Thursday, April 3, 2014

Pork Belly and Soju

This tummy wasn't built for pork belly and soju*.

This concoction leaves my stomach feeling queasy, greasy, and confused. As if this is normal. As if this is real life. Which it is but I regularly have to remind myself: "This is my life. This is where I live. This is how I roll." Not because my life here is particularly extraordinary or special. It's the little things that bring me to this melancholy place.

Little things like sitting cross-legged on the floor surrounded by co-workers and samgyeopsal* and alcohol and Korean TV and crying toddlers. Imagining how much stronger my back would be if it were more normal for me to sit on the ground. Missing most of the jokes. But still feeling, in a small way, like I belong. Like when the locals come in and stare, they have to look away because I am with Koreans. This is where I need to be.

Little things like standing in the rain looking for a taxi. Being approached by a local, navigating as best I can with my limited Korean skills, and understanding that they are telling me I'd be more likely to find taxis over yonder. Thanks.

Little things like realizing the word "nay" (which means "yes") can accomplish quite a bit. Just agree. Just nod your head. Nine times out of ten, a friendly local will direct you where you need to go.

Little things like the heavy stop and go of a taxi drivers foot. We're going. We're stopping. We're going. We're coasting. We're braking. Oy.  It kinda makes me sick and it kinda makes me giggle.

Little things like knowing that at any given moment I am completely lost, completely far away from many people who could identify me. That the moon I'm seeing now will soon visit the people I'm missing. On the other side of the world. Whoa.

Little things like laughing with people I didn't know existed a year ago. Engaging with people from all over the world that would've continued being those people regardless of whether or not our paths ever crossed. Whoa! Just think of all the people you could meet...

Little things like sitting under the uninspiring flourescent glow of a city bus as it navigates the soggy streets. An ajuma* blasts her music on her flashy Samsung phone. No one blinks. No one seems to notice. But I keep secretly hoping that she'll sense my eyes and notice how loud it is. No such luck. Not even a chance.

Little things like navigating the streets on my bike, on foot, on a bus, or in a taxi.

Little things like figuring out how to talk to the grocer, the server, the convenience store attendant, and everyone else.

Little things like paying your bills online, setting up your wifi, knowing which text messages are important and which ones are spam, calling and scheduling my own appointments. In Korean.

Little things become big things when they accumulate into a pile.

A pile of knowledge.
A stash of know-how.
A heap of by-golly-we're-doing-this-thing.

And we aren't pros. And we have a long way to go. But we know some stuff and that feels good.

*Soju is Korea's most popular booze. Which actually outsells nearly every other kind of alcohol. In the world.

*Somgyeopsal is popular Korean meal involving pork belly (the name literally means "three layers of flesh"). You grill it at your table with various side dishes and lettuce leaves.

*Ajumas basically rule...well, all of Korea. Ajumas are the older women in Korea. Women who have served their time. They've raised their families. They've contributed to society. And now they just kinda wanna be naughty. Like blasting unnecessary music. Stealing your taxi. Giving you dirty looks. Staring. And they do it because they can. Because in a hierarchical society, who's going to stop you? (sidenote: does anyone else find it so interesting that wikipedia has got their eye on all of these Korean words? I think it's fascinating.)