Never ask a long-term traveler for their favorite city

It’s my final night in Seoul. I’m wandering through rivers of hip young Koreans, through the bright lights from the stores, the calls of vendors offering free sheet masks at cosmetic stores, the faint blare of K-Pop coming from a group of street dancers. I’m trying not to cry.

Never ask a long-term traveler what their favorite city or country is. Whether they know it or not, their answer will be less about the place itself than the way they felt when they were there. I can give you a hundred facts about why Seoul is my favorite city but the real reason I love it is because I came alive here, and that might have happened if I was in Tokyo or Taipei or Transylvania for all I know. I’ll always attribute these feelings to Seoul, whether it deserves it or not.

As I eat bingsu and watch well-dressed couples stroll past, I briefly daydream about staying and making a life for myself here. But it’s a fantasy. I’ll never marry a character from a K-Drama or be 100% fluent in Korean or have many friends who accept me as more than just their token foreigner. Life will return to normal no matter where I live.

It’s comforting. I can feel awake in any city, from Rome to Mobile, Alabama. And on the flip side, I can be miserable anywhere, whether it’s Paris or in my bedroom back in the States. I worry about leaving a part of my best self in Seoul, but wherever I go, there I am. I once knew someone who said, “I’m lucky that I get to live with myself for the rest of my life”.

I want to live with this self for the rest of my life.