What goes up must come down


So today I called English teacher 1 who lives in the same town, wondering if she’d like a low key cup of coffee or something, since I was going to explore her neighborhood today.  Only I got English teacher 2 who’s phone she had borrowed one time, and I had saved the number under the wrong name.  Teacher 2 had already made plans with teacher 3.

Later, I called teacher 1 and she and teacher 1,2, and 3 were all hanging out together.  They knew I had tried to hook up, yet had not bothered to includ me in their get together.   OK.  This is the second time this has happened.  I understand how these teachers maybe don’t want to hang out with someone twenty years older than them.  But it still hurts to never be thought of, or to be thought of and dismissed.

Anyang is very vibrant.  Not only is there a huge department store, but about six square city blocks of 2-4 storey buildings with a colorful variety of boutiques and eateries, all of which is pedestrian and cut off to most cars.  Lots of people out and about.  Lots of fashionistas too, suitable for street style photo ops.  There is also a below-ground level of shopping running from the department store, under the streets, and who knows how deep into the commercial district beyond.  It’s pretty overwhelming – almost as overwhelming as Dondaemmon’s vertical fashion malls.

Traversing the above ground shops I saw across the street some outdoor tarped street venders in the distance, in an area where the buildings were even a smaller scale of 1-2 storeys tall.  Walking across the street I found about three full square blocks of traditional Korean market – most of it in arcades – there might have been about six of these, with little restaurant alleys in between.  I got really excited. Here were handmade baskets, farmer hats, hand-knotted rope bags that fishermen might use.  Every seafood known to man, ancient adjummas cutting up pig heads, strange vegetables, mountains of kimchee and side dishes.  Also traditional bedding and furniture, cookware, etc.  I felt like I’d found Korea for the first time.

I stopped at one of the street food vendors that had bundaegi and ordered some, along with some beefy-looking dish swimming in pepper sauce.  We couldn’t communicate, and it was awkward again, as always.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me.  (I will go back, Myung-Sook!)  It cost a lot more than I thought it would – 6,000 won.  So she took a plate, put the plate in a plastic bag, and ladled the bundaegi on it and pointed out toothpicks to spear them with.  They were served in a soy-sauce flavored sauce.  I can see how this would be a treat for some people.  It was an interesting experience:  the first bite and you are collapsing and crashing through a lightweight shell, which gives way to some cooked flesh a little like the consistency of cooked shrimp.  And then as you continue to chew, the shell reveals itself to be kind of woody in nature – kind of like if you’ve ever destroyed a toothpick and just kept chewing it until it was down to its cellulose wood fibers.  And it had a kind of smokey flavor.  I would like to try it one day without the sauce it was served in, as the salt from the soy sauce along with the smokey flavor was a bit too strong for me.

The other dish, also served on a plastic bag covered plate (presumably so the adjumma doesn’t have to do any dish washing) was ladled out.  And she also presented me with a bowl of about a dozen mussels in broth.  The beefy-looking dish turned out to be beef liver.  I guess this is the week of organs.  Way too rich for me, organ meat.  I ate about four pieces and couldn’t eat any more.  I also only ate about ten of the bundaegi, as it was also too strong flavored for me.  I ate all the mussels and half of the broth and that was enough to sustain me until I got home.

Coming home, packed on the subway like sardines, I started to cry.  All that culture in the market – it’s totally foreign to me.  All these people and none of them know me.  The people who know me can’t be bothered.  I never have mail in my mailbox or email in my inbox or phone calls on my phone.  This isn’t like traveling alone.  This isn’t like getting homesick at summer camp.  This is living on a different planet.  This is not being a part of anything or anybody.  I have nobody and no country.  The adjummas and adjoshis look so sweet – yet I know these sweet old people drank away their sorrows or beat their wives or abandoned their kids.  Did my mom, when she left me, know what she sentenced me to?  Did my grandma, when she got rid of me, know what her hatred and anger would do?  Did my father care enough to stop this?  Has anyone ever really given a shit about me?  I was so overjoyed to find the market – and the market kills me too.

Myung-Sook, I know now how you felt wandering the streets of Seoul, lost.  There is no place we belong.  There is no history that is ours, no place we call home, no connection to anything.  I would go back to the states today, but there is nothing there either.

This isn’t about being stuck on history.  Coming here was necessary for there to be a future.  That market is the nexus of everything.  If I can walk through that market one day without crying inside, knowing its secrets, feeling a part of it, then maybe one day I can forgive the adjummas and Korea.

On the way back, I stopped at the hated Emart, bought what might be a mackerel, what might be a relative of the yucca, and some kimchee.  But now making that dish seems so pathetic.  Like the lettuce that is wilting in my refrigerator, leftover from a poor attempt at making an American salad.

Time to practice my hangul.

Fuck.  Life is so difficult some times.

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11 thoughts on “What goes up must come down

  1. I came across your blog while looking for info about Korea. My daughter is teaching there too and is one of those 20ish teachers, so it’s probably not as hard for her to meet people as it is for you. But she did go there not knowing anyone and has met a lot of new people. The main way has been through the Seoul Hiking Group. You should check that out as there are people of all ages. Some are Korean and some are foreigners, so there is a good mix of people.

  2. thanks for the suggestion. i kind of have bad knees. going up isn’t a problem, but going down tears them apart.

    the problem is i have one foot in being an expat and the other foot vested in learning to be korean. i’m also strapped for cash, so I’m not free to run around to the foreigner restaurants and bars, nor are those things what this older person wants to do. on the other hand, all the koreans i’ve met have busy committed lives and don’t really have the time to show me anything.

    working the language exchange angle right now. maybe that will pay off…in june i’ll be taking korean lessons at a university, so that will also be an opportunity. i think i’ll ask my students if any of their moms would be willing to help me as well.

    but for right now, it’s just me and this computer.

  3. I understand, I have so been there.

    But if I can say one thing, it is that you deserve better. You don’t deserve to be unhappy, in my opinion. You deserve to make real connections with people just the way you deserve to be healthy, eat real food and trust your body. There are obstacles; they’ll just have to be torn down. Maybe that process will be miserable, but don’t forget that you deserve to be with people.

  4. “Myung-Sook, I know now how you felt wandering the streets of Seoul, lost. There is no place we belong. There is no history that is ours, no place we call home, no connection to anything.”

    I have a ‘home’ to return to, but your comment still scares me. I wonder if I’ll still feel that way when I go back…

  5. I don’t know a Meg.
    I do wish you luck in making connections with people. I’m sure it is nothing personal with the other ESL teachers. It’s just they are younger and most are at another place in their lives from you. When I was their age, anyone over 30 seemed old and different.

  6. Mei Ling,

    Myung-Sook and I have the unenviable distinction of being cast completely adrift, deprived of homeland by being forsaken, deprived of family by being forsaken, deprived of a normal non-abusive life in a new country that did not accept us.

    The motherland holds all our ethnic culture and heritage. It is due us. But she threw us away, turning us into reluctant exiles. We can try to at least appropriate it, but without love, it will never be ours. Unlike other adoptees, our lives did not improve. Our coming to America was a death. It is as living ghosts with unsettled spirits that we roam these streets.

    The crying and tears is because we try. We try to fill that hole. That hole that can’t be filled.

    You may have moments where you feel alien, where you feel all that you have lost. But you will have more moments where everything feels right and makes sense once and for all. Because you have connections. You have a home. You have two homes. Two families that love you. And language skills as the wind beneath your feet. You will gain so much. You’ve everything to gain.

    You will be fine. And you can always return.

  7. Jen,

    There was a rumor Meg’s mom read the blog, and I think she is part of that hiking group you spoke of.

  8. You may have moments where you feel alien, where you feel all that you have lost. But you will have more moments where everything feels right and makes sense once and for all. Because you have connections. You have a home. You have two homes. Two families that love you. And language skills as the wind beneath your feet. You will gain so much. You’ve everything to gain.

    Myung-Sook and I have the unenviable distinction of being cast completely adrift, deprived of homeland by being forsaken, deprived of family by being forsaken, deprived of a normal non-abusive life in a new country that did not accept us.

    The motherland holds all our ethnic culture and heritage. It is due us. But she threw us away, turning us into reluctant exiles. We can try to appropriate it, but without love, it will never be ours. Unlike other adoptees, our lives did not improve. It is as living ghosts with unsettled spirits that we roam these streets.

    The crying and tears is because we try. We try to fill that hole. That hole that can’t be filled.

    ADDED:

    We have to / are forced to do this as well as question everything every day. Because we’ve seen what not doing so does to people. And this may seem pathetic to others, but it’s human nature to seek resolution. http://adoptionsurvivor.wordpress.com/2008/12/20/what-is-this-need-to-know-where-you-came-from/
    And few people have been forced to be this unresolved, with our forced amnesia, assimilation, and then abuse.

    I have to believe this exercise is not meaningless and fruitless, even if it kills me.

  9. Suki, I wish I could be there with you. hugs sis.

    Mei-Ling, I think as Suki said, you may have moments where you feel alien, where you feel all that you have lost, but because you have connections there and here, you can return there, you can come back here, and you have much to gain.

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