This Time, I’m not Compromising: The battle post-Korea


A guest post by Andrew Gillmore

A Revelation

Life punched me in the jaw a couple months back when I became single for the first time in over two years—seven, if you consider my preference for serial monogamy. “You want to live in different countries, and I want to stay in the Northeast,” she said.

“That’s not something I’m willing to compromise.”

We’d met in Korea, a place very unlike the Northeast—though the Korean adaptation of English is almost as brutal as that godawful Boston accent.We lived together for a year, working steady jobs, living stable lives. We had mutual friends, went on weekly dates and cooked A-plus meals on Sundays.

Then, just before Christmas 2014, she left for New York to finish grad school. Shortly after, I flew to Thailand to write a book.

I always thought we’d be able to compromise—“give n’ take” and all that.

I boarded yet another plane in paradise where beer is a buck a pop and every beautiful soul is a friend. In an effort to be closer to her, I traded Thai mountains for a concrete jungle.

Prior to my move back to North America, she admitted she was afraid I’d be unhappy if I returned. I couldn’t see it then, but our colliding world-views didn’t quite match up. She pulled the plug on the relationship through an uncharacteristic fit of tears over Skype; and in retrospect, that was one of the best things she could have done for me.

Tea with Mom

An hour after our split, I found myself sitting in my mother’s beautifully decorated apartment with a cup of green tea. It has a way of calming my nerves- especially when it’s too early for Jack or when whiskey will just ignite my emotions.

“Andrew,” my mother said, “you’ve been saying you want to do all these big things! You want to go places, pursue different projects. You want to do social experiments and write about them. Now you can actually do what you want.”

Sometimes Mom has a point.

But as shameful as it is to admit, I’d pursued a dream mainly for someone else. I’d spent a year writing and publishing a 244-page book that encourages expatriate living and taken on a writing career so I could relocate more easily—to anywhere a certain girl wanted to live.

I’ll admit I do love writing, though. It’s what I do. I’m not very good at it, but I struggle through and make the best of it. At the time, though, staring at the canvas of a brave new world, I couldn’t help but think: what can I do with what I’ve started?

Fork in the Road

If you ever want to feel wanted, post a resume on Dave’s ESL Café. Just sit back and watch recruiters offer everything from burnt sacrifices to their virgin daughters.

I’d decided—a few days after tea with Mom—to see what was out there. Soon, I had an offer to teach at a university outside of Beijing and another to teach in rural Thailand. Both sounded amazing.

Around the same time, I met with a local business counsellor.

“I wrote a book, and I’m trying to get a message out there,” I told her. “I can’t say I really care about the money—I just want more people to realize the expat life is not as unrealistic as they think. Yeah, it’s hard at times, but people should go because it’s hard. I’ll write; I’ll speak; I’ll do a song and dance to get this message out to the world.”

She nodded along and smiled enthusiastically. “I can’t say I have much experience with this kind of business plan,” she admitted. “I’m good at helping people sell cookies. But I like what you’re saying, and I think we can make this work. It’s a six-month program.”

I told her about the job offers on the other side of the world.

Let me know what you decide.”

How much space?

I’ve spent a lot of time on buses. In 2013, I took a thirty-six hour trip through Laos and across the Vietnamese border, then on to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.

One thing I learned on this journey was nothing says intimidating quite like a bunch of stone-faced commies holding assault rifles as you shuffle along in flip-flops and shorts. The punks at the American border don’t seem so scary these days.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, in an effort to get some space and clear my head, I hopped on a Greyhound in London, Ontario. I weaved my way through Detroit, Columbus, Charleston, and Wytheville, and after twenty-two hours stepped off in Roanoke, Virginia.

A friend picked me up, and after an hour of catching up in the car, we pulled into Lexington, Virginia, home of my alma mater: Washington and Lee University.

I’d spent four years at W&L from 2006 to 2010. It was during that time I learned how to pop a champagne cork over electrical wires and grew my first chest hair, forged a few of my strongest friendships and punched a guy in the library.

But at the end of the day, Lexington is where I began to really grow up and ask myself who I wanted to be.

And here I was, returning five years after graduation for some fresh air, renewed friendships, and excellent views of gorgeous mountains and girls.

A number of people have asked why I spent ten days in Lexington, and my answer that I needed some space never seems to satisfy.

“You needed that much space?” someone asked.

Yeah, I did.

A Decision

While in Lexington, I spent three hours each morning in the library on a new project. Afternoons involved bashing away on guitars with an old friend, lunch dates with professors, and shameless flirtations—because that’s what I do best.

Evenings included Cards Against Humanity, bottles of wine, a little Netflix, and some Dominos.

But ultimately, the purpose of my visit was to figure out what the hell to do come New Year. China? Thailand? Stick it out in Canada?

After only two or three days, the answer was staring me in the face: I’d started a project and needed to see it through. Of course I wanted to go back abroad, but it would have to wait.

A friend told me that packing for China would be the easy course to take; staying in Canada and encouraging others to go to China would be much harder.

And so, since I am who I am, I’ve decided to get cozy in the True North Strong and Free for at least six months—not because it’s the easy thing to do, but maybe because it’s the best thing to do.

I’d love to pack up and run away, but that seems a little irresponsible at this point. It’s time to get in the trenches and get my message off the ground, put one foot in front of the other and continue on the path I started.

And that’s something I’m not willing to compromise.


andrew The Red Fish Project is written by the mastermind-Andrew Gillmore. Currently in Canada, he has published a brilliant memoir of different expatriates and their unique experiences.

The Red Fish Project is an excellent read- check out his blog!

the red fish

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