Note: To all those seeing this for the first time, it’s a post from years ago. I have been adjusting the settings on my blog and it caused this post to be released as if it were new, but it’s actually very old.
Lime was recently in Thailand with a friend of hers, a Korean woman about her age. When she got back to Korea, she had some interesting things to say.
Korean people are like Islands, she said.
She said that when she got to the airport, she found it stressful to be among Koreans again — the stress in the air, the tension and frantic rushing. I was surprised not that she felt it — I had felt it only days before in the Bangkok airport myself, all the people sitting on the edge of their chair, or standing in massive lines, everyone with economy class tickets ready to hurry onto the plane as if there might not be a seat if they don’t get on first. The last leg of any holiday from Korea, I always forget this but it’s true: you’re back in Korea once you get to your pre-boarding seat at your departure gate. The stress and palpable tension in the air; people banging into you (or your backpack) without a single attempt to avoid disturbing you, or a single apology for having done so.
(Actually, there was one apology in Bangkok last time. One out of about 25 collisions in the twenty minutes I stood around waiting for the boarding call.)
She said that Korean people are like Islands because of how they interrelate to other people. In the hotel where she and her friend were staying, sometimes she would see a hotel employee. They would exchange smiles and she would ask, “How are you?” or return the question when someone politely asked it of her.
Her friend did not understand this, found it weird. To connect to someone like a hotel employee, even in this small way — the kind of small way that to so many other cultures simply comprise the basis of civility, of simple normalcy — seemed weird.
And Lime understood how weird it must be for me, to be among people who avoid one anothers’ friends. Not that it surprises me anymore — how, when you’re walking down the street with a Korean, and you meet someone you know, and the Korean leaves about five feet of room between himself or herself and you, so you can talk to your friend in semi-privacy. As if your friend has the plague or something.
This is something that took Lime a while to really understand, why this drives me crazy. For, while it no longer shocks me, it does drive me crazy.