Words by Samantha Dix-Hill, Illustration by Leroy Kucia
But we’re not here to discuss my husband’s pain and suffering; we’re talking about change, and if you’re a well-travelled expat you’ll know that change is something you have to deal with constantly. We’re always having to make new friends, find new hair-dressers, new dentists, new schools, new jobs (if you feel so inclined), the dreaded gynecologists (females only, please) and a reliable GP. And I’m quite happy, even enthusiastic, to adapt to all these changes. Friends are difficult to find and age has made me selective. So far I have four girlfriends and one rather obnoxious soccer coach whom I feel privileged to know. Hairdressers are slightly more complicated especially when you have Western hair in an Asian country but so far things are looking good. I feel disinclined to discuss those in the medical profession as I’m still somewhat scarred by my first experience with a German gynecologist who, I’m sure, was suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s. Month after month during my pregnancy he would never remember who I was until halfway through the examination. His bald head would pop up from between my knees and he would joyously exclaim, “Ah, you are zee girl from Sud Africa, ja?” It was all rather disturbing.
Generally, you get the idea; I’m not afraid of change. I embrace it and get on with the program. However, there is one type of change that I’m finding harder and harder to stomach and that is the re-organization of food in my grocery store. At least once a month some bright spark decides that it would be a good idea to re-arrange all the products. I wouldn’t mind if we were just talking shelf space as even I’m smart enough to understand the marketing benefits of optimal shelf placement. I’m talking whole aisles of re-arranged goods. I’m not one to serenely push my trolley up and down each aisle, perusing all the different brands, comparing prices and finding something new to try out. Food doesn’t interest me. I want to be in and out in the quickest possible time with a sufficient variety of nutrients to sustain my family for a week. Usually it takes fifteen minutes. But if you were to observe me on a day when shelves have been re-arranged you would witness a rather large Western woman having a very un-subtle “WTF!” moment in the middle of the store. This involves elaborate throwing of my arms into the air, a couple of pulls on my hair and a worrying moment when I feel the uncontrollable urge to rugby tackle the nearest staff member, throw them to the ground and pummel an explanation out of them.
I’m beginning to realize that there are many things about Korea that I will never understand. While most of you will leave here having never fully understood the principle of Confucianism and other important cultural mysteries I will leave here wondering two things: why Korean drivers won’t let me in when I indicate so politely that I would like to change lanes, and why grocery stores keep hiding tinned tomatoes and olive oil from me.