Culture Shock

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

So, I've shared the good parts of the Korea experience, but sadly, there have certainly been some unpleasant experiences.

Let me preface this by saying that I'm totally okay with curiosity. If you're genuinely interested in something and simply intrigued to know more, I do not mind entertaining such inquiries.

For instance, there's the random "ajumma" that will walk up and touch (or grab, in my first encounter) your hair and want to know how it stays curly on its own. (See Urban Dictionary's definition of "ajumma" here).

A group of young girls saw me in Seoul one day and started giggling and staring. One of them approached me and said, "hi"; I responded, with a smile, then they all eagerly ran over to talk to me in English. It was so cute and harmless. It warmed my heart some.

Then there are the ugly people that just flat out don't like me being here, [insert reason]. If I'm able to ride public transportation without incident, it's a good day. My first time on a bus in Suwon, I went to sit in the back and the woman that was nearest my seat looked at me with disgust and immediately got up and went to the front. Another woman sat and mean mugged me for the entire ride. When it was time to get off, I thought I was the only one departing. But the woman decided she needed to let me know how dismayed she was by me. As I was stepping onto the sidewalk, she jolts up and runs off the bus, but not before brushing past me and walking to the corner I was approaching to death stare me down some more. She went completely out of her way to do this. It would be amusing if it weren't so demeaning and pathetic. I have had similar experiences on the subway, mostly from women. The men and children don't seem to be quite as bothered by me.

Invariably, it seems that whenever I have an unpleasant experience, I am immediately rewarded with a good one. After the ordeal on the bus, I went into the store for some items. A young girl saw me, looked, and then yanked on her mom as if to ask permission for something. Her mom looked briefly at me and said something to the girl in Korean before carrying on with her conversation. The girl, in turn, waved at me, smiled and bashfully said "hi". Again, I responded, with a smile and you'd have thought I'd made the young girl's day. She had actually made mine. I have not let any unpleasant experience get to me at all.

Candidly: if you're Black in Korea, there's a good chance you've had a curious experience. Outside of military bases, and certain areas of Seoul there aren't many of us here. Chances are, the curious people you encounter have not seen an actual Black person, in person, ever in their respective lives. Most people in my neighborhood aren't concerned with my presence. Then there are those who look at me like I'm a unicorn. Some will whip out their cameras and snap away. I don't even want to think of how many social media timelines I'm on.  I put on my shades and try to look fly at all times for such occasions. Most Black people I know that live or have traveled to various parts of Asia have had this experience at least once. I see plenty of expats when I'm out and about. But there's something magical about being Black-and natural-that's intriguing to a lot of people that live in homogenous nations.

Call it Black Girl Magic.

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  1. Wow! What a testimony! I am enjoying your posts and look forward to hearing more about the journey :)