For the first time on our trip today, I got some visible reaction from people just for being … me.
It was at the museum at Gyongyu, where there were huge numbers of schoolkids on field trip. I began to notice groups of kids pointing me out to each other, with looks of surprise. Then they started saying “Hi!” or “Hello!”. (When I said “Hello!” back, they would giggle and look vindicated in their daring.) An especially good student said “Nice to meet you!” (“Nice to meet you too!” was my reply, of course.)
Once when I turned a corner, a girl of nine or ten saw me, and her eyes widened and her jaw literally dropped. Then she nudged her friend, pointed, and the friend did exactly the same thing.
Finally, a group of girls in their early teens saw me and were giggling, pointing, and trying the occasional “Hi!”. When I said “Hi!” back, one of them daringly came over and said “Picture?” I said OK, and one of them snapped me with about five of them. They said “Thank you! Thank you!”, and ran away, tittering. Clearly, this was my lifetime peak paparazzi moment.
My guess about all this is that the museum draws busloads of kids from more rural areas of Korea, where they really don’t see white people that often (unlike the relatively urban or resorty areas we’ve been touring in so far). I’m hoping that it was just that I was white, not that I was an especially large or prototypical specimen. But anyway, it was a friendly, cheerful vibe, and I definitely feel repeatedly welcomed. The future of Korea says “Hi!”.