Sunday, March 29, 2009
Visiting with Kim
As I mentioned in the previous, this past Saturday I went to the Sharing House from 8:30 am- 4:00 pm. After learning about their sad story, I then separated from my friends who were heading back home while I was on my way into the heart of Seoul to meet up with Kimberly Grojean! What a small world huh! (Explanation for those who are scratching their head: Jen is my best friend. Kimberly who I will now refer to as Kim as it is easier to write, is Jen's younger sister. I emphasize younger because as long as I have been friends with Jen, which is about 10 years now, Kim was always that little sister. She wasn't the annoying type or the nagging type, but she was completely out of our peer group. It is funny how when we are children our peer groups extend only as far as one or two years and nothing more, however as adults (*shudder**I still don't really like the sound of that word adult) three years is nothing. We find ourselves equals, not "my older sister's friend" or "that little sister" but friends. So anyways, Kim is teaching English in Japan and decided on a whim to come and visit her neighbors- the Koreans.
An hour and a half by subway, I found myself amidst a sea of black hair and thousands of cell phones being used for one of the following: playing games, watching television, texting, taking pictures of oneself similar to how one might use a mirror or just stroking it like a pet. Ok, so Koreans don't actually stroke their cell phones, but it is definitely an extension of their arm. I think babies in Korea might be born with cell phones attached to the umbilical cord. But in all seriousness, children in Korea often have cell phones. Just so you have an idea, I will tell you a little side story. Saturday programs are a little different than our normal weekday camp. During the week, we have sixth graders from one to two schools from the surrounding area come to stay at the school for English fun. However, on two Saturdays a month, we open the fun to all ages. So this past Saturday program, I taught first and second graders. We were going around the circle telling our names, and one of the little girls who was so adorable I wanted to spread icing on her and eat her up said that her name was Hayoon. I asked if that was her Korean name or English name and she assured me that it was her English name. To prove it, however, she pulled out her purple cell phone from her little purple purse, opened a text message that read "Hayoon, don't worry, be happy. I love you." all in English. I asked if that was from her mommy and she said "No, my daddy." How adorable is that, and also strange that a little first grader has a cell phone and is receiving text messages from her parents. My mom can't even read a text message let alone send one.
But the odd thing about this trip was how foreign I suddenly felt amongst so many Koreans. Generally, I travel in groups and generally it is to areas in Seoul where there are plenty of other foreigners, but on my subway and in the paths following my exiting of the subway station, there was but one other foreigner. For the first time since I have been here, I felt like I stood out, and that people were staring at me. In my interviewing process, I was warned that all eyes would be upon me any time I opened my front door, but as Korea is changing, I felt less conspicuous than I expected in the beginning. Korea is now seeing an influx of foreigners; nearly 1 million expats are making their home, even if it is a temporary home, Korea. However, this Saturday, I felt foreign. I felt out of place like a sapphire among rubies. The reassuring thing about Korea is however, how safe this country is, so although I felt alone and like a stranger in a strange land, I did not feel unsafe.
On my way to the hostel, I stopped to buy some strawberries! I can't tell you how excited I was to find a box for $3.50! In our supermarket recently, strawberries have been $12! Who pays $12 for a regular size box of strawberries that wont last more than a couple of days? That would be like paying nearly $1 a strawberry. I nearly broke out dancing the jitterbug when I saw the delectably ripe and succulent red strawberries for THAT price! My mouth is still watering just thinking about how delicious each bite was, and even more lush especially considering all of the money I was saving!
I followed the directions, which were surprisingly good all the way to the hostel and stepped inside. A sign above says to take your shoes off at the door, and I stood there for a while trying to decide what I should do? I see about thirty other pairs of shoes on the shelf and surrounding the shelf, but I was torn as to whether I should try and check in and find Kimberly or take my shoes off first or after, but then I hear, "Vanessa?" and there she is. It's strange to see your friends from back home on the other side of the world. The last time I had seen her was in her father's living room and there we were in Korea. Kimberly had another friend whom she had met in Japan arrive at the hostel nearly at the same time. After settingly in, we decided dinner was our next step. I suggested that we ask at the front desk because locals often have some of the best suggestions. He asked what we wanted to eat, "Chicken" was Kim's answer and he said, "I know just the place. Follow me." And out the door he went. As we were following him, I thought how kind he was to take us to the restaurant guarenteeing that we didn't get lost, but once we arrived, he ordered a table for four and sat down to dine with us. We loved it! And, it is always so much better going to a Korean restuarant with Koreans since they know what to order. Even when there is English on the menu, I still most of the time have no idea what I am actually ordering.
As we left the restuarants, droplets falling from the blackened sky slowly began to dot our faces and clothing. By the end of the evening, my cloth shoes were completly soaked and my feet had turned into purple prunes from being cocooned in wet socks and shoes the entire evening. The next morning, before our day began, I went shoe shopping as they had still yet to dry by morning and walking around in wet shoes for an entire day was not an option.
Our day was spent shopping in Insadong, the traditional shopping area in Seoul. Getting there was an interesting feat however. At one point, we stopped in the subway station to assess our location and whether we had gotten off at the correct stop. We saw and information sign and looked around for an information guide only to find a large map instead of a person. We stood around for a few minutes obviously looking lost and confused because once we looked up, we realized we were surrounded by a gang of old men. Around ten grey haired, hat, loafer and high-waisted pants wearing old geezers had padded over to our lost threesome. Our theory was that there was an old man recreation gang in the subway station with activities such as gawking at the stone faced Koreans running from subway to subway and surrounding blond haired foreigners who look lost rather than feed pigeons in a park on Sunday. It was sweet really. These crusty old men, had come to give us advice but spoke no English, and we spoke no Korean. The more they tried to explain, the more old men would gather until I was sure this was a bonefide dying men subway club.
Posted by Vanessa Rogers at 9:00 AM