It seemed like such a long time when I first got here: three months. Twelve weeks, stretching out like an endless road ahead of me. Eighty-four days with which to spend as I like, provided I sat down each day and put a certain number of words on a page.
And then, just like that, the adventure is winding down. My time at Toji, coming to an end.
My son Lucien and I found a book in the Toji library, written by a Singaporean artist, 阿果 or Lee Kow Fong, titled 寻找 (Searching). I had seen the book in Singapore bookstores before, but it was only upon opening it here that I realised that Lee had reproduced Toji in his whimsical illustrations for the children’s tale. Here was the bus stop, where I had waited for Mystery Bus #34 for so many hours (and missed it, sometimes). The little wooden house of a bus stop that was recently torn down and replaced with an ugly modern glass and grey steel version. Here were the corn fields I had helped plant, and the wooden stiles bordering them. Here, in Lee’s pages, was the path I took from Gwirae House to the main building every day, with its rough-hewn wood planks as steps.
This is how it will be, from now on. Toji, embroidering my dreams, and peeping from the edges of my dreams. If you’ve ever been to Toji, you are automatically admitted into a welcoming club. Membership is in the imagination. But we will know one another, recognise the tell-tale signs, and clasp hands gratefully.
Everything has been magical, and leaving is hard. As I sip yuzu tea in Random Coffee House in Central Market, I think that this is possibly the last time I will do this. The golden retriever is snoozing behind the counter, and I will have to pet it some other time. The shop with the Wonju illustration mugs I have been eyeing is closed, and I will have to buy them some other time, too. As I catch 34 back, I rock in my seat and listen to the serene woman’s voice announcing each stop in Korean, and think this will be the last time she will be the soundtrack to my daydreams. As I walk back from the bus stop, I think, this will be the last time I will trudge past these golden chrysanthemums lining the road, clustered around the sign that says “SLOW”.
Toji has become home, and leaving it is hard.