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Lost in Translation

April 22, 2014

Korean_cuisine-Jeonju_bibimbap-01Travelling is a great learning experience, we all agree. Travelling alone is a far greater experience, I learnt the hard way.

At a very tender age, I was introduced to two mind games- Chess and Go. Among other things, games have given me an opportunity to travel extensively both within the country and to various parts of the world- UK, Spain, France, Switzerland, Japan and Korea among others.

Travelling has been an enjoyable learning experience and an opportunity to meet people from across the globe. Every time I travelled to another country to participate in a tournament, it opened my eyes to the big, vast world and gave me an opportunity to learn about new cultures and people.

I distinctly remember my trip to South Korea to represent my country at the King’s Asian Baduk Championship. I was still to turn 16 and had to travel alone as my team mate had to opt out at the last minute. To compound matters, the schedule on arrival at Seoul was changed without any intimation to me. When I landed at the Incheon airport, to my horror, I found that the designated counter where I was to meet my hosts was shut down. I realised I was lost, lost in transition, lost in translation in South Korea.

It was now getting late, really late. I made frantic calls to the Indian embassy only to realise that the embassy was closed over the weekend. It wasn’t really my day.  After four long gruelling hours, I managed to get to the tournament organizers. It was not easy, tackling the language barrier, but was finally able to inform them that I was stranded at the airport.

The tournament organisers were extremely courteous and efficient. They gave me clear travel directions in English. I had to travel to another city at night so that I could reach in time for the tournament. With the help of the airport staff, I managed to get into a bus and travel from Incheon to Jeonju, all alone. I had never been allowed to travel alone even in my own city, leave another country.

During the long bus ride we stopped only once. I was extremely hungry and finally when the bus stopped, I got off to grab something to eat.  I felt uneasy, out of my comfort zone. It was clear that I was far away from home, far away from anything familiar.

At the live counters, I saw a man cutting-up an eel, I had only seen them in School laboratory till now.The next stall was serving a form of rice cakes, or so I believe and another was selling Bibimbap. Nothing made sense to me. Finally, I found a 24×7 shop that among other things was selling chips. I grabbed a few as I had nothing to eat due to the chaos and confusion of being lost in an alien world.  When I finally sat in the bus and opened the packet I found that they were not potato chips as expected, instead sweet potato chips- a first!

After spending the night in the bus, staring at a country that looked so different from mine, particulary in the dark night, I finally reached my hotel safely with the first rays of sun.

It was just the beginning of a weeklong learning experience and I had already been exposed to the Korean people and their friendly, helpful nature. The long drive had introduced me to Korean pop, as the music blazed in the bus, green tea and salted sea-weed as snacks and a completely different lifestyle!

The half-day lost in translation in Korea was probably the best thing that happened to me. Next morning, I found many fellow players inquiring about my well being as the story of the Indian girl lost in transition and translation had circulated fast.  I had already made many new friends- friends from Singapore, China, Thailand, Macau among others and enjoyed the stay thoroughly. I no longer felt lost but could feel the warmth of friendship.

Had I not gotten lost at the airport and then taken a bus to another city all alone at night, I would have only seen the country as a tourist. Lost in translation helped me understand a little known culture and people and I thoroughly enjoyed the next one week.

It is an experience that I’ll cherish telling my children as I made life long friends whose friendship I enjoy to this day even though we stay in different worlds.  Over the years, I have imbibed so much from other cultures through my travelling- I have learnt to appreciate different beliefs, costumes, cuisine and traditions and most importantly never to give up in adversity.

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