The Last Foreigner on the Island

In Ulleungdo, Sister and I were people watching in the square. A Korean kid, upper-elementary age, pointed at me and screamed, “Oh my God, a foreigner!”

I pointed back at him and said, “Wow, a Korean.”

“Really?” he asked. I realized that the lack of subjects and objects in the Korean language made him think I said I was Korean. What a dumb kid.

He walked over to his friends and started pointing at me. They were all in shirts that indicated they were on some trip for some group or another, and that group was located in Gangnam. There was no reason for this kid to be shocked at the sight of a foreigner. I mumbled to Sister, “He’s never seen a foreigner before today? What is he, a country boy?”

The man sitting next to Sister puffed on his cigarette and said, “She speaks Korean very well.”

I shook my head no, Sister told him yes, and the man stamped out his cigarette and left.

***

At dinner at the fish market, a family was sitting at the table behind us. I turned around to look at something and saw the boy at the table staring at me. I held his gaze. He didn’t point or scream. Since I could tell he was curious, but he wasn’t being rude, I finally said in English, “Hi.”

“Hi,” he said. He said it normally, without pointing or giggling.

“How are you?”

“I’m fine thank you.” He turned to his parents, who coached him a little more, “How are you?”

“I’m fine.”

He paused. “Are you an English teacher?”

“No.” I smiled, knowing that would not be what he was expecting.

We continued on for a few minutes in English before I switched over to Korean and spoke with the whole family. They were from Anseong. “I’ve been there!” I said excitedly.

“No, no,” Mother said, “not Ansan—”

“Right, ㅇㅏㄴㅅㅓㅇ,” I spelled out. “[Good Man] and I went there for a…” I looked at Sister and said in English, “Festival?”

“축제.”

“Ahhh,” the father in the family said, “the Baudeogi Festival!”

“Yes! Anseong is so beautiful!”

Mother looked at me, “You and [Good Man] traveled a lot together.”

And we lied about it every time.