Chronicles of Reverse Culture Shock: Politeness (A Return to Finishing School)

The sea

Bowin’ time.

“Well, when I lived in Asia…” begin so many of my sentences these days. Moving away is hard, and as it turns out, so is moving back. Chronicles of Reverse Culture Shock is a series devoted to these difficulties, and is also an outlet so that I don’t become That Guy Who Won’t Shut Up About Korea to all of his friends.

I still bow a lot.

It’s not over the top: I’m not grovelling or stooping from the waist. I don’t throw myself to the floor and press my forehead deep into the ground to show my deference. But when I meet someone, when someone I know walks into a room, in occasions where I am expected to show respect, I naturally incline. My head dips. I close my eyes obsequiously, I smile, and I bow, because how else are you supposed to greet people? It’s unconscious—my body simply produces the reflex towards a certain stimulus, a flower orienting towards sunlight, a base-level amoebic response generated by hundreds and thousand of previous interactions.

Oh, I also hand money and objects to others using both hands, or sometimes while holding my elbow. I try not to make too much eye contact with others. I shake another’s hand with both of mine. I try not to start eating until the eldest person around has begun, and then I try to pace myself carefully. I act like someone who just got back from Korea and really liked the whole place a little too much.

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My Dumb, Desperate Life: The Price is Right

If contestants were chosen for t-shirt cleverness, we would have been shoe-ins.

If contestants were chosen for t-shirt cleverness, we would have been shoe-ins.

I present to you, gentle readers, a timeline exploring how my life in between teaching jobs has become kind of a cartoon without me noticing.

10:24 a.m. I arrive at the Sony Centre with my cousin Zack, and meet several friends already in line. We have tickets to the Price is Right, and have heard that you have to show up disturbingly early in order to secure your position in the draw to be a contestant. We are in line between two elderly people in wheelchairs, and four young people conversing suspiciously in Czech.

10:43 a.m. It is fairly cold outside, and we send off members of the group for the first of several coffee runs of the day. Hannan was brought several camping chairs and we begin huddling together with them.

11:02 a.m. We have discussed it in line, but several people were not previously aware that this is The Price is Right Live. Drew Carrey is not present, nor are any of the remaining Barker’s Beauties, and no matter how memorable we act when we are called down for contestantship, we will never be immortalized in daytime television history. Deep disappointment washes through the line-up, which has ballooned to 17 people.

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Chronicles of Reverse Culture Shock: Restaurants (My Kingdom for a Bing-Bong)

Bask

Time for Korean food by the bucket.

“Well, when I lived in Asia…” begin so many of my sentences these days. Moving away is hard, and as it turns out, so is moving back. Chronicles of Reverse Culture Shock is a series devoted to these difficulties, and is also an outlet so that I don’t become That Guy Who Won’t Shut Up About Korea to all of his friends.

A Korean restaurant in Korea is a beautiful, efficient kind of place. You enter, sit at your table, and order essentially within the first moments. The menus are not terribly voluminous, and the assumption is that if you entered this restaurant in the first place, you knew what you were coming for. (Many restaurants specialize in exactly one kind of dish, so you say how many of the foods you want and in what, if any, variations.) The waiters disappear, and rush back with your steaming bowl or your rack of raw ingredients and leave you to it. They will not check on you, they will not make small talk, they will not feign interest, and they will not interact with you unless they you summon them by the convenient doorbell on your table (bing-bong!). They give you food and then leave you alone, and at the end of the meal you take the bill, which was already at your table, and pay elsewhere and never ever think of leaving them a tip. The people operating the restaurant are unobtrusive, practically invisible, more spectral visions of humans, ghosts carrying trays that exist only in your peripheral vision.

Which is to say that a Korean restaurant in Korea is my idea of paradise.

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Chronicles of Reverse Culture Shock: Money (Million Won Baby)

“Well, when I lived in Asia…” begin so many of my sentences these days. Moving away is hard, and as it turns out, so is moving back. Chronicles of Reverse Culture Shock is a series devoted to these difficulties, and is also an outlet so that I don’t become That Guy Who Won’t Shut Up About Korea to all of his friends.

Only 100 yen!

100 Yen draft beer! (Not a super great deal, but I have no good pictures of prices in won)

The cab was making good time downtown to be fair, but I was just about having an anxiety attack in the back seat. I was with my cousins, it was Christmas day, we all had drunk about a half bottle of red wine a person, and were further inebriated by holiday spirit, tryptophan, and piles of gifts. We were off to see a movie together, I was with family, and I should have been relaxed and joyous. I should have been marveling at the soft, doughy comforts of home. Instead I was tense, angsty, and ready to leap from the moving vehicle at any time.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the taxi meter. Didn’t anyone else recognize how absurdly expensive everything was?

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Homeland

It's handmade crappy, therefore more patriotic.

For a long time, I never really got patriotism. It seemed mostly like being proud about things that I had no particular involvement in, which is one of the major reasons I still can’t get particularly amped about most sporting events on television. Why would I be especially invested in the documents signed by people that weren’t actually me, or in the boundaries of landform delineated from other landforms by white dudes several centuries ago? Mind you, I like Canadian beer, fireworks, and a holiday as much as everyone else, so I’m more than happy to celebrate when the occasion arises, but it never made sense to feel anything on a personal level.

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Cross Canada IV: It’s Like a Butterfly Fest Over Here

The long train home

Our last day in Revelstoke was leisurely: Zack and Shannon split off to do some kayaking (I declined, as I have no balance and maintain that I would have been in the water in minutes), Gillian walked along the river, and Brianna slept the day away. I decided to do my wander thing: I put on the runners, popped in the earphones, and prepared for some quality walk-about, to really get a feel for this city, like I was some anthropologist or particularly skilled traveller. I maybe put on cargo shorts. This was, perhaps, overzealous: Revelstoke has 8000 people, and its numbered east-west streets go up to the number seven. I completed my navigation of the downtown in about fifteen minutes, and began circumambulating, taking alternate, winding paths, to both prolong my walk and to milk at least some sense of accomplishment out of the excursion.

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Cross Canada III: That Guy. The Sheep.

The gang goes to Lake Louise

Have you ever heard a raven caw? I do not recommend it. It sort of goes “err-RAAAAAAAW!” in a nasal, inverse-bird noise seemingly issued from the upper layers of hell. It is as though raven was once made fun-of by a song-bird and has spent the rest of time making fun of the song-bird through comical imitation. I say all of this because our wake-up in Banff was the sound of two ravens braying back and forth to one another horrifically, shattering our ear-drums and evincing unceasing, sleep-deprivation chuckles from me. Quoth Zack in regards to the raven noises: “Oh god. Someone has set loose monkeys into the park.”

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