Guest blog written by, Narin – A Perfectly Silent Community

I have been back home in the UK for a year, give or take a few days. When I look back it has been much harder readjusting to life than I thought it would be. It was hard being back with my family. It was hard finding a job; and it was especially hard on my relationship. I thought things would be easier, that I would find a decent job fairly quickly and that I would somehow slot back into this western way of life that I had grown up in.

There is a lot that I miss about living in South Korea; the beautiful cherry blossoms with their pink petals and how for only two weeks they would bloom; the friendliness of the locals as well as a massive language gap, a simple bow and nod of the head was all that was needed; the Korean cuisine, and my favourite soup restaurant that I would visit often. The thing that I miss most, and that I felt was so lacking in London, was the close community of wanderers that was unique to the city I lived. Ulsan had a thriving ‘foreign’ community – it was full of people from so many different walks of life: English eccentrics, Australian Catholics, Texan cat-lovers, and even somebody that went to school down the road from where I grew up. These characters, and the many others I met, all had this openness that made them brave enough to leave their homes and create, some temporarily and others permanently, a new kind of home. It was this loss of community that I have now realised I missed on my return.

I spent much of my time back in London at home, desperately applying for jobs – often being ignored, and sometimes receiving rejections. I did not see it then, but now I do, I was a completely different person; a shadow of myself, a different version, someone that I did not recognise, let alone like.

I cannot pinpoint exactly the date that things changed but gradually I stopped being aimless. I got back to me. I started reading and writing more, listening to the type of music that I really like, cutting out television, learning to play a musical instrument – doing all of the things that make me me. The more I read, the better I started to feel. My blog, narinreads, has materialised into a representation of my reading journey.

I have been to Afghanistan, nineteenth century London, twentieth century London (the 1950s to be exact), and America during the Great Depression (1930s) – to name a few. I have learnt so much about the world through these novels, but most importantly, I have also learnt so much about myself through the characters that I have gotten to know.

I have done what I needed to do to get my life back on track. I am content, extremely so, but…there is still this idea of community that I have been yearning for. Reading, typically, is not a communal activity. You sit down, most of the time, alone and read quietly to yourself. If you are feeling really passionate about what you are reading you just might mention it to a loved one. At first I felt quite lonely, I wanted someone real to talk to about the books. I wanted someone who shared my love of novels in my real life, someone that is tangible and that I can actually hear talking about these stories and their characters and intricacies, over a coffee or (and) cake preferably.

As time has gone I have been paying much more attention to my surroundings (instead of having my nose stuck in my latest read) and seen something special. All around the London Underground is a silent community. We rarely lift our heads up to converse, we do not make plans to go out for a drink after work, and we do not even know each other’s names, but we know that we are there. There is an entire network of book lovers travelling every single morning under London. There is always someone reading, sometimes you see the same people, most of the time you do not. Sometimes, on the rare special occasion, you bump into someone who loves the book that you are reading, and a conversation is struck. A lot of the time you see people engrossed in literature, not even aware of the miserable faces around them.

This morning as I stood crammed into a carriage, in the middle of London’s rush-hour, I saw three people, their eyes transfixed onto the page. All of them were different (stereotypically speaking), one was a young man, scruffy hair and beard, baggy dark clothing, and a rucksack – he was reading sci-fi. Another was an older woman, her hair neat and elegant, she sat reading a beautifully bound book, wearing a smart coat. Finally, another man, someone with thick-rimmed, circular fashionable glasses and an outfit that much thought had obviously gone into. His blonde beard had been trimmed to perfection. He was too far away for me to see what he was reading. All of them poles apart and each of them clearly living different ‘types’ of lives. But, each of them had the same look on their faces; the look of relaxed concentration you only see from someone reading a good book.

And there they were. There we were. All of us content with our own books and all of us a small part of our perfectly silent community.

I smiled and went back to reading On the Road.


About the author:

After completing her Masters in History, Narin worked in South Korea as an ESL Teacher for just over a year. On her return to London she started Narin Reads as a way to recapture her love of literature. Narin also blogs about museums, and special exhibitions, and her yearly ‘bucket lists’. You’re most likely to find her wandering in an unknown city, strolling through a museum, or reading some form of fiction published in the eighteenth or nineteenth century. If you’re lucky you might even see her sat in front of a piano, badly attempting to play it.

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