Have a fabulous 2012


Gaga: Rest in Peace (b.2002 - d.2010)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

10 Years in Seoul: Looking Forward, Looking Back…

10 years ago, in May of 2002, I was super busy in packing my suitcases - nervously looking at heaps of stuff and puzzled what things to take along and what to leave on my move from Islamabad to Seoul. I had no idea what to expect and what awaits us as a family in Korea. Near end of a decade is almost here in a few days for me and yes, Korea has changed me forever that I could never have imagined.

The fact is that Korea was never on my radar of ‘to-visit-x-countries’ list but once I got here – Seoul has never ceased to amaze me. I had no idea, a decade ago, I would be witnessing the historic FIFA World Cup (of 2002) – Live or I would be celebrating Korea’s advance into the semi finals and the celebrations afterwards on the streets of Seoul or I would be doing my graduate and post graduate studies here or I would be changing my major to Korean Studies, or would be desperate to learn Korean language to at least survive Korea armed with the simple vocab such as: hello (Annyong Haseyo), how much? (Ul-ma-aeiyo?), how are you? (Chal jinay-say-yo), yes (Nay) , no (Anniyo), why (way), quickly/ hurry-up (Palli-pulli) etcetra. I didn't know any of the many people I now know in Seoul more than I have known in my hometown. My gut feeling on reaching Seoul was sort of “I’m lovin it”.

I really had no idea that the transformations will be so swift and will lead to the reverse cultural shock in my own country. Nobody can  prepare us to deal with this shock – to integrate back into the culture of your home country after living abroad. At times, this process seems much harder than assimilating into Korean culture or any foreign culture. That’s it.

Over the years, some of the Korean customs that have become my second nature include the extensive use of chopsticks for both eating and cooking. I think that they are better than forks/spoons and are quite handy.

To this I will add the ‘no-shoes-indoors’ policy which I endorse strongly. The norm in Korea is that you should take off your shoes and put on one of the many pairs of slippers stored by the door in the shoe cabinet available in every single house. There is an additional set of slippers for bathroom too. Now when I see somebody roaming around the house in their shoes that they wear outside – it’s quite disgusting.

Apart from shoe policy, one thing that I do extensively is bowing even while saying hello or Salam to people.

Living in Seoul was not just a physical journey for me – it is a cultural, spiritual, emotional and also an academic journey. Just have to say that no two people will ever have the same experiences or the exact same conclusions. It is something up close and personal but nevertheless, it gives all of us an opportunity to grow.

Jhumpa Lahiri said it so wisely that: "...Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination."