On my walk home from school today I saw two African American women talking and (I could kick myself) I didn’t stop to introduce myself because all I could think about was stripping in front of my air conditioner. (Did I mention I could kick myself?) Three days ago, as I was getting into a taxi to catch a train I was in danger of missing to Seoul I saw a Caucasian man ride past me on a bicycle and stop, and it was all I could do to say, “screw Seoul” and not get out of the car and introduce myself. And then I saw another and another and another. Four foreigners! But I had to get in the taxi.
There are five other foreigners in this this town of 14,000 that I know of. A black S. African couple and their preschool age daughter, and their neighbor who is Africaner. The couple didn’t have a phone yet, and I’ve not seen them since. The white woman, I got her phone number and texted her and never heard back. Then, I ran into her one time and she informed me she was leaving. In the building next to me are two American men. One N. Carolina man in his late twenties that I spoke with one time, who really didn’t seem interested in talking to a Korean American who could speak English, and the other an older guy who is what my gyopo friend refers to as a “LBH,” (Loser Back Home) who I have never met but seen. I saw him go into the lottery office to buy tickets one time, and I saw him another time chatting up some girls and my yellow fever alarms were going off. I admit I am probably judging him harshly and superficially, but have had no desire to run up to talk to him either.
Once home I turned on the air, poured myself a Pepsi on ice, and had a smoke on the veranda. (this is hardly a veranda in the southern sense. It’s just a space between sliding glass doors big enough to hold the washing machine and a half height window) It was a monsoon downpour most of the day, so the humidity is so high that my bathroom floor is still wet from this morning’s shower, 9 hours previous.
Anyway, it is one of those surreal things to be so excited to see a westerner, be they black or white. It’s just exciting to see someone you instantly know you can communicate with. It’s indescribable. The hope and elation and then disappointment. Hey! I am one of you! And then not be recognized as one. Or be rejected.
In contrast was today’s lunch, which is typical of Korean hospitality. The entire office ordered Chinese take-out and at the last minute remembered me and came to add me to their order. Then, they wouldn’t let me contribute, and they none of them understand how uncomfortable that is and that I can’t ever reciprocate because I don’t know how to order take-out without their help, so any attempt to reciprocate would be hijacked by someone else. (I do bring fruit or share pastries, etc. occasionally) So the food comes and we all sit around the table and they all chat and tell funny stories to each other and there’s nothing I can do but eat in silence and wait in pain for the stories I can’t understand to finish. And then they came by later with coffee. And then ice cream. And then melon. And then someone asked me if I was working tomorrow. Yes all week. So I am sure they are figuring out how to divvy up the burden of buying me lunch all week. I should be happy that they remember I exist. But do I really? If no one talks to you, do you really exist? And so I study their hand gestures, or note the way each of them slurps their noodles differently, or note how Chinese food doesn’t result in a tooth-brushing frenzy like Korean food does with its teeth decorating pepper flakes. And tomorrow I expect to sit through the same ordeal of included in presence only. They usually remember to come remind me when it’s time to eat, or that it’s time to stop working and go home. It’s like watching somebody else’s pet.
I must say, I had a really lovely day today on my own. I decided to make my lessons revolve around a road trip through America, and I’ve had a delightful day finding videos of unique cultures and dialects along the way. I have no idea how to turn this into speaking lessons for the kids and totally recognize that it is more for me than them. And I listen lovingly to the Appalachian voices of the neighbors of my youth and remember the velvet Elvis’s adorning their walls and hear the added li’l darlings and huns and sirs and m’ams. And I know that if I watched two movies back to back, I could once again replicate that accent, it’s so familiar to me. And I try to ignore the dream I once had of living there which was never separate from the nightmare of possibly waking up to the KKK smashing through the windows in the middle of the night. And then I run across an ad. about voice profiling discrimination and start collecting samples of Teena Marie and Eminem and how that can work in reverse. So tonight I’ll be teaching myself how to subtitle in English over some of the Creole and Texan drawl and Appalachian and Gulluh I’ve found. Tomorrow I’ll look for New England and Minnesotan and N.W. creaky voice and California valley girl, Bostonian and Midlands. Another day I’m going to explore the real cowboys, black and white, just west of the Mississippi, and the real Indians. Another day will be roadside attractions. And then there are the landforms and the music that sprung up in those environments. And I don’t really have enough time to show the kids this America that I love so much. And miss so much. And I know they won’t really care. Because learning about my culture doesn’t affect their lives.
One time, the first week of school, I had open Q&A time and one boy asked, “Is it true everything is wonderful in America?” And I started to explain that many things were f’d up but that with every disruption we learned something new, and that positive changes happen quickly because unlike in Korea we are totally free to criticize everything all the time and…At that point I was censored by the co-teacher and told that I was about to offend the students and that I shouldn’t continue.
As Willie always said, “Oh Korea…”
And what does an adoptee know, anyway. It’s easy for them – they’ve lived privileged and pampered lives and have perfect English.
Ha! During my interview with the university students they were surprisingly poker-faced about anything I had to say, but I saw eyebrows raise when part of my answer to, “what was it like growing up in America” began that I was spoiled and had everything material a person could want. “yup. uh huh. thought so.” I could read across their faces. My parents lived on a serious budget with four kids on a teacher’s salary, but I’m happy to let Koreans see that their superficial perceptions of the lives of adoptees is true. And then I went on to describe just how meaningless that is…
It’s not like a communist country, where a Chinese equivalent to Howard Zinn would be in jail or anything like that. (His history of America in cartoon form is available in Korean, btw) And there are tons of Korean critics of Korea. But Koreans don’t have any faith that anything can really change, or that they have any power except through body bag count, and most are too comfortable to get to that point. And it’s also a pretty united front to not criticize Korea on the world stage. So status quo takes on a larger than life presence in Korea. And it is Korea’s world image which seems to be the one thing that gets things moving here. So when the world begins to criticize Korea, then Korea will change. And the world is only worried about nuclear fallout in the game of chicken between two feuding brothers.
Please world, start criticizing Korea for its lack of compassion towards its own people. For its antiquated moralizing and penalizing of women. For its spending money on flights to the moon and not on social programs.
Oh my God I’m talking about adoption again. OK. I DO NOT WANT to become one of those. I want to stop it. I know that’s practically impossible here, since it’s a virtual mine field of adoption-related issues every foot in all directions, but I have to try. I can say, though, that there’s been enough repetition of my story since I’ve been here that I am bored with it and that’s a good thing. I can also say that when I talk about adoption it consumes less of me. I still think Holt needs to be held accountable for their UN Christian and inhumane acts against moms and adoptees. But personally, I am not defined by these crimes that were committed against me. So that’s a new and wonderful turn of events. So I’ll no doubt continue to observe and comment, but the nature of how I’m feeling/viewing it has changed: I don’t think this thing can hurt me anymore.