Not quite gone native

Although I've been mistaken for Korean a few times, it doesn't happen as often as it did in Vietnam. I think my short hair and backpack are a dead giveaway, as well as the fact that I'm often toting the Lonely Planet or else scribbling frantically in almost illegible English in my notebook.

Not looking local can trigger the most entertaining encounters, of course. Today, while I was working my way up a hiking trail at Woraksan National Park, I fell into the company of two men, both dressed to the hilt Korean-style for their hike: lightweight outdoor gear, backpacks, gloves and sweatbands. (Actually, the sweatbands are pretty anomalous for male Korean hikers.) After establishing that I was hiking solo, one of them gestured at my shoes and murmured with concern. I guess my new Lecaf sneakers --- pink! with flower details and a rainbow band --- weren't garang (Singlish, not Korean, for serious, hardcore) enough for him.

More surprising was when I was cornered by two well-dressed young women at the bus terminal. One of them did all the talking: First she established that I was foreign and English-speaking, then she gave me something "to read", about how to deal with life (that triggered my Spidey sense, of course). Then she asked if I knew God (aha!). I said yes, and she asked if I knew the name of God. I was stumped till she prompted, "Jehovah." To which I said, "Oh, you're Jehovah's Witnesses." If she was surprised that I'd heard of it, she covered it smoothly by asking for my telephone number "so that we can talk more about this." Which was my cue to murmur something about leaving town the next day (truly, I am!) and booking it out of there.

Of all the experiences I imagined having in Korea, being solicited by Jehovah's Witnesses was not one of them.

A final note about the pink Lecaf shoes: yesterday an ajumma on the bus complimented me on them and asked me how much they cost. She was impressed that they were only about 20,000 won (a little more than S$20). I couldn't decide if I was happy my new shoes had caught her eye --- or if I ought to be worried about my fashion sense. To quote an American teacher I met a few towns ago, "Have you noticed how Korean women hit 50 and then they all get a perm and a pink jacket?"

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At 5/23/2009 6:16 pm , Blogger naixuhs said...

Yeah, those JW always seem to travel in pairs and target singles i.e. solo travellers, seniors at home along...you get the idea.

At 5/24/2009 9:42 pm , Anonymous G-Man said...

New Lecaf shoes? Your practical souvenir from this trip? Korean sportswear and all that. Or this just a pragmatic acquisition cause you walked out the old pair with all that hill climbing and caveing?

At 5/25/2009 9:57 am , Blogger Tym said...

naixuhs > I'm just lucky I really did leave town the next day, so no chance of running into them again!

G-Man > It'll make a pretty souvenir if it survives all this hiking, but no, it was a practical buy. Both pairs of shoes that I brought on this trip have given up the ghost.


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