My digital camera broke last weekend. Actually, it didn't break so much as stop turning on entirely. After replacing the batteries multiple times and pressing every button I could think of, I gave up on it and decided to buy a new one. I've been planning on getting a new one over winter, so I decided to just buy one now, and doing so turned into my first real experience being The American in Korea.
I found out that the best place to get one is a Best Buy-like store called Hi-Mart. None of the other Fulbrighters needed to go, and I wanted one tonight because we're leaving for Songnisan National Park tomorrow morning. So I went by myself for the first time into Chuncheon's downtown area. Now, I'm from the suburbs and went to school in the cornfields, so I'm not sure I've ever taken a taxi by myself anywhere, so I guess you could consider that a big step in and of itself. I hailed the taxi and directed the driver toward Hi-Mart without much of a problem. I even managed a few seconds of stilted conversation in Korean - "Hi! Yes, I'm American. I'm a teacher. I speak very little Korean." However, at some point the driver stopped and started talking, and I couldn't understand a word he was saying. Where was I? I don't see a Hi-Mart. Should I get out? I got a little worried before I noticed a small sandwich board pointing toward the entrance to Hi-Mart off the main street. I cracked up, and the driver started laughing too. So this is what they mean when they talk about having a sense of humor about travel.
This was even more necessary inside Hi-Mart itself. I found the cameras, but soon noticed multiple salespeople milling around me, probably interested by this non-Korean in their little store. Fortunately, one salesperson spoke very good English and helped me pick out a camera (an Olympus FE-220, if anyone cares). Communicating with the Hi-Mart employees at the cash register was an even more humorous event. They kept giving me more things for my camera, including cleaning supplies, protection for the LCD screen, and even a pedestal. Over and over, they told me "service!" and assured me that I could come back at any time for help with my camera, because they would remember me. I'm not sure if they do this for all customers - and they very well might - but I couldn't help wondering if they were being this interested in me because I'm American, and therefore new and interesting.
The people themselves were wonderful, I must say. They were incredibly kind, especially given my very limited Korean, and one salesperson introduced himself to me as "Gorilla" and excitedly talked about the Bulls and Michael Jordan when I told him I was from the Chicago area. Anyway, I successfully said thank you and good-bye in Korean, got myself in a taxi and back to the University.
I think tonight will stand out in my mind as my first "independent" move in Korea. I'm also proud of myself for managing everything with little stress and a sense of humor - I definitely had to laugh at myself a lot. Perhaps this is a really boring entry for others to read, but I wanted a record of it for my own sake.