Giving Cheongju A Chance

Well the pictures are all hung up and we know how permanent scotch tape is, so that’s that. I’m here for good.

Putting the daydreams of moving to Daegu to rest, I headed downtown to give the city that I could only associate with scumbags and negligent employers before, a second chance. I spent four hours just walking around looking at things, trying out my Korean here and there, and taking pictures. Because Korea is so ancient and the cities so old, their layouts aren’t that easy to get around. In the States most neighborhoods are set up on a grid, but in Korea they build wherever there is room. Up, down or sideways and it makes for some pretty confusing navigation. But it also adds to the charm. When the sun started to set, I made my way back toward the main road where all the taxis waited to take shoppers to dinner. But I was in such a good mood, I wanted to see if I could find my way back and decided to walk it.

It took me over an hour but my iPod survived the hike and it was worth it. I got to see so much of the city’s character. Where old meets new, hole-in-the-wall shops that sell arsenic as medicine, how the locals do and all sorts of restaurants that I want to check out. I didn’t have to backtrack even once and I did a lot of cutting through alleys and parks until I saw the new high-rise construction going up somewhat near my apartment. I found a new running path and also discovered a developing neighborhood with a beer house that play American sports broadcasts, so football season, here I come.

I didn’t take too many photos of my trek back, the interesting part, because if exposing my collar bone and shoulders weren’t enough (it is 100 degrees out, Korea, give me a break), holding a camera up to shoot a jar of ginseng would totally way-gook me. It’s not just that I’ve heard too many stories about human trafficking to find out what my chances are of getting chloroformed in Korea, but also I just don’t like being stared at everywhere I go. You think I’m vain or paranoid, but if you’ve even been to Asia as a non-Asian, you’ve probably seen the way people rubberneck to, not just catch a glimpse, but study you. I’ve seen people at intersections, staring at me with their windows down, mouths open, clutching the door while I’m  just feet away at the cross walk. Even people on bikes and motorcycles will stop traffic, trying to get a good look at you. But mostly I just don’t want them to charge me extra for something, just because I’m American.

Korea is a homogenous country and anything different stands out like a sore thumb.

But Jeanie, you’re half Korean. And aren’t there people who dress differently or dye their hair over there? Yes. But I’ve come to find that they can even tell from my walk that I’m not one of them. Dressed in Korean fashion and wearing sunglasses that hide my Anglo-Saxon nose, they still scan me. I think it’s because Americans walk with a sort of liberated step that Koreans don’t. Too much confidence and not enough humility. Reminds me of that Body Snatchers movie remake, Invasion with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. They just know!

Maybe it’s because I can’t help but slightly emote to the song blasting in my ear-buds. In all seriousness though, Koreans value being another face in the crowd and blending in is a virtue. Just read the reprimands these naturally curly-headed light haired school girls faced for being themselves!

I want so badly to buy this on payday. You don’t need a license to drive a small motorcycle in Korea.


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