Monday, December 13, 2010

A most unusual afternoon

I have homemade Kimchi in my fridge. I didn't make it although I have done so quite successfully, in the past. I got this batch from my downstairs neighbor. A Korean woman who along with three kids (11, 14 and 17) and a husband who owns a business somewhere close by has made her home in India for three years now and plans to stay for "10-20 years..." in her own words.

The unusual thing is not that she is Korean. What is baffling is that she speaks virtually no English or Hindi or Marathi.

This is India not the United States. This is not a land of immigrants, quite the opposite. There is no Korea Town or Korean grocery or place where Koreans can feel a bit "at home." And yet--someone told me this--our building complex has several Korean families. How did that happen??

So this very sweet woman who speaks no language understood by Indians by and large likes living here. She has plied me with Kimchi, Korean coffee and delicious Tofu which, by the way, started our acquaintance. I saw a young fella in the lift carrying a pot with three large blocks of Tofu. Of course missing one of our favorite foods that isn't really consumed much in India, I pounced--is that tofu? Yes he said. Where did you get it? Downstairs from a friend, he said. I realized he lived one floor below us.

The next day I find two large blocks in my fridge. My dad said a Korean woman from downstairs had brought some. I visited her right then with a small box of Indian spices and she sent me back with Kimchi and Korean coffee and an armful of Korean ramen. I felt so silly returning her favor with my small box of spices!

Her kids, also super friendly but speak little English. They all spoke amongst themselves, commenting on my older son's looks, asking to be shown the baby, asking us to please visit again, promising to visit themselves.

And visit they did, laden with more Korean food. They stayed, had some coffee, some snacks. They called and invited another Korean woman and her daughter living on a floor below. These women and one other spent a lot of time together.

After tea and such, my baby was getting antsy and so I asked them if they'd like to take a walk. And we did. It was a strange sight. My two sons and I accompanied by three Korean women and three Korean kids. All through the walk, they chattered amongst themselves, smiling at us every now and again, telling me where I might be able to find good vegetables. People stared but they didn't seem to care. I felt awkward for them but they looked totally comfortable. When having tea at our place I commented on some incessant sources of noise. They agreed it was there but didn't make a big deal of it, didn't go at all ballistic like I do.

I asked them what they did for movies? "Download from Internet," my downstairs neighbor said gleefully.

I began thinking--what does one need, truly need to be happy? Me, I need peace, quiet, good food, my people of course--that is a given, movies and books, all in different order of importance depending on the day.

To these people--I still haven't quite understood why--India, or our city Pune is more attractive than Seoul. Perhaps it's just business but I don't think so. For just business can't keep someone in a place they don't care for. Not for long.

I wish I could find out but the language barrier is a barrier that makes it difficult to ask philosophical questions. And so all I do is observe that despite the language barrier, despite the racial barrier, despite being such a minority, truly, these people looked and seemed more at home in this land that I am a native of than I feel right now.