It has been five days since I came to South Korea, and I am visiting with family who can show me around, translate for me and explain to me cultural differences. And there are a lot of differences which I will talk about in another blog.
Picture of me with my niece and nephew:
I am the minority and painfully obviously Western from my blonde hair and blue eyes to my large hips & height of 5’10”. I don’t mind being the minority; I am here to enjoy my family & try to experience Korean culture.
What reminds me that I am a foreigner is my inability to communicate besides a few necessary words I have learnt, mainly hello and thank you. I just learnt the words milk and sugar as that is what I take in my coffee and I need my coffee!
A face mask my sister in law translated for me, otherwise I wouldn’t have known it was a moisturizing mask:
I am not able to read Korean, I am 100% illiterate. Words are just a bunch of incomprehensible symbols. I have been to the grocery market a few times and I have to rely on pictures to figure out flavors or what are the main ingredients. I cannot ask for help as I don’t have the words and believe it or not many Koreans don’t know a lick of English. This whole go anywhere in the world and people know English, some do, but many here do not. Being illiterate is frustrating, not being able to communicate with your words is even more exasperating.
What does it all mean?????
I had a situation yesterday where I saw an older lady trying to carry a massive bag of radishes and she was struggling, taking breaks every few steps. I wanted to go up to her and offer to carry her bag to where ever she was going, but I couldn’t. I went over some scenarios in my head of how I could communicate non-verbally, and they all ended with her screaming and hitting me, so I did nothing. Many others passed by her who could have spoken to her, and maybe culturally it would be insulting to offer help, but I suspect it was because I am on vacation I was able to slow down enough to notice.
Kitty and restaurant close by to where I am staying; what do they serve? I have no idea, but they have take out…
In Canada it is not a big deal to smile and say hi or good morning to a stranger on a beautiful day, but I get the impression from many rejected smiles I have offered, it is not customary here.
The few people who have approached me have spoken pure Korean to me and I don’t understand a lick of it. They figure out pretty quickly the conversation is going no where.
I am illiterate, I am unable to speak the language, I am unsure of all the cultural anomalies, but I am returning to Canada on November 7th. Only five days in, I have experienced so much and it is daunting at times.
I now know how important it is to be aware in our own countries the struggles immigrants or refugees must face, but they are not able to go back home and they don’t have family who can help them along the way.
Don’t get me wrong, I am having a wonderful visit, but it is a visit. I am going home in a couple of weeks; if I had to stay longer or indefinitely, I would be discouraged. However, I am grateful for this eye opening experience and have a new appreciation for literacy.
A new favorite drink, banana milk:
More to come in the next couple of weeks.
Peace & Love – Rachel