Sunday, December 18, 2011

Your Local Waygook Celeb

Have I mentioned yet that I’m a celebrity? A minor celebrity, anyway. Really more like those dogs in storefront windows that everyone pets and pokes and waves at.

“Hi!” I get constantly. “Hello!” “Where are you from?”
“Chicago[1]. Where are you from?”


They only talk to me (and, in one case, put me on television) because I have double eyelids, a high nose bridge, and a small face, which—I am informed by my Korean friends—is cute. I should have moved here in middle school to boost my self-esteem! Reverse racism really has its perks. Last night Izette, my friend from church who harkens from South Africa—and plays the viola!—and I made some new friends at my favorite hoddeok[2] stand in Nampo.

Unfortunately, I haven’t yet rhapsodized about hoddeok, but let’s just say that we stood in line—outside the in freezing cold—for about ten minutes, took one bite of our hoddeok’s and swiveled around to join the back of the line again.

We munched as the middle-aged group ahead of us smiled at our hoddeok enthusiasm.

“Hoddeok!” The man with glasses pointed to what we were eating and then at the stand where round 2 was waiting for me and Izette. The couple next to him smiled at us. And the fourth man openly laughed at our scarfing.
“Mmhm. Hanbeonda![3] Tashi!”[4]
“You like hoddeok?” Glasses Guy seemed to be the talker of the group.
This time Izette jumped in for both of us. “Masshita![5]” I smiled and munched. It’s a go-to.
Inevitably: “Where are you from?”
“Ahhh yes! Chicago! Yes.” They nodded and made approving gestures. I know the feeling: I get pretty excited when someone says they’re from a place I recognize the name of. Like “Seoul” or “Busan.”
“She’s from South Africa!” I pointed at Izette who munched and smiled. They didn’t quite know what to do with that.
This time Izette explained. Shockingly, I’m a little hazy on my South African geography. I mean, I know where it is in Africa (south), but if you gave me three dots and asked me to label Johannesburg, Capetown, and Durban I’d be lost. However, I’m not certain our new Korean friends knew that South Africa wasn’t in the States. But they weren’t too phased.
“Oh I see. You star. Um, for example...” He looked at me expectantly. The woman smiled at me and nodded encouragingly.
She and the man exchanged some rapid-fire Korean, giving me time to chomp through another few bites. Deeeeelicious.
“Movie star. Do you know? Look like....for example?”
“Um...I don’t know?”
The conversation ended thereabouts with Glasses Guy wishing he could remember the title of any American movie[6] and me wishing I could magically be fluent in every single language of the world so he wouldn’t have to.
I think they exchanged some jokes about us as we double-fisted our hoddeok’s and said goodbye. But I’m not going to complain. I had two hoddeok’s and a little celebrity status.

[1] Sorry, Indianaians. I’ve given up saying “near Chicago in Indiana at the tip of Lake Michigan” because you should see the baffled stares I get. And in the end they just ask me if I know about the Chicago Bulls. “I’ve heard of them.” More puzzled stares.
[2]호떡= awesome
[3] 한번다 = one more
[4] 다시= again    I was doing my best.
[5] 맜있다 = delicious
[6] Starring Meghan Fox, I’m sure. We’re practically twins by Korean standards. I see your doubt. But when you think about how most Americans can’t tell a Japanese from a Cambodian, it sounds a little less crazy. J  


  1. Pro-tip: Order 2 at once the next time;) Now I want 호떡...Also, I'm craving kimchi, bap, and gim, among other things.

  2. I understand the comparisons....according to one teacher:

    I have Harry Potter's eyes, Russel Crow's nose, and the mouth of John Lennon's daughter.