Ye Bin and I climbed into the taxi parked outside of Homeplus, our arms laden with groceries and shampoo. Ye Bin said our address to the driver, who did a double take when he glanced at the two of us in the back seat.
“Gimhae Jeil?” the taxi driver asked, glancing at me. He said something in Korean to Ye Bin, who laughed and shook her head.
“Aniyo,” said Ye Bin. She answered something else in Korean. The only two words I picked out were yeodongsaeng (“younger sister”) and daehakkyo (“university”).
“Did he ask if we went to Gimhae Jeil High School?” I asked Ye Bin as the driver pulled away from the curb.
“Yes – he remember you!”
“Oh, he must have been the driver when Su Bin and I took the taxi to school last week!”
I guess the American he drove around is pretty memorable.
“He thought you were Su Bin, and you told him you were a university student?” I asked.
“Yes – very good!”
Context clues are key, I thought. I’m getting better at figuring out conversations.
Aside from feeling proud that I finally understood something in Korean, I was intrigued by the driver. Since coming to Korea, I knew that because I look a little different, people may be more likely to notice me. I know that when I walk around the city, passersby sometimes stare at me in curiosity. I always thought that the curiosity would end there and most of them wouldn’t think anything of it. But even something as simple as the taxi driver smiling and saying, “Hey! I remember you!” reminded me that I’m not just a foreigner. Gimhae is my home for a year. Living in a city, it is hard to feel like I am contributing to a community outside of school and volunteering activities–and the language barrier doesn’t help! But small acts of kindness or recognition, like the taxi driver showed me, can go a long way toward building 정 (“Jeong” – like rapport, but much more important in Korea!) and developing relationships. A simple reminder that small acts can make a big difference.