My friend Martha wrote today and asked: “How’s Korea? Had any revelations about Africa? Any drunk Africa tattoos?” So glad you asked, Marth!
Korea’s pretty fun. It’s been a good couple of days so far and we already have a routine. Beal works from 1:30-8:30pm, so that means we meet up for dinner around 9-9:30pm. We go do something around midnight. Go to sleep around 4am. Wake up around 11am or noon. Kind of a bizarre schedule right now, but it works so we’ll see. Hanna works normal hours, so I often get to see Hanna after work before Beal. This leaves me a little afternoon window of free time to relax on my own. Sometimes that means using the wireless internet in the apartment and catching up on web stuff (so great!). Or it means doing Beal’s laundry and dishes that have piled up (she’s got a washing machine… wohoo!!). Or it means walking around the neighborhood willing people to smile at me, testing free samples of who knows what in the grocery store, and giggling in the public toilets.
Korea is actually a decent place for transition… seems it was a good impulse decision on my part. Everything here is super modern, big city, Westernized… much like NYC. There are over 10 million people (18 million if you include suburbs), good subway system, lots of street vendors, and it’s a city that never sleep. But it’s also Korean so there are distinct cultural differences from either the US or Kenya or other parts of Africa. It’s fun to be with Beal (white American) and Hanna (Korean American) who’ve been learning the local Korean culture (and Hanna even knows the language!). We can spend hours comparing Kenya and Korea and it’s not a one sided story. Most everyone at home is currently steeped in the US culture (whatever that is) and I doubt many people will want to sit around till 4am nightly chatting about crazy local foods, the problem with dating eldest sons, and the local views towards disabled (except maybe Maggie… thank God for fellow travelers!). The rest of you can happily correct me if I’m wrong (as though I’d expect anything less)… as I’ll happily chat till 4am with anyone willing!
As for tattoos… I only have one and it’s about 12 years old. No new ones to mention, though “mzungu” does seem like a fun idea!
As for revelations… I’ve actually had tons. I haven’t gotten around to writing many down yet, but I’ll post a few today, and will continue to post more in the coming days. Cheers to enjoying life after Africa in Korea! And thanks for writing Marth… it’s always a special treat to get mail from you!!
My first night in Seoul… looking a bit haggard after my 27 hour journey with no sleep!
Observation: Greetings. Beal was excited to see me, and Hanna was excited to see me, but I realized no one else in Korea cares. I walked to the grocery store the other day while Beal was at work and half way there it struck me really hard that no one was speaking to me. Not one single person would even meet my eye contact, much less say hello on the street or stop to shake my hands. Some would even quickly avert their eyes and look down. Later I met a bunch of Beal’s coworkers at dinner and upon introduction I reached out to shake their hand… and was left hanging. I quickly tucked my hand into my pocket and sat down to pretend like I was still cool. I know it’s no different from the US where we all ignore everyone, but this is quite unlike Kenya – a country where everyone greets you on a daily basis, neighbors and strangers alike, some with a verbal greeting and others with both verbal greetings and a handshake too. Even disabled one year old babies at our centre in the village knew to stick out their arm to shake hands. While the greetings can get old on occasion in Kenya, and while the handshaking can be dirty and snotty fingers, I still learned to love the greeting process.
Note: Don’t be alarmed if I get home and try to shake your hand. Just spin me in a little circle, give me a hug or a kiss, and write it off as a quirk that’ll fade with time…
Water’s everywhere! After coming from a year in the village where I had no running water, it’s odd to be in a place with washing machines, hot showers, kitchen sinks, etc. And even when traveling around Africa where there might be running water from pumps, tanks, or city water, there was virtually nowhere that had any drinking water (much less safe, clean, filtered drinking water). I was shocked in Seoul to see clean drinking water given out everywhere here for FREE! Grocery stores even have free dispensers with little paper cups and public places have water fountains… how novel! Life just got easier!
Question: What do you notice different about my feet?
Answer 1: Piece of my left sandal is missing since a RAT ate through the leather the other morning before leaving Kenya. These are the only shoes I have, so it’s kind of sad to see my Wolkys eaten, but you just have to chalk it up to part of the adventure.
Answer 2: I’ve got my toenails painted in glitter and with butterfly stickers.
In Korea, appearances mean a lot and fashion is important. Men wear suits and women wear funky fashion, super short miniskirts, super high heels, makeup, etc. There’s not much fashion to be found in Kenya, and much of the clothes in villages comes from the second hand clothes market shipped from US or European Value Village/Goodwill type stores. And people certainly don’t spend much money on toenail polish, glitter, nail stickers, and nail stencils.
In Korea, on the other hand, nails are all kinds of hip and Hanna does up her nails in a French manicure with glitter and stickers.
Note: My apologies for the many blurry photos from today and to come. I find that using a flash really draws the attention of the crowd, and as a conscientious traveler, I don’t want to use my flash and be too blatant taking pics in a new place right at the beginning. So to blend in just a little bit better, and try not to disrupt the areas I’ve visited, I’ve avoided the flash for many casual shots and am going to post more blurry shots to come. Enjoy!