Thursday, March 15, 2007

The City of Lost Souls

It follows that after almost five months here in which I've picked up a knife and fork about four times, that the day I should actually meet another foreigner for the first time would be one of them. So it was on the way back from the snake run last week, that we should be sat in a Korean restaurant when suddenly there was some excitement between my Korean minders - a foreigner had entered. He proceeded to sit down at a nearby table and we opened up our conversation.

Maybe going for so long without talking to more than one person can do strange things to you after a while, because faced with the initial question of what I did here, I suffered a moment's shock and felt like I had to dig deep into my brain to rediscover the lost art of small-talk. My new Canadian acquaintance was in Busan looking for a teaching job, so we talked about teaching, learning Korean and life here in the city - or at least as much as was possible given the fortunately short stay of a particularly rowdy group of Koreans during our respective lunches.

Later, Korean Mother made the observation that I'd looked like a fish that had rediscovered water, and I suppose that just about sums things up. I think that after so much time living in my not-quite-present reality, I had a bit of reverse-culture shock when faced with someone who I could actually converse with. And in an odd sort of way, I've begun to wonder whether this means - when I eventually get back to the UK - I will feel the same way when suddenly faced with lots of people to talk to. When I first got here it crossed my mind that I would make some social contacts within the ex-pat community, but life proved too busy to get out and do anything even though I read about the various events on Internet bulletin boards. I suppose it's not very significant, but being cut off completely from other foreigners might seem like an odd choice to some.

Unfortunately for Korean Mother our chance meeting meant that she had to spend most of her lunch lost in her own thoughts, which she didn't really enjoy, and which lead to the realisation that this is how I live most of my life here and it might not be much fun for me, which it isn't. It seemed for a moment that she wanted things to change, but nothing did. Not that I apportion any blame except to myself though; if I want to participate in the world I live in here, the onus is on me to learn the language, a task which I continue to struggle to fit in with the other aspects of my daily life in Busan.

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