Today after school, hungry, I walked towards the spicy garlic fried chicken place. Yet I kept walking, thinking better of the huge quantity of fat fried goodness and the high cost. I wandered and wandered past dozens and dozens of Korean restaurants: pork restaurants, beef restaurants, eel restaurants, puffer fish restaurants, prehistoric-looking monster fish restaurants, North Korean restaurants, etc.; all of which beckoned me inside but none of which had photos of the food or any way for me to order any of it and slim prospects of being able to order a single person’s portion. So I just kept walking and walking. Famished, I went into a Chinese restaurant and sat down, but the prices were Hagwon-ga upper middle class high and had to leave. Walking some more, I stopped at several more restaurants inquiring after an English menu or asking if someone spoke English or asking what an ingredient was in English.
Everywhere you go, the response is something like, “yeongeo…” (which is Korean for English) while sucking in air between their teeth and shaking their head in combined apology/self disappointment/consternation/pain/sympathy) followed by a barrage of muttering, followed by an “annio..”
So I dispensed with my desires and just decided to get anything I could. But even at the street-food-like places, I couldn’t order anything. So I finally settled on pizza.
It was actually the first time I’ve ordered pizza in Korea. I know you’re thinking, how can that be possible, you’ve been there over half a year now! Well, I’m just not into pizza that much. Especially the Korean pizza I’ve had with others. It’s pretty expensive, and again comes in portions that are too large. Anyway, I went to one with a walk-up window and pictures, and I pointed to the pizza I wanted, but the workers couldn’t see the picture because they were inside. So some salary man standing next to me ordered for me. Only there was some confusion about which one I really wanted, and I couldn’t tell them the difference. Suddenly there were two salary men, and three workers all incredulous that I – this very very Korean looking person – couldn’t speak Korean. They were all very kind and attentive and one of them handed me a pre-packaged chocolate covered waffle, saying, “service.” At first I thought he wanted me to buy it and I declined, but the salary man kept handed it to me repeating, service, service. It took quite a bit for me to convince them I didn’t want the waffle. So I went and sat down inside once students came up to order, and one of the pizza guys give me some slivers of pizza to eat and a cola to drink while I waited. “Service” he told me, and then a different salary man told me, “free charge.” So I thanked him for the snack while I waited, and the pizza man kept saying, “oh! free charge!” delighted he’d learned some more English.
And so I walked home with my small but too large pizza. Which ended up being quite disappointing because it had potato on it, which has a texture that is kind of weird to me, and the sauce was sweet…surprisingly, there was no corn on this pizza, which is hugely popular here.
And then it dawned on me how very behind I am. I’ve had – and continue to have – so many other things on my plate, that I am still very much a newcomer here. And it’s really strange, because if I were just on vacation to some foreign country, I’d be guidebook familiar, phrasebook ready, survival phrase ready, studying for hours to get the most out of my few weeks. But all these other things I do and my focus on learning about SOCIETY here has usurped all that space in my brain.
I am hoping next year, when this contract finishes, as my birth family search chapter closes, and I have restructured my living situation to be more convenient, that I can start fresh and focus more on being able to order food and get pizza without potato and corn. I’m hoping I can walk around Seoul more. I’m hoping I can find favorite hide-aways and regular haunts, interesting things to do and relaxing activities to participate in. It’s time to not only stop being so new, but to also be new the right way.