Sunday, June 20, 2010

SK Solidarity Trip Day 4: My Life as a Korean Soap Star

As I've regularly said over the course of these posts, being in South Korea for a week and not speaking any Korean at all was very frustrating. I had the help of a few guides and interpreters, but wandering around areas of Seoul on my own was a very strange experience. Most people in Korea knew some English, usually enough terms in order to conduct a brief greeting or manage an exchange of currency for goods. What made it a very weird experience is that so many people weren't sure who I was or what I was. Many people actually assumed that I was Korean, a bit odd looking, odd dressing, the facial hair was a bit strange, even for young people, and the clothes. The tattoos on my arms marked as a rough type, or a privileged kid trying to pretend to be rough. They were just English characters, not long stretches of skin like canvas and so I wasn't in the mafia or something.
Most people spoke to me in Korean and would smile and be very friendly, and then change the moment they realized that I wasn't Korean because I couldn't speak Korean. The most interesting experiences were when I would go into one of the seemingly infinite number of tiny conveinence stores across Seoul, some part of large corporations some owned by families. I would purchase some drink and they would smile and talk to me as I walked around the store. But when I got up to the counter and spoke and rifled through my pockets from my wads of won, the mood changed. I was astonished at how many cashiers, especially women young and old, proceeded to reach out, grab my money and count it for me, taking what I owed.

After I while I actually considered learning a little bit of Korea and pretending to be from some mythical southern province or island, where we speak Korean with a bit of an accent and thus proceed to make up a bunch of "Korean-sounding" words. I would stroll around Seoul like some educated, English-speaking, gangsta, country-bumpkin. I would speak primarily in grunts, head and hand gestures, but eventually toss in some fancy Korean and English words (not really used properly) in order to pretend that I'm not from the halomtano'.

As I'm writing this, I've come back to Guam and already several people have asked me about my trip and whether or not people mistook me for being Korean. I never really thought I "looked Korean" in anyway shape or form, but after looking at myself really closely in the mirror I guess I could see some reasons why people might think I could be. Eventually, someone asked me not only if I had been mistaken for being Korean, but if I was mistaken for a particular Korean person, namely an actor, Ji Jin Hee. She said that I looked just like him, particularly with my facial hair and without my glasses, from his role in the Korean period drama Dae Jang Geum. I went online to check out some pictures of him and found a few and have included them in this post, with some Chamorro word bubbles. I don't think I look like him, but I'm intrigued that some people might see a resemblance.

Since getting back to Guam I've given some thought to all the moments when people in South Korea were staring at me or taking random pictures of me. At that time I thought it may have been about my hair or my clothes or something else, but now I wonder if any of them were staring because they actually thought I might have been a Korean soap star? Right now I'm on the verge of creating a false memory from Seoul. In this memory I was in a tiny music store in Jongnu, looking for a T-ara CD for my brother, when I heard a group of old ladies behind me whispering something and sneaking some pictures of me. Yes, hunggan ayugue i hinasso-ku. Hunggan, hu hahasso ayu! In ten years time when I'm reflecting back on my South Korea trip, I'll have this hysterical story which will come with sound effects and me acting out the motions of old Korean women taking pictures and giggling, and it'll be all about my short, oh so brief, life as a Korean Soap Star.

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