"I did not know the exact route myself, but steered by the lay of the land..."
Henry David Thoreau
The Korean peninsula is an ocean of undulating mountains, not usually majestic but, like the rest of life here, almost always curiously alluring. In Korea I am child-like and wide-eyed, naked to the possibilities, oblivious to matters of necessity.
I chuckle at the smallest things: how everyone suddenly sports an umbrella at the slightest sign of rain; the way people cup their wrists with their other hand as a sign of respect when giving or receiving items from each other; the ubiquitous, polite calls of “welcome” and “goodbye” heard when entering or leaving almost any establishment.
But I don’t know the exact route here myself. I am an outsider, a “wei-gook-saram,” a foreigner. I navigate by the lay of the land. When I am not lost in thought, I will greet every one I pass by with a genuine “hello” in Korean. There is an almost universal reciprocation that marks each moment in time for me.
On campus young women are usually busy laughing and exchanging gay banter. Embracing couples are now commonplace, where they were once a rarity. Almost everyone seems to be carrying English language books. There is a collective sigh of relief emanating from the students here who have finally made it to college. Most have spent nearly every waking moment of their childhood fixated on studying, getting good grades, cramming, honing some new skill, improving their mathematical prowess, learning a new language. They have survived that test.
I am an observer; a student of life here. The light, the smells, the sounds—they are my guideposts. They dot my landscape. I steer my way by the lay of this land.