I have been here one month already and the time is flying by. I am just beginning to feel as if I get the hang of things, and be effective in my observations, and yet already I am prepping my final report out of necessity. Life speeds by anyway, and I find myself frustrated at not having enough time to stop and observe in the ways that I prefer. My natural instinct gets lost amidst watching, listening, processing, piecing together, and analyzing. My brain works nearly constantly, and I find myself tired, yet knowing there is always more to do, and knowing if I fall behind it will be nearly impossible to catch up.
Simple things remain a stable theme, as I analyze the most mundane tasks and interactions, which have been met with slight irritation at my “slowness”. I find the commonplace taken-for-granted actions and behaviors can illustrate culture in a variety of ways, but many people don’t consider these mundane aspects important enough to devote time toward. It is a difficult road to walk, knowing I want to fully analyze the environment in the way I specialize, but also conforming so as not to offend and “stand out”. I am rarely alone, and the constant level of being with someone is offsetting at times. I am very social by nature, but also have a tendency to need alone time, so when writing or processing I have a tendency to ‘hole up’ alone and had not anticipated the level of social cohesiveness. The first two weeks I was on my own and explored and roamed in surroundings to my heart’s content, returning to an empty space. Now, I am honored to be able to live with two amazingly wonderful women who endure my never-ending quest to learn the language, and I wake to laughter most days.
I find myself wondering about other anthropologists’ methods of field work, and yet know each research develops their own method that works; it’s a uniquely individual process even if the bases are consistently the same.
I find myself tripping over the same difficulties: time differences, social media management, email, and language barriers. Some others that have arisen have taken me by surprise as well. My panache for coffee has been a topic of joviality, as well as “concern” over my health. I have been accustomed to having coffee and only eating one meal a day prior to arrival – this has changed however. It has been clearly stated that I am meant to eat, throughout the day at meals, and my eating habits have been watched. This aspect of individualism is difficult for me to surrender, to be honest. In the U.S. eating habits are considered a ‘semi-private’ issue, and not up for in depth discussion, but I have found that very different here. Hence, I am “learning to eat”. The multiple meal schedule is more difficult than any “foreign” food choice that I am offered.
There is a boardwalk near the residence, and I enjoy walking it, taking in the sunset when I can. The other day my roommate and I caught dinner at one of the local food trucks, and watched the sunset over the Yellow Sea – talk about a bucket list item! I find it hard not to lose myself in the moment still, and try to be “on” all the time, as wearying as it is I know my time is short.
I have been getting questions, and want to use the space to address some:
Is it like the Kdramas you’ve seen?
Yes, and no. It’s real life and so I find it better – I am not one that is taken with Hollywood, or the false sense of reality so it makes it better for me to be able to see real life people and activities that aren’t scripted and constructed to illustrate certain aspects. Some things are the same, such as: there are chopsticks everywhere, there are many food carts, the delivery drivers zoom all over the city so you do have to watch out for them, soju is very popular. However, just like American productions it varies – most Americans don’t all drive Corvettes, live in multi-million dollar houses, and aren’t CEOs.
Have you seen people giving piggy-back rides?
Yes, once. While we were at dinner the other night I saw a young couple on the street, and the guy was carrying the girl. However, I suspect it had to do more with “love culture” than “South Korean culture” – if you know what I mean. *wink*
What’s the strangest thing you’ve eaten?
Silkworms. They are surprising in taste and I wasn’t sure I would be able to get them down, but at the urging of my roommate I tried them. They have an earthy-plus-nutty flavor and are slightly crunchy on the outside. I also find sashimi very good, and one of my favorite foods is seaweed.
Have you been hit on?
Yes, several times. This question makes me laugh, but also a valid question and an interesting “process” to share. Native men have a certain way of approaching and “courting” – I have attributed this to the differences in matriarchy versus patriarchy and the adherences to norms in cultures and subcultures. At one point several years back I’d proposed studying the differences between American non-Native dating styles versus Native. When dating non-Native American men it is always an ‘interesting’ courting process to figure out, and then add in a second and third culture it is a somewhat confusing process. The first time occurred coming over was on the plane and I felt confused and unsure of the ‘tone’ of the interaction (apparently I have a unique look that is intriguing, and not thought of as classic “American”- I’ve heard multiple comments about not having blonde hair). As variations occur, you can sometimes ‘feel’ when someone is interested, but sometimes not. Likewise, while I am not opposed to having dinner or coffee with someone on a personal level during my stay, I am here for work, so I am highly focused on other aspects rather than courting procedures.
Where’s the best place you’ve been?
Mokpo. I really REALLY enjoy this city and the university that I am aligned with for the duration of this time. The science is good, the city is really enjoyable to explore, and I am surrounded by/in wonder. There are fantastic sights and the people have been kind and wonderful. And, I get to live by the sea. Cheongsando Island would come in a close second – it was interesting geographically, the people were fantastic and had a very similar feel to tribal communities. However, I would like to visit more places and have not travelled extensively in the country yet.
What do you miss most about the US?
My family and friends, my People, and my cat.