Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Taste of Home

I am a little behind on my weekly post, better late than never!

This past weekend was a whirlwind with my teacher friends and our Korean friend Joe. First, I cooked dinner for Tony and Steph at my apartment, the first I've hosted anyone since I arrived. It felt really good. We talked and drank wine while we chopped vegetables and stirred sauces. Ben and Joe joined us a little later, and we all played bananagrams and dominoes. I felt more at home than I have since I first arrived. After a few rounds, we went out for the first time to some foreigner bars downtown.

Foreigner bars are exactly what they sound like--a place for ex-pats to find each other, and have a little taste of home. It was the strangest sensation. Since I have arrived, apart from the people I work with, I have seen maybe 5 or 6 foreigners on the street. We walked into this bar, and EVERY person was a foreigner. Everyone was speaking English, laughing loudly, and behaving as westerners do--a little, um, less reserved than the Koreans I have met so far.

Also, here in Pohang, and in most of Korea I have been told, it is not so easy to find a good microbrew or a nice bottle of wine, least of all for a reasonable price. Most beers are the equivalent of a PBR or Natty Lite... a far cry from what I was accustomed to at home in Portland. At the first bar we went to, my jaw dropped in surprise to learn that they had an amber ale on tap. And, that the bartender gave me a taste of it in a shooter, like they do back home. I heartily thanked the bartender, ordered an amber, and asked him with a smile if I could please give him a tip. Remember, there is no tipping in Korea. The first time I ate out, I was by myself, and I attempted to leave a tip on the table. The server chased me down the street a few minutes later, extending the money to me in his hand, smiling and shaking his head. At the foreigner bar, I just wanted to express my gratitude, and have a little sense of home. The bartender smiled and said, "sure you can, there actually is a tip jar, but tips are not expected."

The rest of the evening continued with much enjoyment. At the next place we played darts and then a game of pool with some people from Italy, England, and Michigan respectively. It was delightful. I realized I had been craving not just more people to be around, but I had been missing the ability to strike up a conversation with an interesting person, taking much for granted what the common ground of sharing a language can do. The only regret I have at this point in my journey is that I made NO attempt to learn any Korean before I left. I feel like this was the only thing I didn't really think through before hand. I think I was feeling daunted by how vast the difference is between English and Eastern languages, but the reality is, I didn't even try. It is not too late, and I am now making an effort. It is slow going, but worth it.

1 comment:

  1. I really don't know much about Korea. I know quite a bit about Japan, which is pretty close, but not much on Korea. I can imagine hanging at a "foreigner" bar can be quite comfortable. I also think learning Korean and the customs of the land can also be rewarding and over time even comfortable in itself. I really do like these updates of yours and can't wait to see how you grow during your time there. Embrace the culture! 8)