Saturday, April 4, 2009 — Nine months ago my family moved from central Japan to south Korea — the Republic of Korea, actually. When I told friends and family of our plans, the reaction they had was about the same as mine, “Why??” “Why would you want to go there?” “Japan is so much cooler than Korea?” I couldn’t disagree since I knew next to nothing about Korea. In fact, when I’d taken a 3 day trip there last year, I told my husband something like, “I never want to live there.” Of course, since then, I’ve removed the words “I never” from my vocabulary. It seems every time I make that bold statement I end up being faced with the prospect of whatever it is. Many years ago I had told my husband I never intended to live in Asia, I never would move to Japan, and so Korea was just another thing on my “I never” list that I would end up doing eventually.
The truth is that I loved living in Japan. It was something that was never on my list of places I cared to visit, but after looking into it and then finally moving there and living there for 2+ years, it became one of the most awesome experiences of my entire life. I fell in love with Japan and everything about it. I fell in love with a lifestyle of daily wonders and new experiences. Japanese culture was so, so very different from anything I had ever experienced, and I reveled in the daily wonderment of bowing in your car, vending machines in the middle of remote rice fields, fabulous annual festivals, women wearing kimonos as they ran to catch a train, cute cartoons on every sign, and so much more. If I could be so ignorant of a place and then grow to admire it so that it will forever hold a treasured spot in my heart, then couldn’t this happen somewhere else as well? Could it be that I would feel this way about Korea if only I had the chance to experience its daily wonders? (I’ll jump ahead and tell you, this hasn’t happened yet, but I’m still hopeful!)
It was with this mindset that I came to live in Korea. Surely there would be as many wonderful things to discover in this country that I knew so little about. As an American who’d never left my own continent, I’d had a vision of Japan as this far away mystery. I knew a little about its economy. I knew that I had some Japanese electronics in my house. I knew a little about Japanese animations. I knew the song “Domo Arrigato, Mr. Roboto.” That was about it.
When it came to Korea, I knew less than that. I knew that Seoul was its capital. Beyond the name, I couldn’t have told you thing-one about the country or the people. This later would shock me because, after moving here, I would discover brand names that had been a part of my daily life in America — names like Samsung, LG, Hundai, Kia, Daewoo. My new washer and dryer was an LG. A few of our electronics were Samsung or Daewoo. My friend drove a Hundai. These were Korean??? I’ll be truthful and tell you that I was more than a little shocked to learn this. Like I said, Korea was just not on my radar. I’m not even sure where I thought these brand names came from, but I never stopped to think about it. They just came from “somewhere else.” That’s all that really registered in my consciousness at the time.
Upon arriving in Korea, we were inundated with these brand names on every corner. You absolutely could not escape them and it was shockingly clear how important these brands were to the Korean people. Each one carries its own level of importance and quality – Samsung seemingly being at or near the top. Each one endorses apartment buildings, shopping centers, cell phones, appliances and anything else they can. My apartment building is the Samsung River Suites. It’s one of hundreds of other Samsung apartment complexes all over the country. Down the street I can see the LG Towers, again, it’s one among many. I have often wondered how I could have been so clueless about the fact that these brands are Korean, especially when in Korea, they are so ubiquitous. Of course, my husband knew all along that these were Korean, but then he does tend to pay more attention to things than I do sometimes.
So, there you have it, Korea was not so foreign a place after all ( in many more ways that I will tell you about soon.) In fact, I’d been enjoying the fruits of labor from Korean minds and industry for many years. It makes me feel right at home living in my Samsung apartments, using my LG cell phone, and driving through Seoul directed by my Daewoo navigation system. Korea and I were already acquainted, now we just had to try to become good friends. Thanks, Korea!