My Brilliant Korea

No answer

Blogging | November 2, 2011

The state of my desk is usually a fairly accurate reflection of the state of my mind.

Currently, my desk looks like this:

Scattered. Not much room for anything else.

Ideas for blog posts and lesson plans are scrawled on post-it notes, highlighters lay strewn, immigration papers struggle for air under novels, Korean text books have been cast off to the side, while a trusty packet of Tylenol stays within arm’s reach.

On top of the pile sits my phone.

My dreaded phone.

Recently, my phone has been the cause of anxiety and guilt for me, mostly because of a person who continues to call it.

Again and again.

A person whose phone calls I continue to ignore.

Again and again.

I met this person last week at the Korean immigration office in Cheongju, two hours from my university town.

Although her features were quite similar to that of a Korean person, I could tell that she was an alien in this foreign land.

Just like me.

I smiled at her in the waiting room, and she smiled back.

“Number 85, number 85,” said a voice over the loudspeaker.

I checked my ticket and stood up.

Half an hour later I stepped outside into the sunshine, on something of a high, due to the quick and painless processing of my paperwork.

There she was again.

She looked just as delighted as I felt, as she posed in front of the Korean immigration sign while her husband took pictures.

“Hi,” I said to her Korean husband.

“Would you like me to take a picture of the two of you together?”

My low-level Korean led to some confusion and her husband attempted to take a picture of me on his phone.

“No, no,” I said.

“You two, together”.

They posed together in front of the immigration sign.

She told me she was from the Philippines and had moved to Korea for marriage.

Then, approximately 43 seconds into our conversation, she asked:

“Can I have your number?”

Inwardly, I winced.

This has happened to me many, many times in Korea.

After just the briefest conversation with someone on the street, I have been startled by a request for my phone number.

The request usually comes from Koreans who want to practice their English, or lonely foreigners looking to make new friendships.

Sometimes, I have refused to part with the number, as I did with the man who approached me while I was chewing a mouthful of Korean barbeque at a restaurant last weekend.

“I’m sorry, I don’t think we can be friends, I live very far from here,” I said to him.

“But I want learn English”.

“I’m sorry, no, you can’t have my phone number”, I said again.

But other times, like at the immigration office that sunny afternoon, I have said yes when I mean no.

Since our encounter, the newly arrived Filipino bride has called me seven times. Each time I fail to return the call and each time I am wracked with guilt.

I know she is lonely in a faraway land.

I know she wants to be my friend.

But I don't want any more transient, meaningless friendships that are based on nothing more than the fact that we both speak English and we happened to stand in front of the same building for 43 seconds.

Am I a terrible person for feeling this way?


I just don't have any more room right now in my scattered, busy mind.

Nor, for that matter, on my scattered, busy desk.


1. Jessica on November 2, 2011

Don't feel bad. She'll eventually give up. Just learn to give out fake numbers such as 1800 466 854 538 (1800 I not like u)

2. Blythe on November 2, 2011

Did you experience this in Japan Jess?

3. Jan on November 2, 2011

Another invaluable lesson. Thanks Blythe

Any Comments?

About Blythe Seinor

When Blythe was a journalism student at the Queensland University of Technology she interviewed the former Indonesian president, Abdurrahman Wahid.
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