March 12, Introspection II

En route to the gym, I ran into two of my grade four boys, Lotteria soda cups in hand. They recognized me even with a face mask and said “oh! Hello”.

“뭐야? 복싱 해요? 지금?” What’s that? You’re boxing? Now?

“네 네” Yes.

“보고 싶다.” I miss you, I told them, much to their confusion. I’ve been alone too long!

“열심히 복싱 해요!” Have a good boxing workout! I said, and I think with weird word order but eh, gets the point across.

“운동 열심히 하세요.” Have a good workout, they replied. I heard them exclaiming about our chance meeting as they headed upstairs to boxing and I down to the basement gym. It reminds me of the time clever girl and I walked together several blocks and chatted as she was on her way home. I like these little neighborly bonding encounters.

However. It wasn’t enough to stop a strange but familiar feeling creep in: the regularly scheduled foreigner funk.

There are realities about myself from which today I couldn’t escape and lead to a fairly routine “take a slow, sad walk, and also don’t cry because your mascara isn’t waterproof and you don’t need to be scaring anyone”.

There are ways I want to be better, be stronger, be an island unto myself, but I’m not quite there.

I’ll just say this: if you have a foreign friend who’s new to your country and alone, go give them a hug.

I thought of what the office staff said when we coincidentally met at the pacheon restaurant: “You’re eating? Alone??”

I still can’t wrap my head around it. You would think that people would be aware that new contract immigrants may have a hard time when they first move here but instead the perception is that we party every night with each other. It’s another way my perceived foreignness misfires.

After the gym I wandered the school neighborhood. It hits differently at night.

The convenience store where I spent most winter holiday lunches.

In my pitiable meandering there was something else about the city I’ve come to realize: I can never be alone. And I don’t mean quarantined in my apartment.

Is this how parents feel?

But even at the park at the base of the mountain there was an elderly hiking couple observing me suspiciously, a dog mom doing squats, and middle school boys that may or may not have been mine exercising on the equipment. I really ached for the little city where our teacher training initially took place.

I felt like a long shadow on a longer night.

And I suppose be careful what you wish for— at the subway station an elderly gent sat next to me then turned 180 to stare. I turned to stare back but our train pulled in and he hopped up.

He didn’t invite me to any family dinners, though.

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