Last night I took the subway to Daegu, from the city of Gyeongsan, where I live and work. Daegu is the province's most populated municipality by far. It had been some 24 years since I last walked the streets of this city.
For the students in my classes who claimed their hobby is "shopping," Daegu must be a fragrant flower indeed. The pedestrian-only streets are vibrant with Koreans young and old-- but mostly young. There is a pulse powered by lights and sounds. One hears the giggling of middle and high schoolers, the muted tones of lovers pressed together closely. There is no end to the stream of humanity, the glare of retailing, the shear energy of late afternoon gaining momentum as evening unfurls itself.
I notice two young men holding hands. My mind immediately flashes back to these same streets when I was in my 20's; my Korean friend grabbing my hand and embracing it tightly. I was overwhelmed, embarrassed. My heart starting racing uncontrollably. My world of openness and cross-cultural sensitivity was trumped by my homophobia and still inchoate self-esteem. The totality of my awareness was focused on our hands, fueled by my fears.
Of course, this embrace was a statement of my friend's brotherly feelings for me. On the one hand, he was simply being Korean. On the other, we were both trespassing each other's cultural spaces. I was way out of my comfort zone and thus, had much to learn and reflect on. I still carry the lesson today as I walk the streets of Korea.
As the night wanes and I meander my way back to my apartment, I feel a deep sense of belonging. I am reminded why I love traveling and reaching, for those brass rings of humility--when I am able.