Saturday, February 10, 2007

Korea - Getting To Know You

I have spent the last 5 days in a silver Lexus zigzagging the ancient Korean countryside. I was rolling with the ajummah crew: my mom, my aunt, my great aunt. Median age in the vehicle? 51. Just to preface any further description, I did not ask to be taken on this trip but in Korea, you don’t really get to say no to an elder, especially if they’re family. Years of living with me and adapting during my adolescence (“Mo-om!”) has cured my mom of that particular concept but not the people of Korea, including my great-aunt who is really into planning road trips. Apparently. I didn’t know this about her but I’ve gotten to know all about it.

There’s nothing wrong with being taken around, seeing the coast and rugged rural sights. Some are breathtaking, some educational, most just kind of landscape-y. Lots of fishing boats, rice paddies, traditional rooftops, mountains (we’re like Wile E. Coyote, constantly speeding in and out of tunnels that go through these mountains). BUT imagine being in a car, in the same room, at the same table all day, every day with three elderly lady relatives who can have wall-to-wall week-long conversation about the relationships of the younger set in our extended family (why so-and-so have broken up, etc) and side dishes (better known as “banchan” around here).

Considering that they are three life-long practitioners of banchan preparation, I guess there might be a thing or two to discuss. But it never ends! My mom learns new stuff every day! Every meal we have a conversation about kimchi! We even made a special stop at a beachside anchovy shop and they raved about the flavour (my mom liked them so much she took a bunch in her hand to snack on, and I did too because I was bored – they were actually pretty good but it’s hard to eat things with faces).

What can I tell you about this trip? I’m kind of like a fourth, useless but omnipotent appendage. I don’t contribute to conversation in any way but the whole reason why we’re doing this tour is for me, to show me some history. My great-aunt will joke with the server at restaurants and say that I’m the boss, but uh, last I heard, bosses get to have a say. I did enjoy the boat ride to the island where a historic battle against the Japanese took place in 1592 but if I had planned our itinerary in the grand, road-trip movie tradition, I would have less mountain climbing towards “views” and more wild goose-chase, mistaken identity, half-baked sight gags that involve keggers with Korean farmers. Just to break it up a little.

I also literally don’t say much. There’s a language barrier and I don’t feel like having my great-aunt (who btw, is not that “great” as in old, she is a spry 62 and can bound up mountains and walk a seawall like nobody’s business) laugh at me in her Korean lady way. The concept of “polite” and “rude” isn’t really the same across our cultures. Like, laughing at me because I bungle my words is totally acceptable, as is directing my photos (she will actually point out a photo and tell me to take it) but when I say the wrong version of “thank you” (I know three) it’s like I stopped, dropped and rolled in the dirt and then kicked some up in her face.

How am I staying sane? Yes. Well, I grabbed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone from my cousin’s paltry collection of English language books on my way out the door in Seoul. I desperately tried to ration HP but still finished it in about 48 hours. So now I’m kind of depressed without Harry, Hermione and the gang AND I need to read all the subsequent books in the series.

Currently, I am in a Smurf house, well, Smurf villa condo (I’ve seen a few actual Korean Smurfy houses plus, the inside of this place is tres Smurfy, a la forest-dwellers) and I inexplicably, miraculously attained wireless internet connection for 10 minutes tonight. It was like the heavens opened up and sent me an English-speaking friend. I quickly opened up windows with my email, the Toronto Star and the New York Times because I was afraid that the elusive and great gift would disappear from whence it came. It did. So this blog will have to wait until it decides to visit again. Back to Seoul in two days.




1 Comments:

Blogger kristine said...

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hollow out July 21st...woot woot!

7:55 PM  

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