You know you are back home when . . .Although my passport says “United States of America,” and I have spent almost all my life there, I felt as though I was moving farther from my home with each minute of my plane ride back to the United States.
Back in America after spending the last five months in Korea, my most extended stay on the peninsula since the first three years of my life, I am relieved to no longer have to deal with the chaotically crowded subways, drunken salarymen and annoying Korean dance music. But for each of the things I am thrilled I no longer have to deal with, I find myself missing something that made Korea feel special.
For the first time in my life, I find myself having to adjust to America, functioning exclusively in English and dealing with a body clock that is half a day behind time. I have had to purge myself of the uniquely Korean ways of doing things, starting from the very moment I stepped off the plane to take a big breath of clean, smog-free air.
Calling my friend to pick me up at the airport, I was shocked to realize how big my U.S.-made cell phone was. After using the small Korean “handphones,” where style and size are a premium, my American phone felt as awkward as the boxy “portable phones” of the early 1990s. There was also the weirdness of dialing a number that did not begin with “019,” “016,” “011” or “017.”
After a car ride that felt like the smoothest and most honk-free trip in my life, through what appeared as the widest car lanes and guided by the most helpful signs that I have ever seen, I made it home. Entering the house, I promptly removed my shoes and headed toward what was to be my room for the following year. Noting my friend’s shocked reaction, I suddenly realized what I was doing: I was walking barefoot through a fraternity house. Cursing myself, I slipped my shoes back on, making a mental note to destroy them later in a fire because they had come into contact with my contaminated feet.
After dropping my luggage in my room, several of us decided to head over to McDonald's in order to speed up my re-Americanization. With nothing but dollars in my wallet, I smiled as if I were flush with 10,000 won notes. I sidled up to the counter where I was thrown off by the surly attitude of the girl working there. Regaining my composure, I scanned the menu, then promptly turned to my friend to say, “Yo, Quence, where are the bulgogi burgers?” Yes, it is going to be a long summer.
by Steven Lee
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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