We sat across from each other in a cafe inside one of Seoul’s exclusive department stores. In Korean-accented English, she explained that a few years ago, while touring some of the major cities in the United States, she experienced an overwhelming liberation and calm that physically manifested to slight weight gain, which she smiled shyly to.
I thought of what she had said and mentally conjured a series of Polaroid shots, where the backdrop of each slide showcased major cities along both American coasts. The progression of photos showed her delicately tiny frame getting bigger and her smile getting fuller. And in the meantime, the Polaroid series shuffled through with her smile cheeked against the smiled-plastered cheeks of her Korean friends in different American cities. Frame: Las Vegas! Cheese! Snap.
This particular association of weight gain with happiness has been recurring in my few conversations with young native Koreans, who lock the adagial perception of western spheres as firmaments for Opportunity. That is to say that anywhere else can be loose and laxative in comparison to Seoul, which is a city chaotically milled over by tiny frames clutching onto multi-functional cellular phones, learning textbooks, et cetera. In Seoul, I often find myself lost in a swirl of aggressive bodies aiming for the far and few opportunities available to them.
She treated me to a wonderful, traditional Korean lunch a few weeks later, days before my departure back to the United States, and a week before her departure for the same country, this time for English language studies. I wanted to tell her so much about what to prepare for as a foreigner in the United States. But again, a series of snapshots shuffled through my head of the ups and downs that will naturally occur, including intense loneliness and profound wonderment in a country so new to one’s senses, that I felt it was better to merely taste in the moment before she leaves. Right before parting ways, I asked for her prediction on whether she will drastically change after living abroad. Having a number of close friends who have returned after living abroad, she explained with assurance that while they have left during their twenties – in contrast to moving out during the formative teenage years – the personalities of her grown Korean friends have not changed, despite flipside changes in environments or, for that matter, countries.