All my bafflement at Korea, summed up in one short anecdote.

This, right here, is really all I need to say to explain to you the general state of bewilderment I’ve been living in since I moved here in 2009.

So, I go into a shop for a bottle of water. I have been walking briskly around for over an hour (having gotten completely, hopelessly lost in my own neighbourhood, which is a very embarrassing tale for a separate post) in the warmth of this pleasant afternoon in springtime.

The sun is shining brightly. My face is bright red; I may even have a touch of sunburn. I’m carrying my light jacket, having taken it off a long time ago. I’m fanning myself. I literally have beads of sweat running down my forehead. Now, this is important. I am clearly, visibly, obviously overheated. I swear to you, if you saw me, you’d remark to your companions, “Goodness! That girl looks awfully warm, doesn’t she?!”. If I were a laptop, I’d be making that whirring noise that happens when it’s been on too long and is trying to cool down.

The two women behind the counter look stricken, and say a lot of shocked-sounding things to each other before one of them can’t contain herself any longer and asks me in a genuinely disbelieving and horrified tone…

(wait for it)

(seriously, this actually happened)

(are you ready?)

… “Aren’t you cold?!”

With the exception of someone actually sitting in a sauna, sweating from every pore in their body, nobody could possibly look less cold than I do at this moment.

I am beyond trying to hide my utter stupefaction in this country any more. I just look at her in total disbelief and give the only response I know how to in Korean. “I’m hot!” I tell her in the way that one might speak to a particularly slow learner in the classroom, wiping some perspiration from my forehead for added emphasis.

Korea, you have been wonderful to me in so many ways, but I will never, ever understand you. The majority of the time, I feel like I’m living in some weird Douglas Adams style alternative version of reality, where absolutely nothing makes any sense whatsoever.

In one of my first Korea blog posts, I wrote in frustration: “I don’t get it. I. Do. Not. Get. It.”. A fellow expat in Asia commented: “Welcome to Asia. “I do not get it” will become your catch-phrase.”

How right she was!

*For further commentary on this inexplicable “aren’t you cold?!” phenomenon, please refer to this post from last year.


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