한국에도착했을때매니저가어디로나를데리러올지알지못했다. 어디에서일하게될지도, 함께살고일하게될사람들이어떤사람들인지에대해서도전혀감이없었다.
비행기에서내리자코피가흐르기시작했다. 매니저는나를병원에데려갔고이후서울에서그리멀지않은마을에나는내려주었다. 마을에도착하기직전에차도옆에있는기지정문을보았다. 내가미국인클럽에서일하게될것이라확신하게된시점이었다. 나는 “힘든시간을보내겠구나.”라고스스로에게말을했다. 지난 4년간나는전화로미국사람들을상대하는일을했다. 군인들을상대할때그경험을써먹을수있기때문에좋은경험이될것인지이미미국인에대해선입견및나쁜의견을갖게되었으니나쁜경험이될것인지알지못했다.
내가살게될곳은고용주집의일층에위치하고있었다. 매니저가문을노크할때나는그사람들이어떤사람들일지궁금해서견딜수가없었다. 여성들이좋은사람들이고나를환영해준다는것을알아서무척안심이되었다. 그러나나는첫한달동안그들에게쉽게마음을열수없었다. 끊임없이내이야기를하는것에, 그들과상호작용하는것에경계를늦추지않았다. 나는항상내성적이었고사람들과일정한거리를유지했던사람이었다. 첫날부터내가그들과공통의관심사가별로없다는것은매우뚜렷해보였다. 때때로내가얘기를잘하지않는이유에대해자기들끼리서로물어보는것을듣기도하였다.
밤이면새벽 6까지잠을이루지못하는경우가대부분이었다. 부엌에앉아서담배를피우며내가얘기를나눌사람이아무도없다는것에슬퍼했다. 그때나는다른사람들에게내얘기를털어놔야겠다, 다른친구들이내삶의일부가될수있도록기회를줘야겠다는생각이들었다. 나는언제부터이렇게의심이많아졌을까? 나는언제부터사람들을믿기를주저하기시작했을까? 결국한국에온이후지금까지나를도와준사람들은그들이었던것이다.
사람들에게곁을내주는것은쉽지만은않은일이다. 특히나만의방식으로일을처리해왔거나다른사람들로부터의도움을기대하지않았었다면말이다. 처음에나는여성들과친구가되는것을망설였다. 하지만이후나는여성중두명과친해졌다. 우리는연령대도비슷했고비슷한관심사를가지고있었다. 그들은나를언니처럼생각했고조언을구하기도하였다. 대신에그들은일적인면에서, 삶의측면에서한국에적응할수있도록도와주었다. 클럽의식구들은계속늘고있다. 최근문을닫은클럽에서 2명의여성이우리클럽으로재배치되었다. 그래서우리중 3명이다른집으로이사를했어야했는데덕분에우리는더이상옛날집에서옹기종기모일필요가없었다. 친한두친구와함께이사를할수있게된것은정말행운이었다.
여성들은그들의친구인군인들몇명을나에게소개시켜주었다. 나는모든군인들이다나쁜건아니라는걸깨달았다. 그들에대한내관점을변화시킬필요가있었다. 나도그군인들중몇몇과가까운친구사이가되었다. 인종이나문화의차이에도불구하고친구삼을수있는사람들이있다는것은굉장한발견이었다. 이전내일의경험을고려해볼때나는그들과꽤잘지냈다. 나는그들에게필리핀에서의내삶에대해얘기했고그들은항상즐거워했다. 그들은나에게미국에서자란다는것이어떤것인지혹은자신들이결국어떻게군에입대하게되었는지, 군인의삶이진정어떤것인지에대해얘기해주었다.
서로의얘기를나누는것은항상우정을시작하는좋은출발점이된다. 그것은다른사람에대해더잘이해할수있도록하며오로지자신의관점으로다른사람을판단할수없다는것을깨닫게만든다. 하지만내가마음의문을연사람이떠나야할때는슬프다. 지난주내친구들을포함하여몇몇부대가이미 (기지를) 떠났다. 몇몇은계속연락하겠다는약속을했고심지어다른몇몇은자신들을같은부대로재배치해달라는요청을할수있을때돌아오겠다는약속까지했다. 하지만그들이다시돌아올거라는희망을크게가질수는없다. 서로가서로를다시는볼수없을지모른다는가능성은언제나존재한다.
우리네 삶에서 사람들은 그리 오래 머물지 못한다. 이것은 삶의 슬픈 현실이다. 할 수 있는 것은 그저 감사하는 것이다. 그들이 내 삶의 중요한 일부가 되었다는 것, 그렇지 않았더라면 나는 불완전했을 수도 있었다는 것. 낯선 곳에서 힘든 시간에 서로에게 의지가 될 수 있는 친구를 갖는다는 것은 좋은 일이다. 비록 사람들은 오고 가지만 그들에게 마음을 여는 편이 낫다. 심지어 마지막 안녕을 고하고도 오랫동안 나를 성장시키는 그런 사람에게 말이다.
On Giving People a Chance
When I arrived in South Korea, I didn’t know where my manager would take me. I had no idea of what place I’d be working at, nor did I have the faintest idea of what sort of people I’d be living and working with.
My nose began to bleed when I got off the plane. My manager took me to the hospital and drove me off to a town not far off from Seoul. Just before we got into the ville, I saw the camp’s entrance along the highway. That’s when I knew for sure that I’d be working in an American club. “I’m going to have a hard time,” I told myself. I spent the last four years talking to Americans on the phone. I didn’t know if it was a good thing because I might use that experience in dealing with soldiers, or if was a bad thing because I was already biased and already had a bad opinion about them.
The house I’d be living in was situated on the ground floor of my employer’s house. As my manager was knocking on the door, I couldn’t help but think about what sort of people they might be. It was a relief knowing that the girls were nice and welcoming. However, for the first month, I didn’t allow myself to warm up to them quite easily. I would constantly be on guard with my stories and how I interacted with them. I’ve always been withdrawn and distant with people, and since day one, it was quite noticeable that I had very little in common with them. Sometimes, I would hear them talk among themselves, asking one another why they think I don’t talk.
Most nights, I would stay up until six in the morning, sitting in the kitchen, smoking a pack of cigarettes, and just feel sad about not having anyone to talk to. That’s when it hit me that I would have to let other people in, to give them the chance to be part of my life. When did I become so suspicious? Or when did I become hesitant in trusting people? After all, ever since coming to South Korea, they’ve been assisting me.
It isn’t easy trying to let people in, especially if you’re used to doing things your way and don’t expect help from anyone else. At first I was kind of hesitant to become friends with the girls. Later on, though, I became close to two of them. We are closer in age and have the same interests. They also treat me like an older sister and ask me for advice. In return, they help me with work and adjusting to living in South Korea. Our family in the club is also growing. Two girls got transferred from a club that recently closed. Three of us had to move to another house so we didn’t have to huddle together in the old house any longer. It’s just luck that I moved in with the two girls I’m closest with.
The girls also introduced me to some soldiers they are friends with. It was then that I realized that not all soldiers are bad and I need to change my opinion of them. I also became close friends with some of them. It was a great discovery that there are people you can be friends with despite of race and cultural differences. I get along well with them given my work experience before. I tell them stories from back home which they always find amusing; and they tell me what life is like growing up in the USA, or how they end up being in the army, or what the life of a soldier really is like.
Sharing stories is always a good start of friendship. It helps you understand another person more and makes you realize that you can never judge another person only from your point of view. It’s a sad thing, though, that just when you’re already warming up to them that they have to leave. Some troops already left a week ago, including some of my friends. Some promised to stay in touch. Some even promised to come back if they can request to be stationed at the same army camp. You can never hope too much for people to come back, though. There’s always a possibility of not being able to see each other again.
People can’t stay in your life for a long time. It’s a sad fact of life. All you can do is to be thankful that they have become a vital part of you who otherwise would have been incomplete without them. It’s nice having friends in a foreign place knowing that you can rely on each other during the hard times. It’s true that people come and go, but it’s better to let people in, people who’d help you grow even long after the last goodbye is said.