The first post of this blog… brimming with the heightened sense of anticipation and that new car scent that fades all too soon. Since I moved abroad, over a year ago, I have had people bugging me to start a blog and now that I have a partner to share the load with, I can satisfy the impatient masses. As many times as I asked Faraaz to join me before I emigrated, it’s taken him a year to decide, quit his corporate job, get rid off his flat, leave behind his beloved car and make the leap to join me here in South Korea.
His arrival prompted up thoughts about beginnings; more specifically, the beginning of the journey away from familiar shores, sights and sounds. For many people, when you land in Korea you are either numb or overwhelmed. Or perhaps numb because you have been so overwhelmed. I remember landing at Incheon International Airport and being welcomed by minus 4 degree weather, a sulky Korean man with my name on a sign and bright flashing lights along the roads we drove on. For the lucky ones, you arrive and soon that friend you have been seeing on skype for so many months stands before you in the flesh. But for many others, you stand in your bare and empty apartment without so much as a slice of bread to provide comfort. And then it hits you- this is The Beginning. The Beginning of your foray into a country where the spicy peppery taste of the cuisine will either delight your palate or send you home to your kitchen in haste. Where rapid train journeys become a norm and driving leisurely is a distant memory. Where you see serene rice fields next to towering apartment buildings and rainbow coloured karaoke rooms exist on every street. Every second person carries the faint scent of alcohol or cigarette smoke as they stare at your big eyes/curly hair/cleavage/dark skin and the other attributes we have that they don’t posses (without surgery).
For me there were two things that killed the numbness and made me realize, “Bloody hell! I’m in South Korea- 12,834kms away from my nearest family member.” The idea of walking down a road in South Africa and not being able to read any of the signs is inconceivable. Sure maybe we don’t understand them if they’re in Afrikaans or isiZulu. But we can read them nevertheless. Walking down the street in Korea during my first week and looking at the store signs, realizing I couldn’t read these characters and had no clue what was in these stores without stepping inside- that was my first realization. The second one was more dramatic. I stood on the pavement of a little street and looked left before putting my foot on the road to cross. In a split second, a car from my right hand side sped past me almost taking my foot with it. Ah yes, driving on the right (wrong) side of the road. From that point on, I was highly aware of where I now lived.
In a weird way, being in Korea at first can feel somewhat degrading because there is the constant reminder of being foreigners- of being outsiders. We are not Korean. We don’t look Korean, as people constantly remind us when they point at us in the streets and say “Oh! Foreigners!” Even in a small elevator, people will talk about you as if you aren’t standing right beside them…even after you spoke to them in Korean. It’s really baffling.
Since Faraaz has arrived, I have been able to look at Korea through his eyes. The massive department stores, the metal chopsticks, the lack of public bins and those love motels around every corner… things that I don’t even think about anymore, he considers extraordinary. Like the X-arm crossing thing (My friends in Korea know that there is no better way to explain this.) Whenever we go to a store and they don’t have something in stock, they cross their forearms and say “no.” Saying no would have been enough, but the arm gestures are just overkill; wonderful, wonderful overkill, that I have at first adopted in jest, but now do regularly, unfortunately, to which the store assistants in Mr Price Pavillion give us the same confused look I once gave the store clerks when I first met them.
Faraaz has made me aware of so many things I now take for granted. It’s really eye-opening to have fresh perspective… it almost feels like I am back at The Beginning. And I guess in a way I am. The Beginning of life with Faraaz in Korea. It makes for exciting times ahead and hopefully he will really appreciate the eye opening experiences life in a foreign country has brought me.