I had forgotten so many Korean quirks until traveling to Switzerland, where every hostel and boat tour and cogwheel train seemed to have a pair or two of Korean visitors. The young, haphazard fashion, love it. The calming murmur of a language spoken with few inflections, love it. The tendency to giggle when nervous, which used to rile me a little in South Korea, was now aww-shucks sweet.
On a tour of Lake Lucerne, about thirty Korean travellers piled onto our boat seconds before departure. A shy girl came up to me, practically shoved forward by her friends, to ask to borrow the menu on my table. Her English, though squeaking with nerves, was perfect. I replied using the sparse Korean I remembered, all uber-excited to use my minimal Hangul. Nothing. She was so self-conscious about speaking correct English, she didn't notice I had replied in her native tongue. That, or, my pronunciation has gone way off the rails.
One man, the evident joker of the group, walked bravely up to a long table of European tourists and asked them to pose for a photo. He had chosen the blondest group on the boat, the ones with the most impressive curly-ended moustaches and alpine trek gear. "One, two, three, kimchi!" He taught them, squatting close with arms around his new friends as the group smiled for the camera.
In a hostel in Berne, I told a quiet girl in the kitchen that her cooking smelled great. We got to chatting, her eyes bugging each time I showed a fragment of knowledge about her homeland. "You've heard of Seoul?" she would squeak, momentarily forgetting the food in her mouth, and turning magenta with embarrassment as one hand shot up to cover her chewing.
Later, during late nights or early mornings, propped up over my journal in a tiny hostel bed, I carefully drew the bits of Hangul script that I remembered. I pictured my favourite restaurants back in Daegu, the smiling owners appearing mid-meal with a "ser-bis-uh" (complimentary) dish for the table. I thought of my friends in Canada, wondering who I could drag to Koreatown this summer for bibimbap and karaoke.
I didn't expect to go to one country only to find myself nostalgic for another. Funny how that happens.