Monday, 30 July 2007


Given the Enrique post("I don't look Filipino, but I am.") and the promise of the "Mixed-Race in White Face" post, I thought I'd give some background and re-post the very first post I wrote for the blog I kept while studying in Seoul last summer(2006). Reading it again makes me feel a little jaded; only a minute or two of skin shock when I returned this time.

June 12, 2006
I arrived in Seoul late Monday night, June 5. Everywhere I went my first three days in Seoul, I went with Korean family or friends who came from Yale with me. To class. To set up a bank account. To breakfast, lunch, and dinner. To search for better housing. To buy cell phones. To shop. To explore Sinchon. In the hustle and bustle of getting set up for three months in Seoul, I hadn't had a free moment to explore Sinchon(the university district where I live) on my own.

Not until Thursday night did I have plans that brought me out alone. I had called my hal muh ni(grandmother) earlier in the day, and working around her schedule more than mine(her's includes English, voice, and computer classes--how amazing is that at 82!), we planned to meet at 6 PM in front of the Hyundai Department Store just a few minutes walk from where I live. I had some time on my hands that afternoon, so I set out a little early to wander around Sinchon by myself.

After traveling in Europe last spring break, I'd grown accustomed to a certain level of anonymity in my travels. As long as I kept my camera tucked away and looked like I was going somewhere, anyone might mistake me for a native. That's not the case here where I see maybe ten white people each day(and that's a generous estimate). But, somehow, I didn't realize how much I stand out from the crowd until I ventured out alone for the first time. As soon as I stepped out of our building, I felt different. As I merged into the crowd, I felt like I was forcing myself into the flow of foot traffic rather than blending into it. Without any Koreans by my side, I felt so intensely white, like such a spectacle.

I may not consider myself to be white, but that doesn't change the fact that everyone else everywhere does after just one quick, passing glance. At home, I've accepted the fact that my racial identity is obvious to no one but myself. The looks of shock and disbelief I get when people find out I'm half-Korean have long ceased to bother me. But, here, I cannot go anywhere, do anything without being noticed. Though there weren't too many people staring me down or gawking, I can say without any conceit that I am always an object of attention. And, somehow, that makes the assumptions I know people are making("Oh, a white person") more personally offensive.

On that first walk out alone, my hyper-consciousness of my whiteness made me physically sick. I hadn't gone more than a block before I felt so uncomfortable that I just wanted to go back to my room and watch the One Tree Hill: Season 2 DVDs I'd brought with me. It was a little disconcerting, after all, to realize that I really don't fit in at all in this place I love so much. Standing out as I did, I really felt that I couldn't call this place my own like I wanted to. I kept wanting to scream, "I'M HALF KOREAN!," to stop random passerbys and inform them that I had a greater claim on this country than any other place. Being thrown into a homogenous population which only I know I belong to messed with my head a little bit, I guess.

I've grown comfortable in the days that have passed with walking around alone. A few more trips out alone and it was easy enough to become less sensitive about being an object of attention. All the rest of it--this identity crisis of sorts--I'm still grappling with. Maybe it's insecurity, but I just want these people to know what I know about myself: that I am Korean and I am very proud of that part of my identity.

1 comment:

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