Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Sixth Sense

Korean Family has a Psychic Aunt. Technically speaking, she's a fortune teller, who makes her living travelling around the country dispensing advice about peoples' futures and occasionally cleansing evil spirits. Fortune telling is extremely important in Korea. Not long after I'd met my girlfriend one was consulted to determine whether our match was a good one, based on the exact date and time of our respective births. They also tend to determine the dates and times of important events such as weddings in order that they are held at times which will ensure the maximum amount of future happiness.

Now to some people this will be hopeless nonsense, but I've had sufficient experiences in my life to be very wary of people with sixth senses because while there are certainly a good many charlatans, I also believe some to be the genuine article. So it was with some trepidation that I met the Psychic Aunt yesterday evening, expecting her to immediately see the evil spirit within me and run out of the room shrieking or worse, try to exorcise me. To prevent her reading my mind, I'd initially determined to keep a strong mental picture of dead fish in my mind, but quickly realising that would just probably make a Busan resident hungry, I switched to an image of a pizza from a local place back home which - given my inability to find decent pizza here - I have increasingly strong emotions about.

I needn't have worried. Either my blocking techniques worked or Psychic Aunt failed to read my mind as we embarked on a long and pleasant conversion via translation on various subjects related to Korea and the UK, in-between bouts of laughter at one-another's jokes, and some dancing around the room on her part. Yes, she was in fact, even more eccentric than the other members of Korean Family, but thankfully harmless. I was really interested in seeing one of her spirit-cleansing rituals so we might go at some point - I'm looking forward to it as it's a side of Korea that foreigners rarely get to see.

What struck me as a rather sad commentary on my time here though that this was the first time I'd had a real conversation with a Korean person, albeit through my partner translating. I don't know if I can really explain how isolating it feels to only talk to the same person every day for over two months while so much else is being said around you, but it's a odd experience at best. Still, while it was pointed out that Korean Family knows all about me and this was the reason why we hadn't had any proper conversations, I couldn't help feeling something had gone horribly wrong somewhere.

For my own part, cultural considerations prevent my asking searching questions of Korean Parents that may well be considered to be too direct and therefore rude, but I feel like I've made an effort with my peers to no avail. I think in my own culture you can meet new people and have intellectual, philosophical and sometimes surprisingly personal conversations within a short period of time, but as a foreigner there's a natural barrier between myself and Koreans and they do not want to open up and expose any perceived weaknesses to someone from another country.

In the end, you can only try and meet people half-way and if they aren't there it's usually inadvisable to go after them to knock on their intellectual front-door. Perhaps as long as the language barrier exists people here will never talk to me in the way I believe they would have done by now had they been English speakers, perhaps they never will because there will always be a ethno-cultural divide even if I reach fluency, or perhaps I've just generally not met the right people yet. The Psychic Aunt has proven the first exception to the rule, so there is now some hope that I may find other people I can talk to eventually.

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