I have a few simple phrases that get me by, all gleaned from the travels that have taken me from one corner of the Earth to another. The first time I traveled abroad alone was back in 2007. I was so nervous that I puked in Denver International Airport’s concourse A after clearing security. But once I arrived, I knew that I was home. Train travel was a revelation. It gave me my first travel mantra.
“Get on the next train.”
Simply, if you screw up and miss a train, fail to make a tight connection and get stranded in an unknown city, or at the most extreme get thrown off the train for failing to validate your ticket properly…there is always another train. Sitting down and crying in the station might make me feel a little better, but it won’t actually do anything. Wait it out and eventually the next train will come.
I learned a new travel mantra today. At times, it seems like part of the journey through Korea is to learn how to talk to people who occasionally piss me the hell off. Usually ones who usurp my nationality and drive it toward some dizzying Ugly American cliff. I find it really hard not to get sucked into the trap of trying to change opinions that will change when pigs fly, and mostly I end up feeling alien to both Korea and to my own culture. I was in need of a mantra.
That mantra came today, in the form of another US citizen arguing with me first about Geishas (“they’re like Amurrica’s strippers”) then about whether one should punish children for remarks that seem racist but might really just be due to a lack of social awareness, trading yelling for calm explanation of why it is not OK to talk that way. Both those issues pushed my buttons today, because I was having a mundanely frustrating time of it. Simple things like running out of caffeinated beverages right before classes began and hayfever.
The coup de grace was a discussion of citrus fruit in Korea. She claimed, with her usual sweeping generalization, “There are no lemons in Korea.”
It’s perfect. So simple. So practical. So laughably false. There are lemons in literally every grocery store I’ve walked into in this country. Even dried ones. Obviously this frustrating person is living in an alternate reality, never leaves her apartment, or is wildly unobservant. A lot of the claims that those of us who live here to teach English make about Korean culture could be a result of those and other missteps. If we’re able to be so deeply mistaken about the presence of lemons, how much worse must it be when it comes to Confucian-informed ideals or Korean attitudes toward women?
I went to the produce store down the street after work, and promptly found two different kinds of lemons. I bought three for the equivalent of less than $2. Your argument is invalid, disproven by lemons.
My new mantra should help me to feel a little better when people spout ridiculous things about cultures, whether they are talking about my own or that of Korea. And I can regain proof of concept any time I want to by walking to the store where they are beginning to know my face.