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Suwon R & R, part 3: A new friend

May 24, 2010

(Continued from part 1 and part 2)

“Hello, where are you from?” California. Berkeley? Near San Francisco. “Ahh, Berkeley! I went to school in San Francisco! Its not often you meet someone from same hometown! How long in Korea?” 8 months. “I live in Suwon, I was born here. Ahh, but let’s walk. Or you can stop and take a picture – nice view, here.”

I tinkered with my camera – too many photos and videos, no more space. For every photo I took I had to delete a photo. I stood there tinkering while he waited; I wanted a picture of a pagoda nearby. Mmm, now a loss of traveling freedom and solitude; no more taking the wall at my own slow pace. But he does speak good English, I thought, maybe he would be an interesting companion – though I had in the past some less-than-spectacular experiences with ajosshis who attempt to carry on an awkward, halting conversation only long enough to ask me if I can teach them English for the price of getting me drunk on soju.

I asked him his name. “Jong,” he said – and I first thought he was giving me his English name, John. I asked him what he had studied, what he did his masters degree in at the University of San Francisco. “Well, I studied English literature for my bachelors, Asian studies for my masters and cultural studies for my PhD in Illinois. I am a professor here, you know, though I am taking some time off.” After chatting for him for a while, and hearing out of his mouth words I never imagined coming from a Korean speaker – “post-modernism, critical theory, Derrida”“what crazy nationalism there is in this country” — he confided to me that the reason for his temporary leave from his university was partly due to the fact that he was a bit too critical for Korea. No surprise there.

When one is accustomed to the language barrier preventing any mutual penetration of weighty ideas even among those who are reasonably well versed with the English language, it is an eye-opening and refreshing experience to discover a fellow conversant with both a profoundly different cultural background and shared ideas, knowledge and intellectual language, and it even felt like a partial rediscovery of myself in the conduit of my companion Jong — it being, serendipitously enough, a year to the day since I graduated from university and slowly began to lose my grip on the myriad philosophical questions that had once so preoccupied me.

We talked on of our respective ideas, philosophies and backgrounds and, when we had learned enough for one day, talked more casually of the surrounding areas and the history of Suwon, of King Jeongjo whose father’s remains were interred in Hwaseong Fortress upon its construction in the 18th century, of this father, Prince Sado, murdered by his own father King Yeongjo by being locked alive in a rice chest after refusing his father’s orders to commit suicide, of religion and Buddhas birthday, and of the forever-lovely Bay Area weather. We stopped along the way for me to try out traditional Korean archery, explore guardhouses he had been through innumerable times, and take snapshots of the novel scenery and beautiful views he had known since his earliest childhood.

We parted friends, though I had to leave straight away for a commitment back in the city. After our long journey around his town and his fortress, I left likely never to return – he would remain, and meet more travelers along the wall, though none, perhaps, from his old California home.

This post was originally published at Painting the Passports Brown.
  1. May 24, 2010 10:58 pm

    Hi Jesse,

    Great to check out your blog…I’m a fan of long sentences and rhythm between words, nice to read!

    Happy writing, I’m sure our paths will cross again in the Eloquence realm:)

  2. jgerminario permalink*
    May 25, 2010 9:17 pm

    Thanks for checking it out! I hope we’ll be reading a lot of each other’s writing in print soon enough 🙂

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