Monday, February 28, 2011
Sunday, February 6, 2011
Last Friday, February 4, as part of our three-day celebration of Seoulal, I invited my friend Holly to come down from Seoul to visit me in the Byeongjeom area. After four and a half hours of travel time and minimal communication between us, she still hadn't shown up at my door. When she called from a stranger's cell phone to tell me that she had gotten off at the wrong bus stop, I decided to come get her.
Running across the darkening street minutes before 6 that night, I stepped into the back seat of the only cab waiting at the taxi stop. "Sen-tuh-ral Pah-kuh ka chuseyo," I asked the driver in my best Korean.
"Odi?" he countered. Where?
I didn't answer him. As the Park itself is several thousand acres, I figured he'd take me to the most popular side and if need be, I could direct him from there. I didn't know how to say, "The central part of Central Park--you know, where everyone goes."
He asked me something unitelligible in Korean as we set off, but I ignored that question as well. I then saw him motion someone downing a shot glass with his right hand, and heard him couch his action with yet another indistinct question. Though I couldn't understand his words, his meaning was unmistakable.
He had just witnessed me running across the street! Drunk people don't walk, much less run! Appalled, I sharply corrected him. "Andeo," I answered forcefully. Young Sook had recently taught me that the word was synonymous with heck no.
"Anio?" he asked politely, glancing at me through the rearview mirror. After a few steely moments, he asked another question. Seeing the still-blank look on my face, he added, "Country?"
"Miguk. Miguk saram eh-ee-yo," I said in perfect Korean, in an effort to redeem myself.
"Miguktharameeoh..." he repeated in mock drunk-speech, mimicking my apparent ill pronunciation.
The man continued to ask me questions as he drove on, many of them familiar ones like "Where do you work?" and "Are you an English teacher?" But I stopped answering them--and whatever I did answer was in the form of a curt, one-word response.
Ten minutes later, we arrived at the Park, just across the street from where Holly sat waiting. I could have asked the man to hold while I called to my friend, but nothing within me wanted to spend another moment in his taxicab. I quickly paid my oh chon won and left.
Frustrated, I confessed the story to Holly as we stood in the cold waiting for bus 27. "I don't care about my witness, Holly," I told her. "If you know me, you know that's not who I am. What upsets me is that this is his perception."
"The sad thing is that those are the kinds of foreigners he sees," she intoned. And I had to admit she was probably right.