone how difficult the first three months in America were. How she cried all the time because she missed her sister and her parents back home in Iran, and she didn't know when she would see them again. After three months, it got easier. She still missed them, but she met people. She met me. It gets easier.

I reach for another cigarette. Almost out. Didn't I have half-a-pack when I woke up a couple hours ago? No wonder my throat is cat-scratched-out. No wonder I can't think clearly, my head is full of smoke. No wonder I haven't gotten over R., I haven't gotten off the phone. No wonder I haven't found my place in Korea, I haven't left this fucking apartment.

I pick up the phone and dial the number. Singapore Airlines? I need a one-way ticket to Newark Liberty International Airport. Christmas Eve. 2005.

Except, it's not 2005.

Steve is long gone from Korea, shacked up and getting domesticated in New Zealand. Madeleine may be married by now. Kristy is somewhere out there, canoeing across pictures on Facebook. Haven't seen R. in over three years. That restaurant may still be there but the hagwon could be long gone by now. If not, that apartment might not house their current English teacher, it might be the home of just another local yokel. Dunhill's might not be sold at the little mom and pop down the street. Mom and Pop might be dead. Popeye's might be a Starbucks. Not a single person I met over 40 days over four years ago might be left in that city of 350,000. They probably wouldn't recognize me if they were. I keep my hair cut close these days and I wear different glasses now.

It's not 2005. It hasn't been 2005 in almost five years. So much has happened in five years. If I get the itch, maybe I'll take a train over to Jinju one day and see what's left. Maybe I won't want to once I'm there. Because it's not 2005. It's 2010, and I am going to teach English in Busan.

—John Dunphy