Some thoughts after arriving – This is my first journal entry not originally written while sitting in front of my computer. Of course, I will have to transcribe this later on to convert it from analog to digital, but at the moment I am on a Metro North train heading down to Grand Central Station. My wife and I will be meeting my friend and his girlfriend in the afternoon, eventually heading over to Virgil’s on West 44th Street for some barbecue in the evening.
We’ve been here about a week now, and the time has really flown by. There has been quite a bit of shopping, of course, as we get ready for Christmas, and we spent a day in the city last week as well. Still, it seems like we’ve only just arrived.
It is somewhat strange being back after all this time, but not as strange as I had feared it would be. My anxiety over seeing my family was not as bad as what I had envisioned in my last journal entry, but it was still emotional. I must admit that I cried when I saw my mother at the airport—of all my family, she seems to have changed the most.
After the initial shock, though, things settled down to a strange equilibrium—in other words, as normal as can be expected given the circumstances. We are still family, of course, but everyone has changed a lot. Then again, a lot of things have stayed the same, too. My brothers are still my brothers, my parents are still my parents, and I guess I’m still me.
Nonetheless, things are not the same as they were—they will never be the same. Things would have changed even had I stayed in the area, but spending so many years abroad has multiplied that effect. At church on Sunday the people who still knew me greeted me with “Welcome home!” I smiled, because they were genuine, and I suppose you can’t really say much else in this sort of situation, but I haven’t come “home.” Ten years ago this was home, but it’s not home any longer. Home for me right now is back in Korea.
As always, though, it is quite interesting being back in the States. In Korea, I’m used to understanding what 99% of the people around me are saying. Here, though, there are people from all over the world, and it’s not uncommon to hear a number of different languages at the same time.
Even when both parties are speaking the same language, and even when it is the native language for both parties, though there can still be difficulties. We were at the local mall last week, and we stopped by the theaters to check on times for “Return of the King.” I saw that it was playing in two theaters, and I wanted to see if the first showing in both theaters were considered matinees (that’s the way it works in Korea, but I wasn’t sure how it worked here).
“The matinees are the first showing, right?” I asked the guy at the ticket booth.
“That’s right,” he said.
“So, is that just the first showing overall, or is it the first showing in each theater?”
“Just the first showing.”
“So…” I looked up at the times displayed above. “Only the 11:00 showing is a matinee, and the 11:30 isn’t?”
“No, they’re both matinee.”
I felt myself begin to slowly boil with frustration, but I just took a deep breath. “So you’re saying that the first showing in each theater is a matinee?” I said, carefully enunciating my words.
He nodded. “That’s right.”
“Thank you.” I smiled and turned away from the booth.
It’s nothing out of the ordinary, of course, for two people who speak the same language to have difficulty communicating. Communication is a very complex process, and the message intended by the speaker isn’t always the same as the message received by the hearer.
For me, though, it is particularly frustrating to speak English and not be able to make myself understood. Although I may write this site in English, I do not actually speak a lot of English in Korea. In fact, I speak English very rarely in Korea. My wife, a Korean teacher, speaks more English than I do. So I am somewhat self-conscious when I do speak English, painfully aware of every stumbling of the tongue, every word that escapes my conscious mind and makes me fumble and grope for it. When I write I have time to think about the words, but there is less time to think when speaking.
It is more than just being self-conscious when speaking English, though, especially since my spoken English is fine after I get used to using it again. I think, really, that it’s more anxiety than self-consciousness, and this stems from when I first started learning Korean. Back then it was not uncommon for me to fail to make myself understood, and even less uncommon for me to fail to understand others. Throughout the whole ordeal, though, I comforted myself with the fact that I could still communicate with English, my native language. It was sort of a safety net for me—whenever I despaired of ever learning Korean, I was always comforted by the fact that I still possessed the ability to communicate effectively.
Now, of course, Korean is my primary spoken language, but old habits die hard. The ability to communicate is very important to me, and the comfort I took in my ability to communicate in English has been ingrained in my mind. Couple this with the fact that I don’t speak English very often anymore and you have a recipe for anxiety.
It is silly when I think about it—when I sit down and dissect myself and lay bare my fears and hopes and everything that makes me tick. But when I am in the situation the anxiety is quite real. My chest tightens, my breathing quickens, and I can even feel myself start to sweat. It’s embarrassing to admit this, but that’s what happens. Perhaps some day I will overcome this anxiety, but it hasn’t happened yet.
That was as far as I got on the train. It turned out to be a beautiful day, and we all had a good time, my friend and I talking while the girls shopped. I realize that this entry is a bit disjointed, but it is now Christmas Eve, and it’s getting late, so I think I’m going to cut this entry short.
He opened a port and uploaded the file,
Then examined his handiwork with a smile.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he turned in for the night,
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”