Our plane set down into a wintry Seoul that presented a cold, barren and dusty landscape. A military veil enshrouded everything. The motif was camouflage green and brown adorned by a plethora of vigilant soldiers and drizzled on all the vehicles.
In an exhausted state we were whisked away by chartered bus and arrived five hours later in Daegu, Korea's fourth largest city. We found ourselves alighting in front of a isolated hotel nestled on a sparsely forested hillside just above a lake. It was to be our home, our school, our cocoon for several weeks as our Korean assimilation process began. We were fifty young volunteers that November of 1973 each trying to find our personal equilibrium within this most unfamiliar, yet intriguing, place.
A week later the faculty gave us an early cross-cultural assignment. In small groups we were to take our first public bus ride into Daegu, paying careful attention to route numbers and practicing our rudimentary Korean.
As I boarded the bus and caught the incredulous stares of the locals, an intense aroma struck me with an almost suffocating effect. I had no frame of reference for recognizing it. It draped itself over me in layers at once garlicky, salty, peppery. Yikes! If this is how Korean buses smelled, I thought, I was not going to make it here. Indeed, this was the texture of our Korean bus rides: wide-eyed denizens wondering what foreigners were doing there mixed with the odor of kimchee oozing its way in and out of the pores of Korean life.
A week later I was riding the same bus. Amazingly, the smell had disappeared. The first phase of my assimilation had been completed. I now smelled like a Korean.