A Korean Aussie adoptee goes back home for the first time. Hilarity ensues?
It’s like I never left. My brain has clicked back into place where I etched a rough guide on how to move around in Korea and what to expect. There are no surprises, culture shocks or mysteries anymore.
I’m calm. A big deal for a permanently anxious person like me. I realised something about myself that I hadn’t seen the time.
When I lived in Korea, I wanted it to be a chance to experience what could have been. So I tried to neatly, quietly slot into Korean society. And, gosh darn it, I just wanted to fit in and to be liked because I’m not very chill. Of course, this is impossible and the angst of not fitting in was a constant, painful jab every time I stepped outside and did anything.
But this time it’s just a holiday.
I caught a bus to the markets in Busan and it felt like a grave error, not just because I realised too late that my T money card had no money on it. I wasn’t meant to be on this bus with ajummas going about their day and weaving through outer suburban Busan. I felt better when I caught the subway to Haeundae Beach along with the other tourists. I spent a few hours there just slipping into the cool water and lying on the sand. It was the most relaxed I have felt for a long time. My bare shoulders, tattoo and willingness to bodysurf stood out. Good. I stand out anyway. Might as well have fun with it.
I still have a wave of irrational embarrassment when I poorly attempt to speak Korean or I don’t understand what someone says. Not because I feel like an imposter who has been caught, and a terrible Korean bringing shame upon the nation, only frustration that I’ve been studying at Korean school all year and I’ve still got a long way to go. But it doesn’t matter that my Korean’s not good enough to trick someone into thinking I’m a native Korean. I was able to clumsily ask the ajumma at my hotel if I could store my bags. My grammar was far from perfect and I stammered a lot, but she understood what I meant and I understood what she meant, and that’s really what matters.
A lot has changed with me since I was here last time. This time round I have a job and a cool inner city Melbourne home to go back to. It doesn’t matter if I fail here.
Besides, when my Umma picked me up from my motel in Busan, roared “주혜!!”, hugged me tightly and cried, who cares about fitting in?