Today is April 3rd, although by the looks of it, one would guess it’s sometime in late October. The day is dark and grey, high winds making the rain come in at an angle as though the ground has been slanted. The air is so cold it stings my hands; I’m just coming down off a really bad fever and as I stand at the streetlight, waiting to cross the road, holding a bag of groceries in one hand and an umbrella in the other, I curse out loud, like a crazy drunken hobo. “Fuckin’ Korea!” I say. “It’s April! It’s not supposed to be like this, Korea! What kind of forsaken land do I live in!”
Things have gotten to that point. I have begun to realize that Korea is wearing me down. I’m extremely irritable with everything. Often times I find myself making huge generalizations about the Korean people, about things that are silly and stupid and obviously not generated by race or culture. The other day one of my students refused to use a perfectly good pair of scissors because, quite simply, she wanted to use the other pair of scissors. “These Koreans are driving me crazy,” I thought. “They’re so fucking meticulous. OCD. Everything has to be done one particular way. I can’t take it anymore!”
Really, it’s like George Orwell’s “double think,” kind of. I know that my thoughts are completely idiotic. Obviously one little girl being stubborn is not indicative of an entire country. I’m very aware that I’m being dumb and racist. At the same time, I can’t help thinking it. Everything that goes wrong has to be the fault of this place. Why is it miserably cold on April 3rd? Because it’s Korea. Why is a tiny girl in pigtails screaming at me? Because she’s Korean. Duh.
I think partly being sick has made me lash out at the poor, innocent Korean people. Last Saturday, I hit up Lotteria before meeting my girlfriend. I was hungry and needed lunch. The weather was much better on Saturday than it is today, but it still wasn’t really warm out. I got my hamburger and sat down to eat it. Two minutes after sitting down, I realized I was freezing. I looked around. People seemed happy, eating their food. I noticed, though, that almost everyone had their coats on. Taking another bite of my burger, a cold draft came across the back of my neck. I turned my head to see that the front doors were propped open, as though somebody opened them to leave and then didn’t shut the doors behind himself/herself.
“Fuck man!” I said to myself, pissed. “These Koreans always leave the damn door open. They never shut the door. What, do they live in a barn?!”
That’s a phrase I grew up with. When somebody leaves the door open, you say, “What, do you live in a barn?” I thought everyone said this. A few months ago, I said it to Sis, who stared at me blankly. “Do I live in a barn? What the hell are you talking about?”
“What does that have to do with a barn?”
“I dunno. People say that. What, do you live in a barn? Close the door.”
“I’ve never heard that in my life.”
“Trust me, it’s a common expression.”
“Do people who live in barns leave the door open a lot?”
“Yeah, it smells of manure.”
“I think so. Plus the animals have to go in and out.”
“It sounds like you’re making this up.”
“No, seriously. And if you go to a barn and you close the door, the person will say, ‘Open the door! Jesus! What, do you live in a house?!’”
Anyways, this is what I was thinking, staring at the open doors at Lotteria. I was thinking that these people must eat burgers in a barn. Five or six different groups of people came in, as the Lotteria was busy on Saturday, and not one of them closed the door behind them as they entered.
I was furious. Capital F. Furious. I wish I was exaggerating. “I’m fucking sick,” I ranted in my head, “and these idiots walk in here like there’s no door on the hinges.” Then I got up, walked over to the front doors, and closed them myself.
Not five minutes later, the doors were open again.
“Damnit!” I cursed, storming out of there. Soon later, I met up with my girlfriend and voiced my displeasure. “They were probably very warm,” she said, “so they opened the door.”
“Here’s an idea,” I said, in full asshole mode, “if you’re warm, how about taking the fucking parka off. Ever think of that, genius? I know they’re attached to their stupid North Face coats, but guess what, homeboy? You’re indoors. Not climbing a fucking mountain. Put the coat on the back of your chair and stop freezing the Westerner.”
My poor Korean girlfriend. She’s the sweetest. I couldn’t stay grumpy for long around her, especially since I was spewing hate towards her people and knew that was bad. I let the door thing slide and we had a nice day together, although I kept coughing, wheezing, and blowing my nose the whole time.
For the first time in my life, I am a minority. Maybe that’s what’s getting to me. It’s not that I’m sunk by Korea, so much as I’m feeling different and alone. That’s part of the expat experience, I suppose, and I should savor it. I’m learning. I just wish I could be a little warmer while doing so.