Cultural Souvenirs

As we’ve just finished a delicious home cooked Korean meal & are getting ready to watch a new (for us) Korean drama, i thought it was good timing to post this writing from a few days ago.

I spent part of last weekend in a parish called Agangrial. There you’ll find three Korean Catholic priests and a few other lay volunteers. For those of you who don’t know, 1) Koreans rarely live abroad without securing a reliable supply of kimchi and other culinary accoutrements, and 2) this is something i really love about Koreans.

This is one of our favourite parishes to visit for reason #1 (Heather was sad that she couldn’t join me, but i made up for that by bringing her about three kilos of kimchi from the priests). We enjoy being able to talk with them with the tiny fragments of Korean we have retained, share our love of their spicy, pungent food, and laugh about the idiosyncrasies of a country so technologically advanced yet so steeped in history & tradition.

As we drove back to Rumbek with Father John of God and a journalist for a Catholic weekly in Korea, listening to Korean pop music that still sounded somehow familiar despite an almost three year absence from our home in Seoul, i started to ponder: What will i take from South Sudan as a cultural souvenir? I feel like Korea influenced my life a fair amount, sometimes in small, almost imperceptible ways. Food preferences, how i wash dishes, even some of the music i enjoy, all have changed as a result of that small, strange, wonderful country. We’ve kept in touch with friends we made during those two years, some even coming to Canada to visit or live permanently. As such, i think of Korea often.

Though these sorts of questions are more easily answered in retrospect, i can’t help but think about them already, a little less than one year from the end of our term. Will i continue to wave in a parade-like fashion when i drive somewhere? Will i be confused when pedestrians don’t wave enthusiastically in reply, as though they know me? How strong will the urge be to shake the hand of every single person in a room upon entering it? Will i still use all the hand signals i use now? Will people understand when i say So&So was “annoyed properly”? What about when i use the Emphatic Finger Snap? If someone asks if my day was okay and i reply with, “Somehow.” will i realize that they probably don’t have a clue what that’s supposed to mean? Will i still employ jumping and stomping as acceptable forms of dancing?

Again, i’m sure i’ll be able to answer this better in about a year and a half, when we have settled into some kind of routine/life in Canada. It will be then that we’ll be able to sit down and unpack our cultural souvenirs from this hot, dry, dusty, wonderful country.


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