I didn't know Shawn personally but still I felt such a connection to him. I had bought both his "Korean Life Blog" book and his book "Island of Fantasy" from Lulu. His book "Island of Fantasy" was wonderful! It was about his experiences being an American English Teacher on Koje-do, or Geoje-do [depending on how you want to spell it] a small island just off the coast of Busan, South Korea. It was warm and rich and funny and so very honest. He seemed to be fearless in both his ability to capture and replicate authentic sounding dialogue and his ability to tell the truth of even his intimate experiences even when they were not so flattering to himself. I admired him greatly for being so brave and when I finished the book I felt that I had both had an adventure and made a new friend.
He was actually my inspiration to begin my own blog. He was a teacher in South Korea like me and he had written about his experiences and even published [via Lulu - a self-publishing company] two books about his experiences. So, basically, he had done [at a much younger age] exactly what I wanted to do. I dream of writing a book about my adventures here in Korea and I am trying to use this blog to not only record my experiences but to try and hone my writing skills.
Here are some links to some of the information I mentioned above about Shawn and his books.
I am left feeling sad and depressed that someone I admired and wanted to emulate is dead by his own hand. I am not condemning his actions, though, the older I get the more I realize that I can never really judge someone else and their actions. Each person's pain and despair is their own. Suicide is a very complex problem and not something I am qualified to pass judgment on.
This situation has left me with a need to reflect on the life of an Ex-pat in Asia and the impact that can have on a person's well-being and emotionaly health. Don't get me wrong I love my life here and the amazing opportunities I have had. However, living in a country where you don't speak the language [or at least not fluently] and where you get stared at daily for looking different than everyone else can be an alienating experience - to say the least.
The support of other "Westerners" could really help with those feelings of alienation and culture shock. However, to be completely honest a lot of the other "Westerners" here are not only not supportive but sometimes your encounters with them can leave you feeling even more alone.
What do I mean by that?
Well, because Korea is a homogeneous society everyone looks alike [they all tend to be thin, of short to medium height and have black hair and black eyes] so when you see another "Westerner" they stand out and you notice them. I always smile and at least nod to them but the majority of the time my greeting is met with either a blank stare or a haughty look. This is so surprising to me! We are both strangers in a strange land you would think that we could at least acknowledge one another's existence. Canadian and American friends of mine who teach here have remarked on this, too. I am not sure why this is but it is an unpleasant reality of life here.
Nothing will change the fact that a very talented writer and fellow blogger is dead. But at the very least I hope that Shawn's untimely death will wake up some of the other Ex-pats who can be so bitter and hostile to one another. I just wish that people could realize that we are all in the same boat [so to speak] we are strangers in a foreign land who are just trying to find some kindness and human connection. At the risk of sounding like Mr. Rogers or Oprah Winfrey - I do want to urge everyone to try and be a little kinder to one another. It's a small thing but it can made a big different to someone who is already feeling at the end of their rope.