Chang-rae Lee, Native Speaker
“these people are goblins.”
“goblins? how are we supposed to get home?”
“we run, stupid. we run without letting them touch us. it’s all part of the game.”
we moved to seoul from california in 2001. it was the first of my many melodramatic, simulated deaths. i wrote a will and handed out my toys to each of my first-grade classmates, and prepared myself to be reborn. this was all for the sake of the mission, for the sake of the game.
i am a spy. my disguise, my physical appearance, my language, coded in english. i go over the rules every time i walk out of the apartment and onto the streets. no eye contact. no physical contact.
this is not my home.
there are moments when i forget to play the game. i find myself running in the snow on my way to school, giggling at an elderly man sniff a pink flower every morning, standing in the warm rain as the cars pass by. i feel as if i am betraying those i left behind, but i don’t know how not to have fun.
in my town there are so many apartments! i feel so small and helpless, there are so many monsters and other scary things that i have yet to see. in the winter, the sky is one dark gray cloud. in the summer, the sky is blue, but there are no clouds at all. and never do i see the stars.
across from the living room is the river. when it rains, i see the river fill up with boxes, planks of wood. i hear on the news that people and cows have been spotted, too. i imagine myself in the river, floating alongside them.
i fall in love with these people in this place that i hate that i hate that i love that i love.
when the butcher in his glowing pink chamber says hello and hands me a yakult drink, it’s like i’ve been here my whole life. seoul is so small, much smaller than california, where the people are dolls and puppets with lifestyles and habits. in korea, everything is cramped and inconsistent – each day is newly tangled.
one of my self-appointed duties is to observe the shops and the shopkeepers. they give me rice cakes and tangerines and they know who i am, my family, where i live and go to school. i make eye contact with some of them. not everyone is a goblin.
my enemies reveal their secrets to me through the secret stairs: my town is so small that many things are moved underground.
i find a bookstore under my piano class where i can hide from the bullies at school. reading in korean comforts me because the written word has no expectations, it merely exists and waits for me to catch up. i stumble upon a pet shop under the supermarket where there are baby dachshunds; they also have no expectations of me either.
there is no one to explain that i don’t need to have a home to have a self – it will take at least ten more years to take that in. for the meantime, i spend too many nights looking out the window, watching shops close, agonizing over where my loyalties lie.
i feel like i’m betraying someone, but i don’t know who. i feel torn between two places i barely know; they barely know me either.
Photos © Google Earth
Kelley Dong is a 2nd year college student in California. She dreams of a day where everything isn’t so complicated.