Happy New Year!
Saehae Bok Mani Badeuseyo (새해 복 많이 받으세요)!
For my New Year’s resolution, I wrote down a list of to-do items. I was going to get out of the dorm and go places. I was going to meet people. I started signing up for several Facebook groups that centered around life in Korea and nomadic travelers traveling throughout Asia. The only problem was that I could spend hours reading posts about other people’s adventures and I didn’t have to experience my own.
The next two weeks passed by without any issues. I got into a routine of waking up late, going to the faculty cafeteria for lunch and then going to my Korean language class from one to five in the afternoon. Then I would go back to the faculty cafeteria for dinner; then back to the dormitory.
I don’t know what it was about me that made them approach. For the first time, two Korean men and one female said hello as I walked past. Maybe it was the fact that I was walking alone to the student cafeteria or that a mean Ajusshi (old man) had yelled at me earlier for not separating my trash improperly.
How could I know I needed to buy two separate trash bags for food and waste. The whole encounter with him left me feeling frustrated and misunderstood. Because of the language barrier, I couldn’t explain to him that I wasn’t trying to disobey the rules; I didn’t understand them. I later learned at the nearby 7 Eleven I was supposed to buy white trash bags for regular garbage and yellow trash bags for food waste.
They said they were also students at Hankuk University. I actually was so shocked that someone was talking to me in English that I didn’t become suspicious about their true intentions. I answered question after questions about my educational background, where I was from, how long I planned on living in Korea, my age and whether I was married or single. I even handed over my cell phone so they could figure out how to add their KakaoTalk I.D. I had friends, which was one of my New Year’s resolutions. That’s all I cared about.
Until I started listening to a gut feeling. It took some time to hear, I didn’t really want to listen to it. I had friends and they told me they were glad I came to Korea. They invited me to come hear them play and sing at an event.
The event was taking place at six o’clock at night at a church they frequented. I received directions to the event, which involved taking the subway and a short bus ride. Taking the bus was still a goal that I had not accomplished and I didn’t know how to use the Kakao Taxi app. I decided it was too far and it was snowing outside so I informed them that I couldn’t attend the event.
Over the next couple of days, I received continuous text messages. It was overwhelming. I started to feel like the girl in the group was upset because I didn’t come to their event. Why couldn’t she understand that I never experienced a real winter and I was cold? I just wanted to stay in the dorm room where it was nice and warm.
Whenever I went outside, either my hands, or my nose, or my ears were cold. I was never completely one hundred percent warm. Every time I needed to walk to 7 Eleven to get a bottle of water and snacks it was a battle of sheer wheel power. I had to choose between having drinking water or being cold and let’s just say that some days I went without water.
Chinese New Year
It was finally the New Year weekend. The University was closed for the first time since school began. They invited me to go and have traditional Korean rice cake soup (Tteokguk). However, the day before I was to meet up with them I went to the local grocery store.
I couldn’t find sweet potatoes (Goguma) that were already cooked so I decided to buy a bag of dried yams. This is not something I would normally do. Whenever I went to the grocery store I bought the same items: chips, cookies, yogurt and tuna kimbap. That night I don’t know if it was fate or divine intervention but for the first time since coming to Korea, I became sick.
That night between trips to the bathroom, I finally started to question how little I really knew about my new friends. On New Year’s day, I decided to finally start asking questions to see if I was on the right track or just being paranoid. I asked for the name of the restaurant and where it was located. I received vague responses about us deciding on the place once we all met up together.
Next, I asked what day school started since the University classes were separate from my Korean language program. Again, I was given another vague reply. I know from my experience I always knew the day school started because I needed to purchase books beforehand to avoid the long lines at the bookstore.
I decided not to go to the New Year’s lunch. Something about it felt wrong. I deleted the chat group and blocked their numbers from my Kakao account. I didn’t verbally confirm if they were in an occult group that recruited foreigners.
Later, I read similar stories on Facebook groups about occult groups who were targeting foreigners at Universities and major shopping areas. I don’t know if I was wrong or being overly cautious, but I don’t regret my decision. There would be better days ahead.
If you want to continue reading about my life in Seoul, South Korea check out these posts: