Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Koreans like talking to me and I like talking to them, especially if they're middle-aged men who conduct conversations through a variety of throat-clearing sounds. I get all sorts of questions. The first one, however, is always the same: "Where are you from?" Sometimes some of the sharper people like to guess where I come from. It's not easy, I guess. I've heard it all though: Indonesia, Philippines, Bangladesh, America, New Zealand (yes, I just scream New Zealand), India, Turkey and, once each, even Pakistan and Canada.

Others, mostly middle and high school students, just assume that I come from Canada or America. When they do this, they wave hello at me. Or yell it from 50 feet away. Or yell it while running out of a restaurant, giggling. Yesterday, on the subway, four kids around 12-15 were sitting across from me. The three girls nominated the boy to come and talk to me. I pretended not to see this.

"Where are you from?"
"I'm from Canada.

He turned around to the others and said "Canada". They giggled. He turned around and stared at me. I stared right back. He gave me a thumbs up and said "good".

When I run a race, people feel more entitled to talk to me. Over 21 kilometres yesterday, I had many people on the course mutter or yell their hellos. I also had a guy yell, at the top of his lungs from the distance, "WAEGUKIN! WAEGUKIN!" Then he decided that maybe I didn't understand Korean, so he switched to yelling in English. "FOREIGNER! FOREIGNER! GO! GO! FOREIGNER!" Others weren't as kind and decided to treat me as a museum oddity. One guy said "hello". Then "good". Then "I love you!", and "will you marry me?" A girl at the 17 km water station pulled out her camera and stood in my way so that I'd slow down, allowing her to get a picture of the time she saw a foreigner running.

Other times, people just stare. I had a guy stare at me for ten minutes yesterday before proceeding to lecture me about the four distinct seasons of Korea. I'm sure it's not easy talking to a foreigner, but I urge you to try. The next time you see a person that you think might not be from your country, say "ni hao".

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