South Korea first impressions


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September 13th 2010
Published: September 13th 2010
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Five weeks ago, when I emerged from the capsule which had taken me from Wellington to Sydney to Incheon, South Korea, I was immediatly met by a wave of heat strong enough to knock me back a little. I had come from the middle of a New Zealand winter after a South American stretch of summer and I guess you could say my body clock or tempreture gauge was a little off. I'd tried to find a job in my home land but after enough rejections I sucumbed to the travel bug and set off to my new job as an English teacher in this new country. Anyway I was embracing this change in direction.
My cabin buddy Steve, who I had struck up a conversation with moments before landing, had been living for the past year in Melbourne, one of my favorite cities, and spoke passable English. He waited for me at baggage and helped escort me through the airp[ort where my boss was supposedly waiting. I practiced in my head the formal way of saying "hello, my name is ......and nice to meet you". But Korean isn't an easy language in comparasin to the Latin languages, not for an English speaker, and this one phrase had taken me a month to memorise. In almost the same amount of time I had learnt to say my name, number of brothers and sisters, where I'm from, what I do etc in French! But don't ask me to remember now....

My other cabin buddy on the way over had been a delicate waif of a girl teetering in high high heels I'm not sure her frame could handle. I soon learned this was the typical fashion of Korean girls. She shuddered and wept through a movie silently beside me and I felt rather uncomforable that I couldn't ask her what was the matter. Apart from the lauage barrier, I also had to remember that my Kiwi habit of chatting aimlessly to whoever was around may not be appreciated in this confucion society that dictates certain levels of politeness based on rank. Even in South America where I felt quite comfortable chatting in Spanish I had indulged in aimless chit chat which the locals too seemed to enjoy. In fact you often couldn't stop them talking to you! Although foreigners are supposedly outside this ranking system I would still be asked over and over again in the coming weeks my age, if I was married and what I did, even what I was paid! And this by total strangers! The things we try to hide in the West are the things the Koreans ask for first.

My boss picked me up at the airport and I was taken across the long bridge that seperates the airport from the mainland city of 4 million. I was greeted by an abundance of lights shimmering in the ocean while my boss and I had a stilted conversation that mostly consisted of pointing and single words. I feel very frustrated when I cannot communicate freely with people but it is amazing what you can get across without too many words....




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