Yesterday, I found out just how far outside Seoul we really are. I mean the area is pretty commercial and everything with lots of apartment buildings and shops, but there are still things like parks and hilly stands of trees. Every once in a while you will see an ex-patriot - actually I've figured out that there are about five foreigners I see on a regular basis - wandering the streets and it a little bit of a shock. But when we went to Itaewon in downtown Seoul it was like every other person was an ex-pat. Where I live, if I see someone who doesn't look like everyone else, my mind goes FOREIGNER! - you know, to alert me - and I at least try to smile at them. We have all developed that same smile that's like 'Fancy meeting you here, fellow countryperson. Isn't this a situation we have ourselves in?' that we only use on each other.
In Itaewon, however, my mind was like FOREIGNER! FOREIGNER! FOREIGNER! and I was startled every single time. There was no sharing of the Secret Suji Foreigner Smile - I don't even think they knew the Secret Suji Foreigner Smile! It was very unsettling.
My friend, Jonathan, wanted to do some shopping so we were going in and out of shops looking for shirts that would fit him - he's a big guy so buying things in a district that catered to foreigners was his best bet of getting something that fits. Jonathan, however, doesn't seem to understand the concept of 'haggling' and bought two shirts for 30$ each before I had to stop him. It actually physically hurt to watch him pay that much for t-shirts. The rest of the day was spent in Lessons on Haggling with Emily. I taught him the 'I Don't Know if I Really Want it' look, the 'That's Way Too Expensive!' gasp, and the ever classic Good Cop, Bad Cop where one person seems interested in the object while the other tries to hurry the first away or get them not to buy the object. This causes the vendor to lower the price rapidly. He was very impressed with my chicanery (I done gone and used my GRE words, ma!). The lesson, however, wasn't too effective because I wasn't sure how much things should cost in Korea, which affects how hard you haggle.
I did end up buying a pretty headband that seem to be all the rage in Korea - when I wear it it looks like there is an embroidered sequin-y flower in my hair. I paid 8$ for it and I haven't figured out whether or not this is a good price. Originally, the lady wanted me to bay 10$ so I guess thats something.
In other news I am making headway in Emily-Korean relations. On Friday one of the Korean women I work with (Rachel) came to sit down with me at my desk and we started talking. She didn't speak English very well but she was really being very nice. At some point she was trying to tell me something that seemed very important but she couldn't find the words. "There has been a lot of talk.... People talk about you... They say..." and she would seem to be searching for the words. I was freaking out on the inside because I have found that this is how Korean start bad news. They are nice to you and then they get all serious and try to tell you something, always stopping to try and find the right words that won't offend.
I was quickly sorting through my mind what I could have done that was bad - I was picking apart my last week furiously trying to figure it out. By the time she came out with what she had to say I had convinced myself I had committed several fire-able offenses just in the last 6 hours and that I was going to be sent home.
"They say you are very smart." ... wait, what?
Apparently, they had all been talking about my transcripts from college and even though I was never impressed really with my grades in college, I got all A's and B's so I suppose that is pretty good. From what I have heard of Korean Universities, its no joke getting in but then its like a four year vacation. No one cares about the grades, its about the connections you make. Which reminds me a lot of Eckerd, actually. So, Rachel and I had a long talk about how smart and nice I was (good topic) and she said she wanted to be my friend so I should come an visit her at her desk more. I was really touched and pleased that she had sought me out, and not just cause she said I was smart.
Also, the effects of The Incident which I have mentioned in previous posts (where I cut off Mrs. Kim in the hallway) seem to have disappeared completely and she is back to giving me candy when no one else is around. This is a status quo I can live with.