Summer Stories: Almost-Stalking on a Sunday

We were heading toward the freezer section when I heard it.

“아니야, 아니야, 아니야 (No, no, no),”a man said through the phone in a rushed tone.

I whipped my head around and froze. Like a thriller movie that makes a quick zoom-cut to an unexpected sound, my line of sight zoomed in on an older man with several children surrounding him.

The father soon turned his half-filled cart down another aisle and was soon to disappear when I felt my feet point themselves in the direction of the family.They were the first Koreans I saw in a very long time, and so I was going to follow them.

But then I pulled myself out of the trance. My mother, with her own grocery cart, had made considerable distance, and now I was standing alone in the middle of the frozen meat section. I made my way back to my mother, who was now looking at various packages of hot dogs.

“There are Koreans here,” I said, which was the first thing I usually reported to my family whenever there was a rare sighting of them during our daily activities.

“Where?” she said without looking away from the price stickers underneath the hotdogs.

“Over by that other aisle,” I said, “I was almost going to follow them.”

“What?” She finally looked at me.

“I just heard the Korean and I wanted to follow the man and ask him something… but I didn’t because I think it would have embarrassed his kids,” I said, thinking of the teenage boy who would definitely have felt awkward if some random white girl walked up to his dad and started making conversation about who knows what.

I then began thinking of what I would actually say to the man if I did talk to him.

“Excuse me, but are you Korean?”

“Did you go to church today? If so, where do you go to church?”

“Where are all the Koreans in this area?”

“How long have you been around here?”

You know, all the creepy stalker questions that I secretly wondered about the existence of Koreans in my area of Texas. The only interaction I had with Korean people in Texas were in Chinatown an hour away from where I lived. Other than that, the only other place I could see them was on YouTube.

So far, this summer has had a drought of anything Korean for me. At first I didn’t notice it, but the isolation of it all slowly crept up. Of course I had my loving family and friends, but I had almost completely lost contact with a part of my life that I held so dear in Hawai'i. The slightest hint of a Korean person in my area pulled me in. Almost leading me to irrationally confront a middle aged Korean man with nothing to say but something like “Hello, I have not seen Korean people in this Walmart before. I’ve followed you because I have an interest in Korean things.” Not the greatest first impression.


It’s strange to be in a place where I at once feel at home, but also lacks something that I carved into my brain as important. This summer I lived my life in Texas quite happily until some small hint of Korean language or culture made me go ‘ouch’ with a tiny twinge of longing in my heart. It is so strange to notice the change in myself from the me who lived in Texas four years ago. It’s still my home, but since I’ve changed I notice the tiny aspects that are missing or out of place. You can call it reverse culture shock, but I believe it is something inevitable in every person. Whether or not you lived in a different country and returned, went off to college, or had a life-changing experience, life will always be different. Maybe even when you come back home, the slightest notion of something familiar to that changed life will set you off to follow it, even if it’s a Korean family just grocery shopping on a Sunday.

 

Author

Raquel “Rocky” Reinagel is a MA candidate and graduate assistant in the Department of Second Language Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa; former president of Hanwoori Hawaiʻi; and Co-President of the Second Language Studies Student Association (SLSSA) at UHM.