Saturday, September 22, 2007


So are you ready for another "life in Korea" post? Well, ready or not, here it comes. I've added a little pregnancy-related blah-blah in too, just to keep things true to theme.

Living in Korea is good and bad, fun and frustrating, inspiring and annoying. Kind of like life anywhere, I guess. I don't actually know what it's like to live in Korea as a Korean, though, so I really shouldn't make sweeping generalizations. I just know that as an expat I am routinely both delighted and horrified, often within minutes of each other.

One of the great things is how unbelievably kind and supportive my Korean friends and colleagues are. It really does amaze me how many different ways they find to express their concern and consideration for me. I can go to work, or to lunch, or what have you in the foulest of moods, and they never fail to make me feel warm and fuzzy within 10 minutes of my arrival.

One of the bad things is how unbelievably rude (from the perspective of a different culture) strangers are on the street. In the last week, I have been elbowed in the belly (yes, my 7-month-pregnant belly) TWICE in elevators by people who were in such a hurry to get in or out that they couldn't be bothered to notice that there are other people in the world. I also got into a shoving match on the subway with a healthy middle-aged woman who really thought that she deserved a handicapped/elderly/pregnant seat more than I did. There is a queue to get on the subway, and I was ahead of her. She reached out and shoved me out of the way as the train started to move into the station. I thought that maybe she didn't see that I was pregnant, so I just calmly returned to the queue in my original place. Then as the train doors opened, she shoved me again, and ran past me (with the agility of a cat--there is no way this woman was disabled in any way) to grab the last seat. While I was actually only going one stop, and therefore didn't much care about the seat, I made a point of going right up to her, looking into her face with an appalled expression (I can't communicate well in Korean, so I have to pantomime sometimes to get my point across), and then standing up and shoving my belly in her face. To her credit, she was absolutely mortified and then leapt up and offered me her seat. Still, I was annoyed for hours.

That wasn't really what I wanted to tell you about though. I promised a while ago to tell a bit more about my childbirth class, and my feelings about the class are very much tied up with my feelings about living in Korea as an expat. Being foreign, looking different, and not speaking the language isolates Mystery and me in many ways from the main flow of life here in Seoul. Nonetheless, I have assiduously avoided the "expat" scene since I've been here, since I don't like the idea of being one of those people who moves to another country only to surround themselves with people just like those in their place of origin. So, when I walked into the childbirth class for foreigners, it was the first time that I'd been around more than one or two non-Koreans at once in months. To my great surprise, I found the situation absolutely delightful. Not only was it thrilling to be surrounded by other big pregnant bellies and to be able to gush about my pregnancy without worrying about annoying everyone around me, but it was also delightful to be able to do so in fast English, without worrying about my manners. I hadn't realized until that moment how on guard I am every day to try to remember not to make comments about anything Korean that could be construed as negative to my Korean friends and colleagues. Many of these things aren't really negative at all, but I'm always so conscious of being a guest and so concerned about being a good one that I do make strenuous efforts to be polite. In this mixed group (a few Americans, several Germans, a few Koreans that are married to foreigners, a Kiwi, some Brits), I found myself exploding with words that have been kept unsaid for months. A lot of it was just the typical "you have leg cramps? me too!" kind of stuff, but I could also finally actually talk about the subway experience, or how kimchi feels in my heartburn-plagued digestive system (not good), and the difficulties that I've experienced in finding "normal" baby things here without feeling guilty. It was wonderful!

It was also embarrassing. I don't think I drew a breath for up to 15 minutes at a time because I was so anxious to release some of this impacted commentary. I also very much liked everyone there (fertile and oblivious though they were), so I was fairly frantic to make enough of a connection that it wouldn't be weird to invite them to lunch or whatever after the class was over. I was aware the whole time that I probably was coming off as desperate for companionship, but just couldn't stop myself.

Luckily, they were all quite kind, and tolerant of my irrational exuberance. I think I may have found some mommy friends in Korea at long last. Now if I can just manage to let them get a word in edgewise, I'll be in business.


Isabel said...

Sounds like a fun experience. I went to an all-Japanese class at my clinic: didn't understand a word. So glad for you to have an expat group!

Lut C. said...

Being an expat is quite the challenge. I suppose being an American expat is sometimes even more of a challenge, with the country being in the international spotlight so much.

It's good to be able to let off steam once in while with people who get it.

AshPash said...

Sara: I enjoyed your post about life in Korea. When we traveled to China, I was shocked by the lack of "waiting your turn". In a bathroom I stood like a good little American awaiting my turn and people kept jumping into stalls ahead of me! Finally I caught on that there is no "I was first" in China. Well, I can easily win the "who can scramble to the toilet stall first" game. It was interesting to say the least. In their culture it's just second nature whereas to us it's "rude". What a neat time for you to be living there.

Nina said...

Yay for a great expat experience. Wonderful. Very glad for you. Sharing a crappy rude subway experience with some other native English speakers (and some Germans :-)) must feel so good. I am actually starting to look forward to the prenatal classes now so that I can meet some other pg people. For the first time in years NOBODY I know is pg :-S.

Marie-Baguette said...

I used to avoid the French expat community until I was invited to a French party and met my (French) husband there. I then decided it was sort of silly of me to cut myself from some very nice people, just because they happened to be French like me. Anyway, I am so glad you have a group of pregnant mums to hang with, it is going to be a great support group for when the babies are born. The first weeks are so tough, especially when living abroad and far from friends and family.