June 14, 2007

Seoul Searching

As I sit here in the quiet of our hotel room(s), I am contemplating my experience here in Seoul over the past two years. We leave for the US tomorrow evening, and it's my last 24 hours here in the land of the morning calm. I must say that I have been smiling all week long at the prospect of returning home. Living here has made me appreciate the United States more in many ways, and I am ready to go home to all things familiar. It's been challenging to be a stranger in a land where you cannot communicate with one another easily. I never did acquire much taste for the food, and the culture was baffling at times. Still, I am a better person for having been here. I have seen things I never could have seen. Traveled places I never would have before. I learned to laugh through the ridiculous adventures we had here. It has a been a good hardship to have had.

The Korean people are many things: I was thinking of all the adjectives I could use to describe them and here are some. They are hard working, kind, funny, deceitful, tricky, blunt, dedicated, smart, honourable, religious, thrifty, smelly, smiley, bowing, segregated, loving, touching, shoving, respectful, reserved, homogeneous, unique people. (And much much more!). I will miss them more than I realize right now. I am grateful to have learned so much about another culture. Also for the chance it has given to my children to see another side of the world and how they live.

I had an experience a while ago that I keep thinking about. We have this large dumpster outside our apartment entrance (lovely eh?) and we are supposed to sort our trash before dumping into it. They give us special trash bags to put mostly food items in (no disposal- oh how I missed that!!!), and then there are separate sections for the paper, metal and glass. Well the complex where I live hires older Ajimas and Atashis (Korean for Aunt and Uncle- but is how older folks are all referred to here- like Sir or Madam), who sort the trash. The first time I saw these older women out there digging through and sorting the trash with their bent backs and their little white protective gloves on my heart went right into my throat. That's their full time job- to sort out what the wasteful Americans are too lazy to sort correctly. I made a mental note to myself that I would be more diligent in my recycling effort in the future. I was shocked when an friend of ours put things a bit more bluntly when he said he didn't sort trash in his home because he wanted to give those women a job to do. A job they probably needed. That's one way to look at it I guess.

Anyways, my experience last March (I think) was that I was getting rid of socks that had no mates (a whole bag), and it felt so wasteful to just throw them away for some reason. I mean I am sure there is a trash sorter out there who could put these things to good use right? So I don't really know which place to put them- they aren't metal, glass or food items. So I just go in search of the trash sorter who's face I see regularly on my way to my car. It was shocking to me to find that on a cold day to get out of the wind he was kicking back in an upright position napping in the paper trasch recepticle. I think I startled him, and I know he startled me! I awkwardly tried to use my charades to indicate that I had some socks for him, and instantly felt the gravity of the situation. I have too many things and I need this elderly man to find some use for these for me. And he has no heat or soft chair at the moment. I should have been giving him something to ease his pain. But I offered him unmatched socks. I went inside and cried. I cry now at this memory. I was always friendly, and tried my best to be even more friendly to this poor man after this episode. But in reality I feel that I fell way too short in my efforts to just bow more deeply to this man. This man was so familiar to me. Couldn't I have done more for him? Perhaps some coa coa? It's such a 'class separate' society. I am certain he would not have accepted an invitation into my home. I hope I can be prepared to be more kind to those less fortunate than myself in the future. I am so grateful for what I have been blessed with. Words fail me, and I cannot express myself well. I have loved Korea, I have learned here. I am leaving dear friends. And I will miss the trash collecter at building D. Till me meet again.


melvankomen said...

That was beautiful. You choked me up a bit.

I hope I get to see you if you're in this corner of the States.

Melissa said...

You have a beautiful soul. Thanks for sharing. I'm glad you're my friend.