Friday, May 23, 2008

Tourist in my own country

First stop, a greasy spoon for a juicy, American beefy hamburger!

Greetings from Los Angeles! I'm en route to Hawaii where I'll meet my Dad and two friends for a relaxing vacation. Had I gone straight from Seoul to Kauai, I'm not sure I would have experienced the culture shock that a one-day layover in the continental U.S. has imposed. In recent weeks I've wondered how my first steps on U.S. soil in eight months would feel, how the place might seem different, and what comforts of home I'd rush to enjoy. My actual experience in the last ten hours has been starkly different from anything I expected. I imagined I would notice more overweight people, catch myself saying, "kamsa hamnida," instead of, "thank you," and maybe even wishing I were home to stay. I certainly was not prepared to start missing Seoul almost as soon as I got here! Perhaps it's the rather dilapidated, suburban area of Culver City I'm staying in, filled with "things" but void of interesting culture and substance, that has me feeling melancholy.

Maybe it's because I feel like people are staring at me as if they know, "She's been living in Korea for eight months. She looks culture shocked." I realized I made an utter gaffe as I was standing in a busy intersection waiting to cross a major highway. I felt like everyone in the cars around me were staring at me, all looking down at my legs or feet. That's when I text messaged my friend Clarissa, "Oh, so knee-length electric blue leggings and short denim skirts aren't in style Stateside?!" She quickly shot back, "What the hell are you thinking?! You've been in Korea too long!" My outfit, chosen for its comfort and traveling practicality, wouldn't catch a second glance in Seoul, even around the office. Standing on that busy street corner, though, I realized, I look like a prostitute! And that's when I also started to sense something I haven't felt for eight months; fear, or at least apprehension, about the people around me. Seoul is a very safe place and although you can never be too careful, I've never felt threatened or fearful walking alone anywhere in the city. Passing by some odd-looking characters in Culver City, California, though, set my heart racing.

I'm anxious to head for Hawaii tomorrow where being surrounded by family and friends will surly bring me out of this tourist-in-my-own country funk. In the meantime, I'll drown my pensive despondence in American beef and other edible luxuries that explain why everyone standing in my hotel lobby today was at least ten pounds overweight. Ah, America!

1 comment:

matt said...

i really loved this post. i'm a huge fan of unexpected culture shock. see ya soon! xo mk