Life of Anonymous Celebrity, Part II

Or, My Identity as Korean Boy’s Girlfriend

Teacher’s Day was Thursday of this week and because all the kids who attend Haba are rich and generous (that most wonderful combination for those of us who aren’t rolling in the won), the school gives us the day off. This saves us the embarrassment and disappointment of having to return nice and expensive gifts, because we’re not allowed to accept any. So we are denied the benefits of the rich and generous. As the late Vonnegut would have said, “So it goes.” All of this to say Thursday was a holiday for me and it just so happens that the annual International Book Fair was on at Coex Mall and the Universe orchestrated it so that Keun Ha would be working his publisher’s booth that very day. So I headed over to the exhibition hall to check out the books and to have lunch with my love.

I called him when I got to the station and met him outside the building. We walked in and he decided we should eat before he showed me around. So we had a nice lunch at one of the restaurants there. After we ate, he decided to show me around the hall and take me to his booth at the show. I asked him if I should just pretend to be a nobody asking him for help so he could talk to me shamelessly for a ridiculous amount of time without censure from his coworkers.
“That’s impossible. They already know you’re coming. When I told them we were eating lunch first, they told me I couldn’t go and that you should come there first.”
In that case, the whole nobody scenario wouldn’t work out very well. However, meeting Keun Ha’s coworkers was still an experience of anonymous celebrity. Well, perhaps anonymous isn’t the right word. Because these people knew who I was. I was Keun Ha’s girlfriend from the States. And they all supposedly wanted to “meet” me.

We rounded the corner of the booth and I was met with the knowing smiles of all his female colleagues. So the normal bows and introductions were made and I Annyanghaseyo-ed myself to death. Then everyone took a step backwards. No one wanted to ask me any questions or talk to me. (I know what you’re thinking: They can’t talk to you if they don’t know English. Oh, but you would be wrong. They can talk to me in the most comfortable of ways: without making eye contact. They can simply ask Kenny to ask me questions. That’s usually par for the course when I meet his friends and acquaintances. But none of that for Hangilsa employees.) It’s obvious everyone just wants to look at me, to finally see The American Girlfriend, but no one wants to “know” me. And maybe that’s asking too much. And perhaps, they already know everything they want to about me because I have it from a reliable source that I am frequently talked about. I didn’t expect to make any friends there anyway. But it was still a strange experience, one where I was noticeably on display.

Kenny walks me around the booth, showing me the different sections and how everything is set up. Then, he attempts to introduce me to a woman on his team. (The editors are split into small teams of 3 or 4 people and work on projects together.) We start to approach her and people, this is not an exaggeration: She starts shaking her head no and backing up with her hands waving out in front of her like I have bird flu and she can’t be bothered to risk it. She is smiling as she does this, but it’s nonetheless incredibly awkward when you are approaching someone and they are refusing to stand still. Keun Ha grabs my elbow and propels me forward because I had stopped moving toward this woman in case she backed into a large stack of books or the wall of the booth. I bow my head and say hello in Korean. She says hello back and then twitters nervously in Korean to my boyfriend.

In the course of 5 minutes, I have ceased to be a real person. I am The Korean Boy’s Girlfriend and I am apparently unapproachable, even through a translator they are friends with. I am there to be seen. And I guess that’s okay. It’s not like I am going to be their BFF or anything. The introduction to strangers in this country becomes not a meeting, but an appearance. I sometimes feel like a celebrity that no one wants to interview, but everyone wants pictures of.

I’m not complaining, and I’m definitely not raging. But I do find myself in bizzaro-world because meeting people in English is okay for me. I enjoy getting to know new people, wowing them with my intelligence and wit (inevitably apparent in my native tongue), and all the possibilities that present themselves at the moment of connection. And I guess that’s part of the reason I sometimes feel lost here. Because things that would delight me or be no big deal to me in English are impossible for me to enjoy in Korean. I find myself in situations that I want to be natural and relaxed in.

Solution to Life of Anonymous Celebrity: Learn Korean. Simple sentence, but difficult to accomplish. And because learning another language is a long-term goal, there will be plenty more LAC experiences in between! So, no worries, dear readers. My life will continue to be awkward, occasionally uncomfortable, and usually hilarious. And I will continue to share it with you.


  1. Ok... so I'm not the most socially smooth person when dealing with people that speak my language. But I don't know I could handle the social interactions that you do! Craziness.

  2. I'm not sure i'm actually "handling" the interactions. And I'm getting used to it now. I'm sort of socially isolated here anyway, so being socially awkward is like the second step in my downward spiral towards total recluse, right?


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