I was writing a letter to a friend today (snail mail, anyone? Heard of it?) talking about how even when you live in foreign countries, there are times when it doesn’t feel foreign at all. And then there are times when your “immigrant” status hits you right in your face when you’re crossing the street. Oh wait, that was a guy on a bike. But you get my point.
Today something like that happened, but in a positive way. There I was, wandering around a Seoul neighborhood, with only a vague idea of how to get back to the subway station, searching for a “mart” (aka grocery store) that was bigger than the dinky one in my neighborhood. As I walked, reading the signs that were in Korean like I knew any Korean at all, I enjoyed the nice Spring morning, the weird spindly trees, and noted the location of the numerous parks and libraries and cafes I passed. I had walked up and down three of the four cross-streets near the subway station when I finally found a big ole Mart. I stepped inside, grabbing bananas and hot sauce! and tortillas! and wandered around in the refrigerated section. I was doing some more eye-skimming of Korean words: colorful bags of something that looked like potato chips, crazy-large bottom-feeder fish that were in giants tanks in the seafood area, some tiny bottles of Yakult.
While this gazing and wandering was happening, a song came on the radio and for some reason it caught my attention. The beginning was only melody, no lyrics, and my face crumpled in confusion. How did I know this song? I’m not yet versed in any K-pop, I don’t listen to the radio. I know approximately zero Korean songs. And then…
Paolo Nutini started singing to me in the middle of the snack aisle. In English! My head whipped back in silent laughter. I was just listening to this song, talking about this song to my friends! Good old Paolo. It was a beautiful moment; I could have cried it was so beautiful. But I didn’t. In that moment, there in that strange store in a strange neighborhood in a new country, I didn’t feel so far away from anything, I didn’t feel so foreign. And I may have danced a little after that, still wandering around my new favorite Mart, singing with Paolo and pondering buying a weekly supply of seaweed.