“Why are those letters backwards?” Good Man points to an ambulance.
“So you can read the words in your rear view mirror if it’s coming up behind you.”
“That! That is so brilliant! America is brilliant!”
I laugh. Shortly after we arrived in America, some ambulance went speeding past. I did what you’re supposed to do, you know, slow down and pull over? Good Man was so confused. “Why is everyone doing that? Oh my God! In America they stop!”
“왜 야드에 사람 나오지 않아?” Why aren’t people in their yards?
“미국이야. ” It’s America.
Sometimes I feel like those two years in Korea didn’t actually happen. It’s not that life stopped in America. It didn’t. I don’t even live in the same state that I did when I left. But sometimes I have to stop, step back, and ask myself, “Did it really happen?” And then I look at Good Man and realize that, indeed, it happened.
And then there are the reverse moments. Those moments where I am suddenly struck, and I realize that Korea(n(s)) got under my skin.
A few months ago I reached for a new tub of gochujang (spicy red pepper paste) from our pantry. I started chuckling to myself. If anyone had told me five years ago that I’d be cooking Korean food on a weekly basis, I would’ve rolled my eyes. Yet here I am, with a kitchen stocked up with gochujang, dwenjang, and ganjang.
A few weeks ago, I was walking up the steps in a library. I was nearing the top and someone started to come down the steps. She glared at me and I couldn’t understand why until I’d already completed my ascent. Of course. I was walking up the left side of the stairs. I didn’t think anything of it, I was just doing it. I’ve lived here over 8 months now, and I still do it.
I also realized that I keep handing people things with two hands or my left arm tucked under my right. Nobody else cares or notices, but I do.
Last night Diana and I were chatting online and I said that I have very few friends here. But is that true? Last weekend, over dinner, Mark’s Lover asked me when we were going to have an engagement party. I said, “We’re not. Our wedding is tiny and besides, we have no friends here.”
Mark’s Lover gestured to everyone else sitting at the table and said, “What are we then?”
I didn’t really know what to say. Indeed, Mark and his Lover are friends. But their friends aren’t yet our friends, even though we’ve met them several times.
And last night, chatting with Diana, I realized that before Korea, I’d have called these people friends. Not close friends, but friends. After Korea, not so much.
It seems to me that Koreans don’t have friends. They have adjective friends. “This is my seonbae,” “he’s my hubae,” “this is my military friend,” “this is my sixth grade friend…”
Have I picked up the adjective friend thing? Is that why I don’t yet consider my taekwondo studiomates, or the people who go to Korean Meetups my friends? (Maybe “location friend” is a better descriptor than “adjective friend.”)
It’s almost as if there’s a B.K. (Before Korea) Amanda and an A.K. (After Korea) Amanda. How could two years of conditioning overcome 26 years of my natural environment?