Sunday, March 16, 2008

Night and day

I recently arrived back in Seoul after a ten-day trip (during which my internet access was limited--hence the lack of new posts) overseas. It was a great trip, but it's good to be home.

Seoul is more and more feeling like home, which is kind of ironic, since it has become clearer and clearer lately that we won't be staying too much longer. I was originally hired with a verbal agreement that I would be employed for three years, and a one-year contract. The contract is written so I have the option to quit whenever I want, though, which is nice. We are now a year and a half into our stay, and while there has been talk about making my position permanent, it has become clear that this would not be the best decision for my family. While I have grown quite fond of living here, Mystery is having a very hard time. He hasn't made any friends outside of our "couple" friends, who are really my friends and their mates, doesn't speak the language, so he feels really socially isolated. He also really misses living in the US. This is also not a great place to send a foreign kid to school. She would never be accepted socially in a public school, and I really don't want to send her to international school (too expensive and isolating). Given that none of these things are likely to change, we are starting to talk about our exit strategy.

Realizing that my time here is limited has made me see the city with new eyes. I recently realized that while Korea is not a particularly nice place to be pregnant (or to shop for baby things), it is a wonderful place to be the mother of a young baby. Not only did I get a government-mandated three-month paid maternity leave even though I am foreign and a newcomer, but people have bent over backward to make having a baby a pleasant experience. I don't mean that my coworkers had a nice shower for me. They did, but that's something that would happen anywhere. What wouldn't happen just anywhere is the way that people go CRAZY for Eggbert whenever I take her out in public. It isn't just the grandmother types and little girls that you sort of expect to pay attention to babies. Young men, old men, teenagers, other kids, as well as mothers and grandmothers stop to stare and admire her. I can't go anywhere without a chorus of "cute", "beautiful", "look, a BABY!" following me. While I don't normally like being the center of attention, when it's directed at my beloved baby, I bask in it. It makes me feel like she is embraced by the community, and is safe and loved. People are also MUCH more considerate of her needs than they ever were when she was still in utero. I get jostled a lot less, and routinely get offered seats on the subway (ironic, because she's really light, so standing isn't a problem now, but I sure could have used those seats when I was 8.5 months pregnant and had ankles the size of tree trunks). I don't think it's just because she's foreign, although curiosity may be a factor. Babies are just so rare here that people seem to appreciate the fact that they are truly special and miraculous creatures.

In sharp contrast, I ran into an American acquaintance the other day (a youngish man) who hadn't yet met Eggbert. She was in the baby bjorn, so he couldn't look at me without seeing her, yet throughout our entire 15-minute conversation, he never once asked about here, commented on her, or even looked at her, even when a gaggle of Korean kids stopped to look at her and squeal in glee. It was a pretty amazing display of disinterest. I think that if I hadn't been so amused, I might have been offended.