As someone who has only experienced Asian culture through Chinese takeaway and the friendships I shared with the few Filipino and Chinese friends I had growing up, it wasn’t until I attend Macalester that I could only begin to understand the Asian diaspora community. My friendship with Rachel has afforded us multiple opportunities to share our heritage with each other, no longer giving us the excuse that we were unaware of the challenges and stereotypes the other minority faced. Macalester brands itself as an international institution, bringing students from all over the world, so this sort of exchange was probably expected- but it wasn’t for my family in the beginning. Recently, my parents commented on my increased interest in Asian culture ever since I left for college and are dumbfounded as to why. I am not. It’s pretty simple really, it isn’t until you left your home when you can truly begin to realize where you’re from and who you are, or at least that how it was for me. And I believe this connection brought me closer to understanding my parent’s and Rachel’s plight when they emigrated from their respective countries to the US.
Visiting Hong Kong and South Korea made me realize how lonely, overwhelming, and fascinating it can be to be immersed in a completely new environment, surrounded by new faces, food, language, music and so much more. Yes, Koreans do really take care of their skin and hang out with others a lot and in HK there are a lot of people everywhere. While I was blown away from the efficient transportation systems and the variety of cuisines, others were blown away by my use of chopsticks and actually knowing a bit more about the culture than what they viewed me to (credits to Rachel).
Here are some questions that Rachel wanted me to answer for this blog post:
I have three favorite memories: the Highlight concert, celebrating our 21st birthday, and the museums. Now, the Highlight concert occurred when my jet lag was at its peak, so to others, it may have looked like I was having a miserable time. Yet, the entire affair was so exciting, and due to my body needing to give energy to the most vital organs, I can only take in everything through my eyes rather than me yelling and screaming like the other fans. From walking around the former Olympic village, seeing the fan tributes, buying the light stick and imagining how they coordinate all the lights to the beat, to them actually signing, it was such an incredible memory I will cherish. The only downside is the fact that I know next to nothing about the language, so there was a very big language barrier.
One of the things we did end up doing in Busan was meeting up with Rachel’s friend, Ahyun. Rachel first met her at a weeklong summer camp in UGA almost four years ago. Since we were planning on just relaxing in our Airbnb that night and ordering in takeout, she brought us an assorted cake from Paris Baguette. Why did she bring cake? Uhh, it may have to do with the fact that I kept seeing couples everywhere holding cakes to bring home for Christmas and thus me really wanting a cake. Either way, the cake came with a candle and not letting the opportunity go to waste, we sang “Happy Birthday” in honor of everyone (about to be) turning 21 since in Korea you add an extra year to your age. Then, Rachel and Ahyun sang it in Korean on my behalf since I was the next person in our group to actually be turning 21 (May 3). That cake lasted our entire time in Busan and wow was it yummy.
Lunch at Imun Seollongtang, the oldest restaurant in Seoul, where after spending an hour outside (with just enough time for Rachel to get sick for the next three weeks), it was so nice to get a warm bowl of soup. The tea was warm and the kimchi and radish were so delicious. I’m still drooling at the thought of it. Also, the fried chicken from the restaurant downstairs of our Airbnb in Busan was pretty good too.
Couples. Everywhere. Rachel did warn me (check out her reaction here), but I was so unprepared for this. After leaving Korea, I can honestly say that couple culture is such a huge thing there, and I was not crazy for feeling so alone. I’m still not sure the reasoning behind the “in your face, hey we are dating and watch us with our super cute (gross) PDA,” but it was a bit welcoming when I left that type of environment. As someone who does not have a significant other (or any prospects of it happening in the near future), it was just a lot. All day. Every day.
Literally go to the convenience store at least once a day. I loved the convenience store and greatly miss it every day. 🙁
One thing you’d want to do next visit?
Go to a cat cafe. We didn’t get the chance to go and while I wish we would have gone, it now gives me the excuse to go back.
When can we go back?
Anywhere that was a bit more reclusive (aka away from the masses). At this point of the trip, my body was pretty much exhausted of constantly being alert and the time difference was still making me feel wonky. Any place that kind of allowed me to just gaze around, sit, and relax were treasured. This included the Central Pier, Ma On Shan, and Kowloon Park. For example, while visiting Rachel’s childhood’s neighborhood, we stumbled upon the promenade next to the Tolo Harbor and just walked for a couple of hours [1.5 hours] in mostly silence. At one point, we just sat near a rose park and just kind of took a moment to think and journal. I love these moments anywhere I am in the world since I recall it with an emotional connect. [weird phrasing, I know]
Dim Sum and Australia Dairy Co. It is honestly so relaxing to just hang out with people, sharing over various plates of dim sum like pork buns (叉燒包), and that sweet ball thing (煎堆? I’m not sure -Rachel), and the rice paper in soy sauce thing (腸粉), and other stuff which I don’t know the names of… Rachel also took me to Australia Dairy Co to try 雙皮燉奶(double-layer milk pudding). I was honestly surprised that I liked it so much. It was as if I was happy clouds and wished we could have gone here for breakfast so I would have finished my drink (I couldn’t finish it). 🙁
One thing you’d recommend to others to do
One thing you’d want to do next visit?
So can come with you to HK next time?
I must also comment on my own personal reflections to my observations, since wherever you may be, you still have to account for your emotions and thoughts. I think about the moments of guilt of not being able to communicate with the locals even though it is not expected of me to know Korean or Cantonese. I was eager to jolly on down the market talking animatedly to vendors and those around me.
Instead, I found myself observing, noting what was similar to my country and how others interacted with each other. I think it was during one of the many meals in HK where everyone seemed to talking in a foreign language that I realized that while the US and Korea or HK are very distinct, as an individual or more so an immigrant, we are not so different at all. At one point, I started to tear up thinking about my parents first few weeks in the US, going to a restaurant, not understanding what was happening but having each other to support one another. This moment of loneliness that I was experiencing during my meal, what my parents went through, and what many other immigrants are experiencing all over the world humbled me in furthering my understanding of the ongoing journey immigrants face.
I am the daughter of immigrants and one day aspire to live somewhere new, becoming an immigrant myself. I’ve said this statement countless of times throughout my life, but at 20 years old, I’m only beginning to understand the full weight of it. It took a trip halfway across the world, being outside of my norms and community, but it is one that I appreciate more and more ever since coming back. My parents have asked me if I ever want to move South Korea or HK, and while I can’t imagine living here for a long period of time, I would definitely come visit again.