Vignettes from Korea Week One

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The most unsettling part of this whole thing is that I don’t know enough of the language to be able to apologize for not knowing enough of the language. Like at the grocery store or the coffee shop, and when the clerk says anything and all I can do is look confused and say, yes. But what I really want to say is, I’m sorry for being an inconvenient idiot… And then I realize they were asking for my point card. And I unwittingly told them I have one, and when they realize I don’t have one, they just awkwardly smile and I know I look like an idiot.


Six classes.
Lessons?  All improvisation.

Success? Maybe.

One boy runs out of the classroom yelling, GOODBYE, TEACHER, VERY HAPPY!

And then, I am, too.

I learn the words for cicada in Korean.

I show them pictures of giant spider encounters and ask imploringly about poison.

My address? In English? I don’t have it yet.

But there is brightness. Like when I’m in a smoky bar that I’d rather not be in, but suddenly the East Coast girl and the South African girl, my new friends, they start dancing. I mean, really dancing. Their twirling transforms them from transient women in a crazy, crazy country to carefree girls. Their dresses billow. They look beautiful. And I run an invisible pen over the note that I’ve traced over again and again in my mental moleskin of notes: Will Learn To Dance.

Of course, there’s trash on the ground. So. Much. Trash. On the ground. And I knew it would be, I knew that coming here. But the reality of it has taken some getting used to. The Seattleite inside of me wants to walk around with rubber gloves and a trash bag picking things up, cleaning things up in this country that’s undergoing constant transformation.

People don’t know how to queue up in this country. They cut in line at Daiso. It’s frustrating enough to bring you to the brink of tears. The very brink.

But more brightness when I’m not allowed to find my way home alone. I’m sure I could, but I’m not allowed to. Instead, I’m taken to the taxi and somebody else speaks for me, somebody else pays for the cab and walks me to the door of my apartment building at 2AM, just to make sure I’m safe. Somebody who I just met a few hours before.

Korea is not what I expected. And it’s everything I expected.

Crossing the street here is like playing Frogger. Real life Frogger.

Riding the bus is like riding the Knight bus and I keep looking for Stan Shunpike. But he’s nowhere to be found. And instead I get yelled at by a Korean for talking too loud. But the girl I’m with knows enough Korean to understand, and she yells back. And I’m too full of confusion at what’s happening and thankfulness that I have a friend in this country that the flavors mix and I don’t, I don’t know what I feel.

It’s Sunday morning. My second Sunday morning in Korea. And when they say, Land of the Morning Calm, what they mean of course is Land of the Weekend Hangover. Surreal Land. And, I-Can’t-Believe-That-Just-Happened Land. But I’m not hung over, and I’m wearing a peach-colored floral dress and I’m walking to church and I walk by a toddler with her dad and older sister. The toddler watches me, and I watch her, and her dad bends down and coaches her in saying Hello, and so I bend down and I wait patiently for the shy girl to
the words
I know

she really wants to say.


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