Dave Hazzan is a Canadian that has been living in the Seoul area for 14 years. He has five years of experience writing about Korean society and culture. Dave has been published in over 20 magazines and newspapers around the world, including in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Japan, Singapore, Australia, and here in South Korea, where he writes regularly for the English-language press. He’s covered nearly all areas of Korean and Asian life, but especially the way Korea views the wider world and is viewed by it. He’s also done in-depth reporting on Korean music, art, social affairs, international politics, food, drink, and expat affairs.
The following passage is an “about me” adapted from Dave’s 3-part article on South Korea in Outpost magazine. You can read the article in its entirety here: “Visit Korea in 2 Weeks.”
I came to Korea on January 15, 2002, on Asiana Flight 271 from Seattle to Seoul. I was 25 years old, and had been drunk and/or stoned for about a year.
I had been living in Vancouver, in a basement apartment on 20th Street and Cambie. I was jobless, broke, and deeply in debt. When I had money, I drank. When I didn’t have money, I sat on the couch and stared vacuously at the wall, too depressed to open a book or even turn on the hockey game.
I smoked enough pot to stuff a loveseat, and when the doctors prescribed me Ritalin, I crushed the pills up and snorted them, fistfuls at a time. When my girlfriend woke up in the hospital from emergency gall-bladder surgery, I was at a Halloween party in the East End, blasted on ecstasy, with no nagging feeling at all that I was forgetting something.
I went to the new Korea. Travel to work there came like a saving angel, as it has for so many young, unemployed Canadians. In my five months in Vancouver, I had sent out hundreds of resumes and applications (or so it felt), and had gotten two interviews, neither one successful. When I applied to Korean recruiters, I sent out six resumes and was interviewed by all of them. Within a week of accepting a job I was in Seoul, teaching kindergarten and primary school, of all goddamn things.
If Vancouver is the world’s most liveable city, Seoul is its most explosive. It explodes with red Christian crosses on tin roofs, a dozen to a block. It explodes with dilapidated brown brick housing, at the feet of monstrous white tower blocks that go on for miles. People burst out of its shops and offices, restaurants and bars, subway stations and temples, bus shelters and car parks, roads, highways and overpasses, trees and rivers and mountains, and it never seems to end.
You can hop on a train at any one point and get off after two hours of random transfers and swear you haven’t moved an inch. You are always surrounded by this amorphous mass of people, things, food, drink, smoke, sweat and life that can only be called Korea. In the day, it is like some kind of Asia Disney on meth. At night, it looks like Blade Runner.
Most teachers back then just did a year, took their money, spent two months in Thailand getting blasted, and then went home to kids, car, and mortgage. But I stayed. I had a plan.
I moved out to Ilsan, a new and modern satellite city north of Seoul. I found a decent job and got promoted. I got a girlfriend who became a fiancée who became a wife. I wrote in the mornings and worked in the afternoons, and completed a master’s degree. And then every four years, we strapped on a backpack, quit our jobs, and disappeared.
The nearest flight to the Banana Pancake Trail is to Hanoi, about four and a half hours away, and North America, Australia, and Europe are a solid 10 to 14. So the best way to explore, leaving from Korea, is to make it a good, long trip—and crawling through China is guaranteed adventure.
But don’t forget Korea, and don’t make the mistake most visitors do of spending a day in Seoul and then moving on. The country is small, but it is fascinating.
I have spent three-quarters of my adult life in Korea, or backpacking somewhere in Asia. We have no house, no children, no pets. People often ask us when we are going to settle down and return to “real life.” We are living real life—it’s so real, I feel it in every breath. People who say this isn’t real life think real life has to suck.