There’s something I can admit about myself… Even after nearly six years here, even after all my practice, I don’t always mix well with Korean people. There are many factors, but they just about all come down to ignorance, from one side or another, if not both. Either I just don’t feel like being treated like the know-nothing foreigner, or I expect to be treated like the know-nothing foreigner before they even have a chance, or they suspect that I’m one of those pedophile ESL teachers, or like the foreign soldiers who disrespected them during their mandatory time in the army. Then there’s just the strange stuff… we’re stealing their women (oops! I guess I can’t argue that one), we’re all bad teachers, or US beef is infected with mad-cow and its our fault! (during the protests, it was almost risky to go downtown Seoul, one old woman whacked me so hard with her elbow as I passed, it left a bruise). Anyway, many lessons in holding fixed thoughts.
Then there are days like yesterday, when I’m reminded of the days before I stayed too long. What I suppose is that if I can drop my own fixed thoughts of people see, look at them with an open mind and heart, I just might attract people who will look at me the same, rather than the other way around… and not only to strangers, but the people we know, as well (maybe even more so).
I went back to the rice fields to see how they’d changed. This time I explored the far end, inside a small line of old houses. Within a few minutes, a couple young brothers came to check me out. They were curious but friendly. I pointed out the interesting bugs climbing around the cosmos and taught them a few English words. Then three ajumma and one grandmother came out to say hello, all with big smiles. One came over and pointed to the small clump of herbs that I was photographing and told me it was a special herb. She demonstrated by picking one leaf, rubbing it in her fingers, then waved it beneath her nose… “Ahh, meoshiseo!” She motioned for me to do the same and my reaction was just as hers, “Ahh, wonderful!” In Korean, she told me it’s used in Chu’eo’tang, which is why I haven’t tasted it. Chu’eo’tang is a soup made from mashed loaches. It’s one of the few things left that I still have mental trouble to order. If I hadn’t seen the paste for sale in the market, it might not be that bad, but it reminded me of lobster bait. And if you don’t know what lobster bait is like, just consider yourself lucky!
They went back inside with pleasant greetings, comfortable but not too formal, it was nice. I kept exploring while the boys ran around in the garden playing, occasionally shouting out, “Hello!” Everyone who passed by had a big smile,and no one minded the foreigner in their rice. One man waved and started pointing to a beautiful vine of bright fuchsia morning-glories climbing the post. I let him know I’d already got it then asked when they’re going to harvest the rice. He said one more moon, then pointed to all the rice that was knocked down by the typhoon. I told him, “Yes, it was a lot of hard work.” Then wanted to say it broke my heart, but it came out, “It hurt my mind.” which, in a way, was a more accurate statement. He seemed pleased that I understood, then before going on his way, told me I could go through the garden.
When I got home, I told EunBong what a nice day I had and how friendly everyone was. She said that little stretch of road is famous for artists and, in the next few years, they’re going to transform it into a little artist’s community. Huh, maybe that’s why I’ve been so drawn to it!