How to Overcome Awkwardness with Udon

Last night I walked out of Hannam Village and onto the busy street corner with the smell of noodles and Korean coffee easing from every brick building- it was almost time for the dinner rush and the smells of South Korea were filling the streets. I walked slowly down the street taking in all the smells and looking in all the shop windows. I finally found the little restaurant I had in my mind all day- I had seen it earlier that day when I went out to a bakery. The little old woman who owned the restaurant opened the door to greet me and we bowed to each other slightly as I said, “annyeonghaseyo,” or Hello. I sat at the table closest to the window and as I sat down she handed me a menu in Korean. I sat there looking confused for a few minutes before she brought me a menu in English.

 I have traveled a lot in my 21 years, but this was one of the first countries I have traveled to where I can’t read the phonetics of their language (Greek being the other). It’s a slightly intimidating feeling not being able to communicate at all, partly my fault for not working harder at learning the basics before I arrived. There are a few people who speak English here, but for the most part I am incredibly lost. That’s one of my favorite feelings though.

I decided to order a Gimbap, a Korean version of Sushi and a side of Udon. The woman came up to my little table by the door, I pointed to what I wanted, and we bowed our heads to each other when she understood what I wanted.

When I sat down by myself I began to feel a little self- conscious, thinking things like, what are people thinking when they see me, what do I do with my hands, what do I do to entertain myself? After a few minutes though, my mind stopped with the thoughts about myself and I began to think externally again. It was at that point that I looked around and saw that there were a few other Korean women eating by themselves too. I watched the feet of the Korean Nationals walk by outside the glass door- it was dinnertime and everyone was bustling around to get their food.

My food came pretty quickly and I said, “Homsomnidad (Thank you)” as she walked away. I took a picture of the beautiful dish and quickly realized I had no idea what I was doing (once again). No one else had received their food yet and I had no idea how to use the utinsles, so I just began with my basic knowledge of Americanized Japanese food, and picked up the metal chopsicks. I took a bite of my colorful Gimbap and let the flavors explode. It was so fresh. I also ate the Udon noodles with the chopsticks, but I’m still unsure as to whether I did that correctly or not. Once, when I reached for another piece of Gipbap, I dropped the metal chopstick and it clanked loudly on the table in the small restaurant of 5 tables. I laughed quietly at myself, picked my chopstick up, and tried again.

A Korean couple sat down at the table next to me and decided they didn’t like the Korean music on the radio, so they played their Bob Marley loudly on their iPhones (ahhh, Globalization). The owner of the restaurant didn’t even flinch, which surprised me seeing as her restaurant was quite small and there were quite a few other customers. As I sat there at my tiny table, watching the feet of the Koreans pass by the door in front of me, my thoughts sank deeper and deeper with every bite of Udon. Toward my final bites, my thoughts clustered around the thought of humanity. There are some things that are just universally human, like that guy who just ran into a chair and made an “Ugh” sound, looking quickly at the ground awkwardly- I would have done the same thing. I’m not sure if I ever cared about differences between people, but especially in that moment on the last bite of tasty Udon noodles I thought to myself, humans are humans, whether I am sitting next to them in an inactive war zone, or a coffee shop in my hometown in the Rocky Mountains.

When I finished, the sun had begun to set and I was ready to go home. I walked slowly out the door, nodded and said “Homsomnidad” to the kind owner once more. Then I slowly wandered back to the gates of where I am staying, full belly and happy heart.image

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