Yesterday afternoon I went to my health club to spend some time in the sauna, ride the stationary bike, and chat with some of the other members. Overall, I admit disappointment in trying to make friends casually with Koreans. Unless you are formally introduced to a Korean, or already a family member via marriage or birthright, it is very difficult, almost impossible, to make friends casually on your own initiative. Members outside the family who aren’t already friends are ignored for the most part, and foreigners are generally viewed as non-persons. There are exceptions, but the friendliness learned by me coming from a small town in Southern Illinois, or what we in America call southern hospitality, is completely lacking in Koreans as I see it and hardly ever responded to in any meaningful way in casual meetings, and when it is, it is very superficial for the most part. Like any thing in life there are exceptions to this generality; and if one is generally friendly, eventually the ice can be broken. This situation is a difficult one for me, and in no way do I intend to criticize the people of Korea, or to imply an imperfection peculiar to them alone.
I returned home a little down and talking to myself about feelings of loneliness and isolation. Before going home I stopped off at a local grocery store close to home to pick up a few items to ameliorate my disappointment in my failure to make a friend. After purchasing my items I walked out of the store, made a right onto the sidewalk and immediately came face-to-face with my sister-in-law, Won-suk. What a pleasant surprise for a dejected American in Korea. My face lit up and and I felt an immediate smile spread upon my face and lips as I recognized a family member and a friendly face. After spontaneous salutations, she took my hand and led me back into the store and bought me several snack items. I like potato chips, especially Lay potato chips in a can, but in Korea they do not sell those, but they do have Pringles, so she bought me two cans, one regular and the other one sour cream and onion. To help wash down the potato chips she bought a large jug of lemon-lime soda. Pringles aren’t as good as they once were when they first came out, but they’re not bad. Pringles are more expensive here than in the US so I usually don’t buy them for myself. After purchasing a few other item, we went to the check-out counter and paid for the groceries. Upon leaving the store I forgot about feeling lonely and isolated as we walked the short distance to our apartment.
My wife, Won-kum, greeted us warmly as we opened the door to our small apartment in a new four- store apartment dwelling in an area of several newly constructed four and five-store apartment buildings. My brother in law, Mr. Lee, arrived later in the evening. We spent some time in visitation and exchanging pleasantries before our supper. Later, the sisters prepared a delicious Korean meal of rice, bulgogi (broiled beef), kuk (soup), a variety of kimchi (a seasoned pickled vegetable), and served a traditional drink of spirits (Soju). For desert my wife peeled a couple of apples, sliced them, and placed them upon a plate for our dessert. For entertainment we all watched a Korean drama series on SBS TV. During the soap opera us men made many negative comments and asked many questions. It wasn’t long before the women hollered at us to be quiet. We obeyed for a while and slowly but surely fell back into our old habit of almost ruining the show for the women. They were able to regain control of their husbands and watched the rest of the show without the clamor earlier portrayed, but they never regained complete control of us, I am happy to say. Overall, the visit was a success for all involved, and today my of loneliness and isolation has been greatly diminished by my in-laws who came unannounced to our home. As everyone knows in Korea, that is the way of the Korean experience and now I know. RDH