Sorry

*****

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

– Ronald Dahl

“Sorry…,” I said with an apologetic grin.

It was already a little too late when I noticed it was uttered out of my mouth rather too quickly.

It’s the daily routines that gets to you. When my parents used to shake their heads to hear that I rush every morning to get to class just on time, I used to say “you know, I’m a college kid.” But things changed this fall. I am getting used to waking up an hour before I leave the apartment — take time getting ready, and even enjoy the slow walk to the station. These days I get to the office early, and if I wanted to, I can stop by for a cup of coffee on the way and still make it on time. It’s become my daily routine, just like the word “sorry.”

As I walk across Michigan Avenue towards the office in the morning (also known as the Magnificent Mile, the famous shopping district of Chicago), I pass by a number of homeless. In the office-going time, it is less likely for a beggar to ask me in particular for a change, since there are other number of commuters walking down the street as well. It’s become a daily routine for me to pass by the same homeless at their usual spots, hearing them say their certain phrases to ask for a change to strangers. By chance if they look and ask me, I say “Sorry, I don’t have change” and walk away — another daily routine.

Today, she looked and talked to me in the brisk of time I was passing by. I have seen her on the side of the street in the mornings, asking “Do you have any change?,” holding her stained white plastic cup on her right hand. When she spoke to me this morning, I immediately went ahead and said “Sorry,” before realizing that she actually just said “Good morning” to me. Then I stopped myself from continuing with my sentence to blur out “I don’t have change.” It was like a twitch in my thoughts and my mouth.

“That’s alright, baby,” she grinned back at me and responded.

My feet didn’t know how to stop walking down the street. So I kept walking… just kept walking.

But I had enough time — I did.

A Month A Go I Arrived

Getting off at O’Hare and jumping into my new roommate/a very good friend’s lime green Ford sedan, a gush of smell of America flew in a stroke of Chicago’s wind and told me, ‘wake up, it’s time.’

Our apartment is located at the corner end of a street, near by Wilson station of the Red line in Chicago.

every morning i walk out the door and notice: evelyn is a beaut #newhome #fall14

A post shared by Joanne Yj Kim (@joanneyjkim) on

“EVELYN”

It is engraved in white plaster in the front of our apartment building. After unlocking two wooden and glass doors with a rather big key that has a red block of “head,” you enter the hallway that connects to both left and right side of stairwells – a bit narrow, but having two stairwells make it reasonable – for three storage high. That’s where I will be living with four other senior girls for the semester.

My first impression of the apartment was astounding. From every inch of the building, you could tell that it carried many stories from the last 100 years the building has stood still in the corner. Over Skype, my friend mentioned to me that the apartment “has much character” and it all made sense to me when I walked in. Wooden floor, newly furnished kitchen top, the round décor around the ceiling of the living room, fire place, the porch you can see the sunset through the few trees and building around us — gorgeous is an understatement.

Around 5PM, the jet lag hit me hard. I dragged up from lying down on my bed that had no sheets on yet, to try exploring the neighborhood a little. We didn’t have WIFI yet in the apartment, so it was a perfect reason to get myself out and find one, like any other typical and addicted social-media guru. The virtual world has become one of my comfort zones over the years as I’ve been living as a vagabond, TCK, nomad, or whatever you may call it. Not to mention, I was already feeling a bit suffocated from the lack of ubiquitous and free WIFI I’ve been indulging over the summer in Korea. It’s a sad addiction, but a much needed one, especially during traveling and transitions. Starbucks too, also serves well in soothing the aches I feel while I desperately try to find something familiar around me. The tables, smell of coffee, menu – they are all pretty similar in any country you go. Plus, they offer free WIFI.

So I walked down to the nearest Starbucks within the four blocks away. On my way I stopped by Seven-Eleven to grab a toothbrush. It was supposedly a quick walk, 15 minutes top. But it was rather a long enough one for me to realize the radical shift in culture and space within the last 20 hours on the plane ride from Seoul to Chicago. Holding on tight to my new toothbrush, as I walked pass number of people on the street – city-college students, beggars, and others – I became aware of my skin color, my height, my culture, and my gender like that gush of wind I faced in O’Hare. A short Korean girl. That’s the title I will be carrying around myself anywhere and everywhere I go. My body is my ultimate home that I carry around, the only physical space I am countered to fully dwell. Though it is at times like this, I forget how to stay inside “me.”

Back in Korea this summer, a similar but opposite phenomenon happened. Though I am still considerably short in Korea, my skin-tone and height didn’t seem to matter much. I was considered one of the majorities and I fully embraced and felt liberated to meet new people and not have “She’s Asian” be the first thing they notice about myself. Though my American culture embedded under my skin caused a bit of confusion to people at times, I’ve learnt to get by it pretty well. Yet when I was with my other Korean American friends in the streets of Seoul, we were noticeable in ways we speak, and at times even in small details like clothing and the way we carry ourselves around. For instance, for the first time ever in my life, my Korean American friends and I were served by a Caucasian man speaking in English at a Korean Mexican fusion restaurant in Seoul this summer. We didn’t ask for an English-speaking server, but just by the way we interact with one another – even when we weren’t speaking English – they could tell that we were not fully Koreans.

It’s been roughly a month since I moved here. There are many more moments from the past month I want to reflect, write down, and share. Frankly, the “sharing” part does not come easy for me. Blog posts – when I have to post my own writing, I hesitate much because it makes me feel a little uncomfortable and uneasy. Yet at this season of my life, that seems to be just about another right reason why I should share my thoughts in writing with others as an aspiring writer and a journalist. So here it is. It isn’t polished. It isn’t something I am planning on holding onto. It’s a blog post – a fleeting vignette from my time in Chicago. Just a little whisper out on the Internet. A story from a “short Korean girl.”

So, thank you for taking your time to read my small voice. I need that.

More to come, hopefully. And more of me will be found in boundless words and my pensive mind, outside of my smallness.