Traces of Korea and Japan

October 1, 2013

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Korean people are the most common to find anywhere on the planet, with populations in the millions outside their home country. It should come as no surprise that I encountered a couple here in Peru, touring the Santa Catalina Monastery. When they asked my friend to take their picture, I had to be sure:

“한국어 사람 있어요?”

(Responds with look of utter shock)

People are one thing. We travel, get out of our respective countries, see the world. But lately, it seems no matter where I go, I have traces of Korea and, in particular, Japan following me across borders. After I graduated university, I would have found it difficult to identify something as uniquely Japanese (even mainstream ideas like manga). Nowadays, even in Peru, I see traces of Asia all over the world. Let me give you a few examples:

1. I had booked a shuttle from Abu Dhabi Airport to Dubai to see my Aussie friends last year. Imagine my surprise stepping onto the bus when I discovered it was identical to those in which I had ridden two years prior, across the globe. A Korean Daewoo bus in the middle of the UAE.

2. Krabi bus terminal in Thailand. I had to wait for my departure north, and started people watching. All the bus attendants were wearing green vests… and the language immediately jumped out at me. Thailand reuses Korean transportation vests and doesn’t even bother to change the text.

3. After landing in Lima, Peru, I took a cab to the Sheraton Hotel (courtesy of my SPG points). Although I did hear Peruvian folk music playing in the lobby, my first real experience in South America wasn’t drinking pisco or talking to a Peruvian, but encountering a Japanese tour group waiting for their rooms. Of course, I talked to them.

4. During my time on a mobile marketing tour in southern California, I stayed at a fair share of hostels to cut down on expenses. Of these, one of my favorites was Hosteling International’s South Bay: mellow, well outside of LA, and with a great ocean view. What I realized soon after I checked in was this hostel was within sight of the Korean Friendship Bell, a little taste of Korean culture to which I woke up every morning of my stay.

5. Perhaps most noteworthy is the abundance of Japanese buses in Arequipa. I thought I was seeing things at first, but apparently decommissioned minibuses in Japan end up over here, with their labels and destination names intact on the sides. 元気のこども whizzes by me at an unreasonable speed whenever I try to cross the street… it makes me wonder how there can be such pollution over here, with Korean taxis and Japanese buses.

The point is, it’s not merely sushi and Korean BBQ restaurants that cross borders. Nor is it people. Traces of the life I had in Asia continue to follow me, and I feel their pull very strongly, especially now that I’m sick and in a pondering mood. Maybe Japan was the right place for me?

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