Monday, August 22, 2011

see the waves on distant shores awaiting your arrival...

I’ve been in Seoul for about a week now, and here are some of the things I have done: taken the subway by myself, gotten lost and found, visited a palace and the Korean Folk Museum, wandered the streets by myself in Insadong, Itaewan and Myeongdong, had a waiter tell me that I have a “gorgeous tattoo,” bought things at a store, ordered things in a restaurant by pointing and smiling, hiked up a gorgeous mountain, eaten Korean barbeque, visited a farmer’s market in Seoul and met people from South Africa, Ireland, England, Canada and the US. I have also almost been run over by cars and motorbikes that drive on the sidewalk, been stared at because I am the only white woman on the subway, gotten ice cream when I wanted an Americano, been frustrated by the never-ending selection of white rice and beef served in the orientation university’s cafeteria, and been coughed and sneezed on by people who, shall we say, seem to view basic hygiene differently than Americans.

But I’m still so glad that I came here. It’s an adventure, a chance to explore a small corner of the world, an opportunity to meet people from all over the world. It’s all that and so much more than I know now. Tonight when I was frustrated with the squid served with dinner, I decided to go out to a restaurant specializing in “beer and chicken” where I pointed to what I wanted and smiled like the clueless foreigner I am. Afterward I went to a café where I again smiled and pointed, this time to a homemade waffle covered in whipped cream and strawberries (yum!) I guess that regardless of my thoughts about Korean food (and it’s probably not fair to judge it by the quality of what is served in a cafeteria), I won’t starve. Especially since there’s a Costco in Daejeon!

It's also oddly comforting to be in a country where I don't understand any of the language. It can be frustrating and maddening, for sure, but it's also fun to walk down the street and not have any idea what anyone around you is saying. There's a certain freedom in that. When I travel to places like Boston, San Francisco or even Ireland, I sometimes am mistaken for a local and asked for directions, and I take pride in that and am almost afraid to do things to mark myself as a tourist - even things that would make life easier for me, such as taking out my camera or looking at a map. Here, none of that applies. There is no way I can be mistaken as a local who knows her way around, so why not just embrace my foreign-ness? It's also pretty safe for being such a big city, so why not stand bewildered in the subway station wondering how to swipe my T-money card until a Korean man takes pity on me and helps me through the turnstile?

Right now, I am in Seoul at orientation, and I absolutely cannot wait to get to Daejeon, the city where I will be living. I am excited to see my apartment, to go grocery shopping, to find the nearest farmer's market. I already have a few ideas about things that I want to do and see: I want to have fish nibble the dead skin off my feet (yes, that's a real thing), I want to stay in a buddhist temple, and I am so looking forward to exploring the mountains around Daejeon and the surrounding areas.

Tomorrow is a "field trip" (Orientation makes me feel like I'm in high school) to Gangwha Island. More later on what exactly that is! We're going to have Bibimbap for lunch, which our Korean teacher has assured me doesn't have beef - or if it does: "We will just pick it out for you. Please don't worry."

1 comment:

peggy kravchuk said...

Sounds really fabulous the experience you are having!