[OP-ED] A Foreigner in South Korea: Experience of A Mexican American Part 5
Yubania Salcedo , May 26, 2017, 4:36 p.m.
Back in Seoul I was anxious to try Mexican food. The thought of Mexican restaurants being in such foreign place was fascinating to me. I wanted to see if it was like the Mexican food from back home. So my friends and I went to ‘Coreanos.’ The name of the restaurant fits if you ask me. I honestly expected Mexican music playing with Mexican decor but to my surprise it wasn’t. The food was a mixture of Korean and Mexican food. I ordered a Carne Asada (steak) quesadilla. It was actually really good. The only bad thing was the cilantro. I truly dislike cilantro. But other than that it was good. I knew I wasn’t going to find tamales, pozole, or menudo on the menu. It actually encouraged me to want to open an authentic Mexican restaurant out here. I’m still planning on it. I just need to learn how to cook. After we finished eating we went to a store where my friend bought a 60 dollar shirt. Crazy right?! The employees were nice and were quite fascinated with my style. My ‘old lady’ style as my sisters say. The Korean employees told me that they liked my ‘Marilyn Monroe’ style. I think my sense of style grasped the attention of many Koreans. I would get stared at a lot. My platinum blonde hair and bright red lipstick sure stood out. My vintage skirts and scarves did so as well. While shopping at Myungdong (a place I like to call Heaven due to thousands of stores and food stands), a Korean girl tapped me to tell me that she thought I was pretty. It felt nice. At times I did feel unwelcomed. I didn’t get mistreated but I would get stared at a lot. I think that they just haven’t been exposed to a foreigner like me. Those were just stares but the wonderful encounters when interacting with them stated otherwise. One of my favorite experience while in Korea was when I was on the subway and I saw a very old Korean woman that could barely stand standing. She was wearing traditional Korean clothes so I’m assuming she was 80+. I stood up and gave her my seat. She politely refused but I lead her to my seat and so she sat down. She kept thanking me and bowing to me. She reminded me of my grandmother. Her husband soon was fortunate to find a seat next to her and she told him about me giving her the seat and so he began bowing to me and thanking me. When I was about to get off my stop her husband told me to go safely. I felt so welcomed and accepted. These old Korean folks were indeed very welcoming.
The next day we went to the most awesome and amazing restaurant. It was a comic themed restaurant with super-heroes everywhere. That day I had seen a Korean dish on T.V. that looked so good and so my friend took me to go try it. We ate Rabokki which is ramen noodles mixed with tteokbokki (Korean spicy rice cake). It was good especially since it wasn’t spicy. As days passed by I found myself at noraebangs (karaoke places). We would spend hours singing which was so much fun. I also went to another Mexican restaurant called ‘La Hacienda’ which replicated a Mexican traditional home. Not from the U.S. but actual Mexico. I felt like I was at my grandmother’s giant house. I ordered a burrito with guacamole. My taste buds were exploding of how delicious it was. My friend ordered chicharrones (pork belly) and we both were expecting actual pork belly but she got pork rinds, the ones that they sell in the bags like chips. I was laughing but felt bad because my friend was not amused. My friend might be Cambodian but she was raised around Mexicans so she’s quite knowledgeable about Mexican culture. After we ate, we went to Itaewon. The land of the foreigners. You might ask yourself why do I say that? I felt like I was in Los Angeles. It was so diverse that I couldn’t believe it. There were also many Koreans with tattoos. On my stay in Korea I noticed that many Koreans are inking up more. Not only that but they are actually exposing them.
The following day we met up with Sandy’s Korean friend. We decided to go to Myungdong once again. I was shopping like crazy. I wanted everything for my babies (nieces and nephews). I somehow became obsessed with buying socks and scarves. The socks were so adorable and cute. I bought Pokemon socks, Sailor Moon socks, and super hero socks. OH! One of the best things from Myungdong was the ice cream. It was so big and yummy. We then afterward went to the famous Namsan Tower. Have you ever seen the Korean drama ‘Boys Over Flowers’? Where Go Jun Pyo and Geum Jan Di ride a trolley and fall asleep? Well, I rode that. It wasn’t as fun since we were packed like sardines. They really cram so many people that you could barely move. The trolley takes you to the Namsan Tower. Once we reached the top we were swarmed with thousands of buzzing mosquitos but it was worth it because the view was prodigious and unbelievable. After a couple hundred of photos and selfies we decided to go eat chicken. The BEST grilled chicken ever!
The next couple of days consisted of exploring the city of Seoul more in depth. We reunited with a few school friends who were also going to Korea since they’re Korean themselves. CSULA in the house! Yes, we all went to Cal State LA. I met Stacey and Ted at school. We had the same Korean classes. Ted’s mom was the best! She hung out with us and she was really fun. She kept wanting to hang out the following days which I thought was so cute. We went shopping and to the premiere of Suicide Squad. We also went to the Aquarium. It was my first time at an Aquarium. I felt like a little kid. The night ended at a noraebang where Ted’s mom murdered a Macklemore song.
In between days my friend would not go out. As I mentioned she is Cambodian so her family is superstitious with certain days and therefore, some days she would stay home. I’m Mexican so we have our superstitious things as well so I perfectly understood her. On those days I would go out on my own. I once did a presentation on Namdaemun sijang (market) and so I wanted to go. And so I did. I mustered up my courage and went. That day I got dressed up and went outside. I was going to take a taxi because the subway system is a bit confusing. I got a black taxi. There are black and regular taxis but I took a black one meaning a deluxe taxi. Once I got in the Korean taxi driver was amused and began asking questions. This is VERY common in Korea. They want to interact since they spend hours driving around. This Korean taxi driver did not speak a single word of English. I had to rely on my Korean. He was asking me about school and everything in general. He was amused with my ability to speak Korean. On our way to Namdaemun market I saw a Mexican restaurant and so I loudly stated that I wanted to eat there and he asked why but since we were on that topic he asked what was my favorite Korean food. “Jjajangmyun”, I exclaimed. He then told me that he wanted his son to take me to go eat Jjajangmyun. I laughed. I honestly thought it was funny. This man was serious. He then calls his son through speaker. His son did not answer and he insisted until he picked up. In between the callings the taxi driver was telling me about his son and how he spoke really good English and goes to Korea University. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I was happy that he didn’t pick up but then he did. The taxi driver told his son that he met his daugher in law. He kept calling me that; each time I’d nervously laughed. I’ve seen ‘Taken.’ I’m aware of human trafficking. This was one of the issues and reasons my mother was scared of me travelling to a foreign country. She would say that I would get sold and quite frankly I was terrified of the thought of such thing. The son and taxi driver were talking about me in Korean. I understood perfectly. The son did sound like he was in his 20’s. The father told him that he wanted him to take me on a date to go eat whatever I wanted. His son was actually sleeping but he quickly asked, “yeppeu?” asking if I was pretty and the taxi driver said yes and that I was smart and spoke three languages. We were reaching my destination and the taxi driver was giving me his son’s phone number so we could arrange our date and so I was pretending to write down the number but he noticed and he asked if he could see my phone and wrote it down persisting that I should call his son to go out. Once I got to namdaemun market I quickly got out and I couldn’t really shop right because I was scared.The market was really big and confusing. I wanted to buy everything. I almost did especially when I entered a certain clothes stall. The old lady was so sweet and I felt bad not buying stuff. I ended up buying over 200 dollars worth of stuff. She was happy and it made me happy besides the clothes was for my mother and that’s the least I can give to my mother who deserves the world. Actually I told the old Korean lady that the clothes was for my mother and she hugged me. It was cute.
It was time to go home. Back to California to the city of Angels. I was sad that I was leaving such place but at the same time I wanted to see my family and I was thankful and happy that I was able to experience a new world. I was glad that this Mexican was able to travel to Korea.
Actually, I so often got asked if all ‘White’ people in the U.S. also spoke Spanish. They profoundly confused me with being white or European. My Korean friend whom I met in Korea asked me how I could be Mexican if I’m so white. He was one of the many that could not understand why I was able to speak Spanish. I cannot count the times of how many people asked me why I spoke Spanish if I’m white and once they heard my name they would ask me if that was the country I was from asking where in Europe it is located. I am Yubania: the Mexican American that has explored the beautiful richness of a foreign land called South Korea. I am Yubania: the foreigner with trilingual ability. I am Yubania: writer of my own experiences and stories. I am Yubania: orgullosamente Mexicana (proud Mexican).