The last time we were in Seoul, my husband and I did a walking tour through Namsongol Hanok Village. It’s a mini village that replicates traditional Korean life from back in the day. You can peek inside restored ‘hanok’ houses that peasants and aristocrats used to live in. It makes for a nice visit after a morning climb up and down Namsan Mountain and provides a cultural lesson of life from Korea’s past.
We were there on a weekday. Several school buses stopped in for a field trip and before we knew it, our quiet tour was being overrun by a group of kindergartners.
To us, they were a cute lot of Korean kids with their shiny black hair and matching backpacks. But to them, we or rather my husband made for a spectacle worthy of a field trip’s education.
In unison they chanted “Mee-gook sar/dom! Mee-gook sar/dom!” (in translation “American man! American man!”)
Korea’s a relatively homogeneous country. Some of these children may have never encountered a tall, blond Caucasian man in real life before. Maybe only on-screen or on a soccer pitch.
I laughed in amusement as I translated this chant to my husband. I could see the fascination and thrill in their faces as they crowded around him, stopping to look up and see a real life “white” guy in the flesh. Kids have no filters and I could interpret their comments “how can he be so tall?” “how does he get hair that color?” “I wonder what it feels like!” “wow, is this for real?”
Any rock star fantasy my husband ever harbored was fulfilled on this day. Only to his disappointment, the groupies were a bunch of five-year-olds and not typical female roadies.
These kids looked up to him like he was some idol. They were intrigued because he was different. Despite their young age, they knew enough to recognize someone who is not like them in appearance, language or mannerisms.
Surely, I was overlooked. I blended in with their teachers or your everyday “ajima”.
Lessons from Littles
At a time when everyday news and Twitter feeds are nothing but negative and disappointing, it’s refreshing to have a conversation with someone who is genuinely curious about the world. Just like those Korean kids who were not afraid to openly speak their mind with a white guy sighting, it shows that humans inherently want to discover and learn.
At what point in our adult life do we stop asking questions and lose our sense of curiosity? This is when assumptions take over and judgments are made behind closed doors. Conversations stop and cynicism sets in. This closed mindedness only breeds contempt and intolerance.
I’m not saying kids should rule the world but sometimes kids are the wiser. At least when it comes to compassion and possessing a healthy curiosity of their surroundings.
Are you curious? Have you ever been the target of someone else’s curiosity? Let me know!