Tuesday, April 20, 2010

There was a celebration this week at my university. And like all celebrations there were speeches and flowers, gifts, and photographers... and bowing. A lot of bowing.

When one chooses to live abroad, in a land where the language is foreign, one must choose to either be very arrogant and self-centered or to embrace ambiguity. One, in this instance being moi. My choice? Ambiguity.

First, we learn all the I am's ... Je suis, Yo soy, Nanin imnida. We communicate about ourselves and who we are (I'm a student, I'm a woman, I'm a daughter) first and then we learn the things that attach to us. Where is the train / bathroom / bank? Quiero pasta fagioli, dos coronetos, mul chusayo. "I" am the center of the communications universe.

And this is where many people end their learning. Honestly, I don't know how to say "what's your name," "what did you do last night," "is that a picture of your family" or any of the other things that one picks up living abroad. Korean is proving to be quite a challenge. But a few words here and there are making it into my lexicon. The other day, I learned "haksang" (student). I drew a picture of birds and pointed to a group of high school girls who were chirping and flitting about like birds, and the ladies in the shop taught me the word. But I digress.

Back to the ceremony. A room like the UN, there were headphones for interpretation (channel 1 for English), and men sat at attention in dark suits, their ties sparkling under the lights. Koreans have the most gloriously beautiful ties. Truly, they sparkle. Anyway, ambiguity. A woman dressed in Buddhist prayer garb was given an award, a metal placed around her neck, and she put her hands in prayer position as she bowed first to the school's president, to the other people on the stage, and then to us, the audience. "Who is she?" I whisper to the man next to me (sparkly tie). He tells me she is not attached to the university except that she gave a huge endowment to the law school. There is another man who also receives an award. He runs one of the largest newspapers in the country. He speaks with humor and a glint in his eye, and it doesn't take language to feel his charm. She is peace, he is charm . I have no idea what they said.

But this I know - they were both happy even if their joy was shown in different ways. A smile is a smile as long as it reaches the eyes. Calm is calm no matter whether it comes from meditation or laughter.

Ambiguity has taught me (there it is) about people. We are all the same - we all want to belong, we all want to be appreciated, we all want to feel safe. And we all want to feel joy.

May you be one with the ambiguity around you.

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