Monday, February 18, 2008

Homecoming, and Koreans

My oldest son, Colin, arrived home Saturday after flying half of the way around the world. His body is still fourteen hours ahead, present in Monday but living in Tuesday. This is very strange for him.

But he is astoundingly happy to be home, if only for ten days. We are happy that he is happy, and happy to see him. Happiness abounds. Gone for the moment is the peaceful routine of Just The Three Of Us, each with room to stretch out and live. Back for the moment is the crazy havoc of two young men (Jeremy is with us for a time as well), full of life and adventure and crazy stories.

Part of the reason Colin is happy is that he's out of Korea. I've been hearing horror stories of both boys' experiences there, and they say all of the expats living in Seoul feel the same way. Racism is alive and well in South Korea, and it is directed at the rich (So it must be assumed by the natives) white faces of the Westerners who come to teach English and live in their country. Colin has been blogging about it for some time at Pure Pleasure! Good Grief!. A snippet from his farewell posting:

Thursday, January 31, 2008
Well, that just about says it all
It was an interesting year. Full circle and not much left to say about it. A native English speaker can travel and work almost anywhere in the world. The opportunities are unprecedented and, um, clammy. The world is my clam, clams is my world.

Oyster. It's my oyster.

That reminds me of the Korean lady who sliced her thumb open trying to open oysters with a butcher knife. I saw her doing it myself on the floor of her kitchen. It was one of the single most insane things I have ever witnessed. Right in the middle of dinner, without a word, she jumped up and disappeared into the kitchen. As I was reaching the next pinch of rice to my lips I heard a series of enormous crashes and a long string of Korean vulgarity. Fin fity fface fall! the gist. "Are you okay in there?" She didn't answer. More loud swearing. I went to the door of the kitchen and saw her on her hands and knees, pounding at a pile of oyster shells with a gigantic roofing hammer right on top of the linoleum. Then, flinging the hammer aside, long straight black hair flying in a flurry, she would grab the butcher knife like a throwing spear and jab at the openings. The onslaught was ferocious. Chunks of shell were ricocheting off the cabinets. There was blood streaming down her left hand from a gash on the thumb. She kept muttering "but how? but how?" in English. Has she had been starving for weeks?? "What are you doing?" she shouted at me. "Aren't you hungry?!" When she got most of them open she brought them out on a plate and started eating them raw, offering me one, dripping like salty jelly from the sticks, suddenly totally calm. "Ummm, delicious!"

Over the past year I have acquired a stack of pretty good Korean books but I am so bitter that I can't stand to study the language. And studying language is something that normally gives me a lot of energy, but Korean just makes me remember all the lousy things that have been shouted at me by self-important old men in buses, at subway stops, in restaurants, in taxi cabs, outside of churches, in the bank, in the mall, in the theater, in my own apartment building, at work, in the grocery store, at the post office, browsing the market, crossing the street, even strolling in the park on a beautiful sunny day. If all you ever use the language for is to put down other people and insult them, it's an ugly language. I get the gag reflex when I look at the textbook.

I'm going home in two weeks and I'd be crazy to come back. But I'm glad to have satisfied my curiosity, and it's a gold mine for weird anecdotes. Watch Korean it from a nice, safe distance!

The thing is, he's going back again.
For the moment, we're about the business of making him feel at home. The temperature this morning was -5 degrees. But the kitchen is open at all hours, and his sister is more than willing to stay up with him until, well, until the kitchen closes: to chat him up, listen to his funny stories about strange and exotic people, and await the dawn.

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