Friday, December 28, 2012

Reverse Culture Shock and Reminiscences

Now that I've been back in the US for a few weeks, there are some things I've noticed about myself, about my country, and about Korea that I had taken for granted. It still aches to think about what I've left behind and I still feel my future is a black hole. It's like my ribs are made of rubber and every time I breathe my lungs and heart bend them backwards to try to escape from my body. I scream with no sound alone in my room and sob myself to sleep silently. I am homesick for a country that was never mine and a family with which I share no blood. But it's not all bad. I'm breaking the barrier between the present and the future with baby steps, and eventually I'll get my training wheels off and ride forward on my own again.

In America, everything is so big. Cars are big. Lanes for cars on the roads are big. The people driving the cars are big. The portions in the restaurants the people drive their cars to are big. The houses they sleep in at night are big and the dogs they cuddle with in their big beds are big. In Korea everything is so much smaller except for the buildings. The buildings in Korea are so much taller than here in San Jose. I'm so used to being shaded by buildings that when the sun heats my skin as I walk to the big grocery store, I feel it acutely. But here there are so many trees and fruits and bushes and flowers and so much grass. It's so green even in December. The pocketbooks of the landscapers must be big.

The other day, my housemate was cleaning and shining his shoes. It took him a very long time. I found this curious, as I am so used to the shoe repair and shine kiosks in Korea. There are little steel boxes, about two square meters, in which a middle aged or old man sits on a stool and waits for people to come so he can work on their shoes. If you're a man, you can take off your shoes and put on slippers, then sit on the little bench as the man puts your shoes on his post and very quickly (everything in Korea is so fast) cleans and shines them for just a couple of dollars (a couple thousand won). If you're a woman and your high heel is broken, you can also put on slippers and sit on the bench as the man puts your shoe on his post and repairs it. He'll even put in insoles (깔창), and some of them copy keys, too. These guys will even come to you in your office building. As I watched my housemate scrub his shoe with a brush, I suddenly had the urge to cry because I missed the shoe kiosk guys so much.

It's not that I have some convoluted love story with a shoe kiosk man. That would be so wrong on so many levels. It's just what they represent: everything is accessible in walking distance and/or deliverable in Korea. Here, I spent over half an hour walking around looking for a damn coffee shop after searching on Google maps and one of them was impossible to find, while the other was out of business. The only things that deliver are pizza and chicken. And FedEx, of course. Ha. It's because we have so much land and everything is spread out so everyone has cars.

I don't have a car yet because I failed the driver's test I took just days after getting off the plane. So I'm basically confined to the house. I miss the subway system in Seoul. There are 9 numbered lines that intertwine throughout the city, plus at least 4 named lines that connect Seoul to neighboring cities like Bundang (which has the Bundang Line and the New Bundang Line). Then there are buses literally everywhere. It's more inconvenient to have a car than not to have one because parking is a pain and it's expensive to drive.

I lost my English and my sarcasm in Korea. Sarcasm is not something Koreans understand easily. It's just not in the culture. So, people like me who live there long enough learn not to be sarcastic. But I used to be extremely sarcastic. I also used to be much more eloquent and have a more expansive vocabulary, which is evidenced by some of my early posts on this blog. But living in Korea where nobody understood complicated English made me use simpler sentence structures and vocabulary. Now I feel like a dunce. In Korea, if I spoke English, everyone thought I was intelligent. If I spoke Korean, which I speak quite well, everyone thought I was intelligent. Here, I don't want to speak so I'm quiet. My personality is gone. It doesn't help that the only people around me are in technical fields and that's all they talk about, so I have nothing to add to the conversation. Hell, I'm lucky to even understand the conversation.

Right before I left Korea, my then boyfriend (we agreed to break up when I came here because we have no chance to be in the same country in the forseeable future) asked if there was anything I wanted to do or eat before I left. I thought long and hard. I wanted to see the waves break on the southern shores of Korea, but I'd seen them. I wanted to eat samgyetang (chicken soup with ginseng) at the famous restaurant near Kyungbokgung (a palace on the northern side of Seoul) and eat sweet red bean porridge (단팥죽) at The Second Most Delicious Place in Seoul (서울에서 두쩨로 마싰는 집), but we had already done that together a couple times. I wanted to see the Seoul lantern festival along Chunggye Stream, but we had done that with close friends a few weeks earlier. I wanted to eat jjajang noodles one more time, and Korean fried chicken (which is much better than American) one more time. I wanted to have kimchi fried rice and kimchi pancakes. But I had eaten them so many times. I wanted to do everything and see everything and eat everything one more time, but I had done so much already. I finally thought of something I hadn't done. I hadn't eaten on the Han River. So he took me for a romantic lunch at a restaurant floating on the Han River. The river and the skyline on the other side were beautiful, and a couple of ducks swan by leisurely. Right now I miss that moment. I miss all the moments. I will treasure them and miss them for the rest of my life.

Now it's time for me to make new moments. I'm afraid it will take quite a bit of time. So far my best moments here were with that same boyfriend when we visited over the summer. That doesn't make me feel any better because I miss him as a boyfriend but even more as a best friend. Over the past year, he has helped me put the pieces of my life back together and given me the courage to make it despite the odds. So this paragraph of this post on the internet for all to see is dedicated to you, DH Lee. Thank you. I'll be okay, but you know that.

And this small paragraph is dedicated to those of my readers who have commented recently to give me support. Thank you so much. It may not seem like much, but well wishes from strangers and friends alike help me make it to tomorrow. Everyone needs some encouragement in life, not just me. My advice for the day is: encourage someone you know. They just might need it.

1 comment:

  1. thank you for giving me a insite into your return to america. i would like to experience korea as you have done. but most likely will not unless i come into alot of money. having just found this blog it is my next best solution. and i thank you to allow me to live a second chance through you in your life in korea. i love the land and love the history and the people.

    a friend in louisiana