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.
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.