There are few better feelings in life when you take on a challenging situation and you conquer it. Whether it is the Sunday crossword or reaching the top of a 14,000 foot mountain, there is something about proving to ourselves that we really can do it.
Living abroad, it seems that those challenging situations come along with relative frequency and difficulties arise even in the simplest of circumstances. When frustrations push us to our tipping point, it is then that culture shock takes over. Irrational thoughts about the difficulties of our life and the hopelessness of being unable to successfully purchase a bag of chips consume our thoughts and deplete our morale. However, when we are able to persevere through the potato chip shortage or similar cultural shock crises, there is an extraordinary degree of excitement as we revel in the idea that we actually successfully completed a task in a foreign culture.
Such a situation happened last week. As we prepare for the babies in February, we (I should actually say I) have gone through more than a few culture shock moments. Due to several cultural differences, important items such as newborn clothing, cribs, and the always essential diaper genie are extremely difficult to come across in Korea. In my hours of internet shopping and searching I came across an online flea market that offered another hard-to-find item: the double stroller. Knowing its precious rarity, I jumped on the opportunity to buy this treasure. Here was the catch, I had to successfully navigate my way through Seoul to meet the seller and then pilot the stroller back home, all by myself as Chris wasn’t able to join me.
So, I went to my trusty friend Google, found where I needed to go on the subway and headed on my way. One transfer, forty-five minutes, and one almost mistake later, I popped out of the subway and found my new double stroller. The seller and I made small talk about babies, life in Seoul, and then she patted my belly as I went on my way. On my way to the transaction site, I had decided not to venture through the Seoul underworld with a hefty stroller. Instead, I elected the above ground slightly costlier approach of the taxi. This method, while easier in many respects, also presents its own challenges. Living in Taiwan, I learned that one of the most important things to learn in the native language is where you live (after caramel macchiato, of course). So, I hailed a taxi and after he chivalrously helped me load the stroller I told him where I lived. He wasn’t familiar with the area. I gave him a landmark (also in Korean – yay me!) and he took off. The driver politely tried to make conversation and I had to sheepishly shrug and apologize as I have yet to learn “I don’t speak Korean.” You’d think that the “deer in the headlights” would communicate that clearly enough but you’d be surprised at how often it doesn’t deter the chatty Cathy’s (or chatty Saejin’s as it were). Anyhow, eventually the conversation (read: dialogue) turned back to my place of residence. Through charades and very, very broken Korean, I attempted to communicate where our apartment was in relation to the landmark I gave. About fifteen minutes, a few “wencho” and “orancho” (right and left) later, we pulled up to my apartment. Again, he helped me pull the stroller out as I headed up to delight in my successful journey. I had done it! I had purchased a much needed double stroller and vanquished two modes of transportation in the process. Bring it on, Seoul, let’s see what else you got!