He'd really like to go to Shanghai — "If I can learn that language, I've got a job for life," — but might settle for Korea. A bunch of miscellaneous people with nonzero proximity to me have done the latter, from Madelaine's ex-roommate to this girl I knew in high school who I tend to refer to as "the flakiest human being in the world." Given even my very, very shaky comprehension of Hangugo, I realize on some level that if my U.S. existence ever falls through, that's where I'll wind up too. The rest of the friends/acquaintances who've gone the English-teaching route seem to be in Japan, which I understand pays the most but also costs the most.
There are lots of arguments for this sort of thing, several of them convincing. This particular fellow admits a lower than savant-grade ability to learn foreign languages, but he's willing to let that ride in order to make up for about 30 years of lost seeing-the-world time. This resonates with me. In recent years, I've felt a mounting desire to be influenced by a wide array of different stuff, whether said stuff is different countries, different cultures, different languages, different sounds, different art, different minds, different means of expression. I don't believe you can just will the diversification of your intellectual portfolio; you have to put yourself in places, literally and metaphorically, where it can't help but be diversified.
I suspect this because I've noticed that, whatever I expose myself to, I become more like. It's especially the case with writers, no doubt because so much of my time is taken up with reading their work and writing my own. When I binge on the texts of, say, Kobo Abe, David Foster Wallace, Paul Graham or Alexander Theroux — to name four vastly different personal luminaries — I find myself writing, and thus thinking, much more like Kobo Abe, David Foster Wallace, Paul Graham or Alexander Theroux than I'd been before. This speaks either to my uncommon intellectual flexibility or my lack of much of a personality. Either seem plausible.
Sound artist and avant-garde music journalist David Toop talks about having "reprogrammed" his brain in youth by listening to megadoses of unusual music. I think he was on the right track, but I'll bet the technique generalizes way beyond the sonic arts. Despite the obvious obstacles poses to forging long-term friendships, I've thus come to envy those "Army brats" whose parents' perpetual relocation leads to eclectic personal histories: born in San Diego, elementary school in Johannesburg, high school in Leipzig, college in Zürich, grad school in Hong Kong, now they're in Bangkok, that sort of thing.
I think of David Sedaris, another writer I often read, re-read and absorb into my being, and his essay "Remembering My Childhood on the Continent of Africa". It's a treatise on his jealousy of his boyfriend Hugh, the son of a State Department officer, and his exotic upbringing. A PDF is available, on, of all places, OralHistoryKorea.org's English composition archive:
Certain events are parallel, but compared with Hugh's, my childhood was unspeakably dull. When I was seven years old, my family moved to North Carolina. When he was seven years old, Hugh's family moved to the Congo. We had a collie and a house cat. They had a monkey and two horses named Charlie Brown and Satan. I threw stones at stop signs. Hugh threw stones at crocodiles. The verbs are the same, but he definitely wins the price when it comes to nouns and objects.
[ ... ]
They weren't rich, but what Hugh's family lacked financially they more than made up for with the sort of exoticism that works wonders at cocktail parties, leading always to the remark "That sounds fascinating." It's a compliment one rarely receives when describing an adolescence spend drinking Icees at the North Hills Mall.
[ ... ]
Theirs was the life I dreamt about during my vacations in eastern North Carolina. Hugh's family was hobnobbing with chefs and sultans while I ate hush puppies at the Sanitary Fish Market in Morehead City, a beach towel wrapped like a hijab around my head. Someone unknown to me was very likely standing in a muddy ditch and dreaming of an evening spent sitting in a clean family restaurant, drinking iced tea and working his way through an extra-large seaman's platter, but that did not concern me, as it meant I should have been happy with what I had.