Unfiltered Thoughts: My Journal
We Bought a Korean Car
For the past three weeks we’ve been living without a car. I’ve owned a car ever since I was 16 years old. My first one was a stick shift, red Volkswagon Beetle with no heater and broken windshield wipers. I loved that car. It represented freedom and independence to roam whenever and where ever I wanted. Besides, all my friends had cars. To be honest, everyone I knew owned or had access to a car.
Cars can still represent freedom and independence, especially when you don’t have one at your disposal. After we landed in South Korea three weeks ago, our first two weeks were spent in quarantine: the polar opposite of freedom and independence. Our carless state wasn’t a problem then, given that we were locked in a room all day for 14 days. Being carless was no big deal until the day we busted out of quarantine.
We’ve been out of quarantine for 6 days and have had to rely on public busses, taxis, or offers from generous, new friends to drive us around or loan us their cars for the day. It was a clunky system, but it worked until the day my husband has started his new job. Suddenly, we needed a car.
Well, to be honest, I am not sure we actually NEEDED one. To be more accurate, I should say we WANTED a car to make our lives more convenient. We wanted the freedom to roam whenever and where ever we pleased.
Doesn’t that sound so entitled … so privileged … so American of us to think we need a car when public transportation is literally everywhere? Do we really need a car? I am still on the fence about it. I keep nudging that question in my mind the way you nudge a loose tooth with your tongue when you’re a kid.
Regardless, we made the decision to buy a little blue Chevy Mitiz. I don’t think this model is sold in the United States because it’s so small. It’s about the size of my red Beetle from my teenage years. The Matiz is only big enough for the two of us and some groceries in the hatchback. There’s a backseat, but no leg room for average sized adults to sit comfortably.
Yet, in spite of its size, it’s enough. And it looks like most of the other cars on the road here.
Our real car — the one we shipped one month before we left for Korea — has not yet arrived. It’s a full sized SUV and seems seems HUGE now as I look around at all the compact cars on the roads here in Korea. I wince when I imagine how our real car will stand out like all the other SUVs here, the ones driven mostly by other Americans who work and live here.
Korea’s side roads are much narrower and parking spaces are smaller and much harder to come by than at home in the States. Our SUV will certainly seem too big and too ostentatious once it arrives.
Now I’m wondering if we should have shipped it at all. Do we really need two cars here? Do we need a big SUV that announces: “Here come the Americans with their big car that takes up too space and uses too much gasoline!”
As an American living in South Korea, I can’t help but feel out that I’m as out of place as my real car will be. My way of being in the world feels as if it demands too much and takes up too much space here. Everything here is smaller, quieter, and more unobtrusive than I’m used to.
The Korean people are lovely and welcoming; I don’t want to imply otherwise. However, it is never far from my mind that I am a foreigner here, a guest, and as such, I am required to present a certain amount of decorum and respect — more than I am used to using at home. I don’t expect Koreans I meet to speak English, but I appreciate it so much when they do. (Most Koreans who live and work around the American Army base speak enough English to get by).
Do Koreans expect me to learn to speak their language? Of course not. I’m an American. Everyone knows Americans speak only English and don’t bother learning other languages. (Yet, my husband and I are trying our best to learn to pronounce basic, courteous greetings and thank you. However, I don’t think we are typical.)
It’s so embarrassing when I see other Americans behaving boorishly. When they loudly talk or play music in public spaces or expect accommodation and adaptation from our restrained hosts. I’ve only been here a short time, but I’ve already witnessed bad behavior that made me cringe. It’s eye opening and jarring, to say the least. I can see why there are so many jokes around the world about Americans behaving badly.
As a way to counter their rudeness, in every encounter I have I take great care to be more polite, unassuming, and kind than I would ever be at home. This is my way to apologize for others who are oblivious to how they appear to the rest of the world.