Hanging out with Lisa was interesting. Of particular note was how markedly different our experience here is, and yet so much the same…
While we were walking around, trying to talk and window shop, we got accosted three times by locals wanting to chat her up. A statuesque and attractive waygook (foreigner) of Dutch descent, she’s an instant target for those wanting to improve their English. The solicitations were everything from obnoxious to needy to eliciting sympathy. Lisa dismissed the first two and then participated in a survey in English, conducted by a student and her father.
Interestingly, I also am a foreigner, speaking perfect English to her, but nobody bothered to ask me anything…while I felt new appreciation for the imposition she had to face being in public, I also felt the stark inconsequence of being a returning adoptee.
Often, as I travel around Seoul to various functions or meetings, I notice young foreigners with posses of Korean friends, having a blast. They are celebrities here. For some it is an annoyance, but for most it is a flattering annoyance that has benefits – inclusion and introduction and welcome into the culture. Yes, it is self-serving. But mutually beneficial.
Me, I have said hello to the foreigners in my building on many occasions. I’ve even spent quite some time with them having conversations. And a week later, they don’t recognize me. Standing in the elevator. Passing in the lobby. Walking down the street. Waiting for a taxi. I say hello. There is a double-take. They walk on. Next time, no recognition. I just blend into the woodwork. I am invisible here. Invisible to foreigners. A rude deaf mute to natives. The salespeople coming into the office try to sell me their teacher aids and snacks, and everyone chuckles and tells them I can’t speak. The phone rings and everyone chuckles as I tell them I can’t speak. People come in and inquire about this or that, and I have to point them helplessly towards some other teacher. An odd curiosity at my workplace. An interesting project and source of compassion and pity for my nearest co-workers. And then there are those times where I’ve been sworn at and received a barrage of verbal assaults in Korean, because I’d done something that, had I been Caucasion would have been dismissed, but because I’m Korean is held against me.
It is a most unusual phenomenon being a returning adoptee, especially an older returning adoptee.
I get asked all the time by anyone who speaks English how long I plan to stay. I have ceased to give a date. I say that every other day I feel differently about it. I say until I can’t stand it anymore. My goal used to be to stay until I can speak fluently enough to learn about the culture in depth. Now my goal is to learn enough so I can be safe and take care of myself. If, for example, I have to call 119 (emergency) I am pretty much screwed and will die.
I think I’ll eventually need to find that third country, wherever it is. A place where I’m JUST an expat and everything is clear and obvious to everyone.