On My Third Plate

I am an extrovert. Plain and simple, I recharge myself by being around people. By laughing and talking and experiencing things together. When I’m adventuring, I’m normally thinking “Oh this person really needs to see this,” or “I wish they were here right now” or “Wow, this run is beautiful, but it would be so much better if someone else saw this magnificent view.” In short, there are few times when being alone is much better.

But since I moved to a foreign country, with a foreign culture, and foreign language, I have been spending a whole bunch more time alone. That’s not to say that I sit alone in my room all day. Actually both parts of that statement are incorrect; I spend a bunch of time with new and old friends here, and I am usually out in society in some way (see: coffee shop, wandering the artsy neighborhood that I’ve taken to, running along the river, snapping pictures in yet another palace). But I have been spending more time alone than ever. I mean, come on, college is not the place I spent any time alone. Even when I was studying for a test or writing an essay at 4 in the morning, I was laughing my butt off in the dungeon that was the computer lab with good friends. So by contrast, I’m spending a lot of time alone.

And this alone time has been really good.

Which, to many extroverts, may sound like the recipe for disaster (ooo, no pun intended although thoroughly appreciated). Being alone while exploring for a lot of extroverts may be like sitting in a room full of your favorite food but with no mouth: almost the best thing in the world, but somehow the worst.

What changed my opinion of alone time was not a change in personality – don’t fear friends and family, I’m still the same – but a quotation that a friend sent me

“The difficult road is the road of conversion, the conversion away from our loneliness and trying to forget or deny it, we have to protect it and turn it into fruitful solitude. . . loneliness is painful; solitude is peaceful. Loneliness makes us cling to others in desperation; solitude allows us to respect others in their uniqueness and create community” (Bell Hooks, All About Love)

Why, oh why am I digressing about extroverts on a food and travel blog? Well for two reasons:

  1. When I talk to people from home, they often ask if I’m lonely. I’m not, at all. I don’t think I’ve been lonely, yet. I miss people, I long for their loving and knowing company, but I am trying as hard as I can to feel a quiet solitude during those times of being alone, not loneliness.
  2. I had my first ever meal, alone, at a restaurant.

Shocking? Maybe. I’ve had my fair share of cups of coffee or bagels alone at cafes, or meals at home alone, but to go out to eat at a restaurant alone is something completely new to me. And to do it while in Korea, just seemed to be the cool whip on the overly full ice cream bowl.  That might not be a saying, but roll with it.

Last week a friend and I decided to take a chance and try out a buffet that seemed too good to be true: four dollars for all you can eat. At first, both of us were skeptical – I mean you can have a cheap buffet that offers foods that people wouldn’t eat even if they were free. But this place is anything but that kind of buffet – it has all of the staples that a good Korean restaurant should have: soup, rice, meats, veggies, noodles, and banchan. Oh, the banchan. Tubs and tubs of banchan. (As you can tell, that’s all that matters to me any more).

After one meal there, my friend turned to me and was like “We have to come here ever day for a week.” And the subtle pact was on: we were going to go there for lunch every day. Come Wednesday, I forgot. I was out hunting for my Halloween costume, and it slipped my mind.

Come Friday, it slipped his mind. I was left in a buffet full of people who didn’t speak English.  Alone. I guess if anywhere to be left alone, a room full of unlimited food that doesn’t require ordering seems to be the perfect place. But my first reaction was to walk out. Hi, I’m a hard-core extrovert. Sitting at that table alone just seemed scary.

Where should I look? What should I think about? How many plates of food could I get without being judged? Should I take out my journal and write? Should I eat quickly or slowly? I was at a complete loss.

Then I slowed down. I realized that no one was judging me, and if they were, then it wasn’t my fault. I knew that I was in a room full of food and I took complete advantage of it. I started out with a rice plate full of rice, ddokboki sauce, some beef stir-fry, added some roasted vegetables, moved onto the soup course – a soup that is rich, earthy, and chalk-full of tofu and zucchini – then topped it off with massive amounts of kimchi and other banchan.

Yes, I made awkward eye contact with a family that kept staring at me, and yes I took my journal out to write just to take up some time, and yes I looked at the clock and made sure I was there for 30 minutes at least, because 30 minutes means I conquered the place, somehow.

Will I do it again? Maybe. But I certainly won’t stave off company just to enjoy a meal alone.

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3 thoughts on “On My Third Plate

  1. I read this after returning from my first experience sitting at a café alone, something absolutely no one does here. I feel like I have conquered a phobia! I totally feel you, and I’m about the exact opposite of an ardent extrovert… YES! Well done you, well done.

  2. Eating alone is one of the most difficult things to do I think. Did not do this until my 30’s so I have to say you are ahead of me once again! Completely agree with the difference between solitude and loneliness. OK to have some solitude. I have never heard you sound so content, just remember you are coming back to the states 🙂

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