A lot of people out here say it can be difficult to get behind the veil of Korean culture–if you’re not “우리” (pronunced “oo-ri”, meaning us/our) then in general you just don’t get to see behind the public facade.
I’ve met a few Korean people (and quite a few non-Korean people) who have been pretty conservative, or who haven’t let their guards down.
But I’ve also met some mind-blowingly cool, honest, down-to-earth Korean women and this post is about two of them.
I didn’t really have an easy time of working in Korea my first year here, but there are two women who made my experience downright bearable. One is Mrs. L, the school nurse at my high school. There were days when I would walk into school nearly in tears from the anger/frustration/depression of being isolated (the only foreigner; the only non-Korean speaker; boss/person I share an office with generally refusing to acknowledge my presence) at that school. “Literally no one in this school cares about me,” I would think. I would hear teachers talking and laughing in the other rooms and see them sharing treats, and I would sit in my office cold and alone (I’m thinking about winter here because Christmastime abroad is particularly lonely).
But over the course of that year, Mrs. L and I developed a true friendship. She is about 40 or 45, and she married young, but she is a free spirit at heart and quite honest. During the course of our year-long teacher class, we talked about beauty, health, plastic surgery, women’s rights, bullying, and a range of other topics, and she always surprised me with her candor and thoughtfulness.
More than that, though, it was to her that I would turn when I dragged myself into the office feeling like shit. In Korea, you don’t call out, so I would come to school feeling terrible and longing for my home country, where people would rather you come home than bring your cold to the office.
I would go into her office and she’d comfort me, give me medicine, and let me lay in one of the clinic beds. It meant the world to me to be taken care of–to be shown care toward.
And it was her who, once my contract was over, organized a goodbye luncheon for a few cool beyotches (my word) where they told me that they didn’t like my boss either; that she is a strange sort and quite difficult to work with–I was blown away first by being assured that I’m not crazy and second by the level of trust we established for a Korean to somewhat-badmouth another Korean to a foreigner.
The other cool-ass Korean woman I want to tell you all about is my belly-dancing teacher, Ms. K.
I want to ask her about herself; how did she end up having a career in bellydancing? And she’s really good–she can shimmy, wiggle, drop, bounce, and sway with the best of them. Plus, her splits are to die for. I find this fascinating, but we have a serious language barrier we’re slowly bringing down (we’re about the same level in each others’ respective languages–which is more than we’d originally assumed, because it’s easy to be more than none, but we still can’t have in-depth conversations).
Although we can’t really talk about anything, she cemented herself in my mind as a cool-ass woman today when I showed up to class with a bandage under my ribs from a new tattoo. I thought she would kind of freak–tattoos are pretty rare/frowned upon here. But duh. She’s a bellydance teacher. Of course she’d be more liberal right?
She asked me if I was hurt and I told her it was from a tattoo, and she just told me she wanted to get a tattoo on the back of her shoulder. Then she asked me if I would be OK for dancing, and we got the hell on with things.
So cool, and I really think that over time we will end up being friends, even if we can’t talk to each other much.
Anyway that’s it–I just wanted to update about these two women who were on my mind.