Apr 14

Little Moments and the Happiness of Three Dumplings

When you move to another country, your life is suddenly boiled down to the basics. You are not living the exotic and grandiose life that everyone back home thinks you are just because they saw a few smiling pictures on facebook. Everything becomes a challenge and you suddenly struggle with the simplest of tasks.


You find yourself helplessly wandering grocery aisles looking for the table salt because you don’t know the words to ask how to find it; you walk into a restaurant, point at an indecipherable item on the menu, nod and shrug when the waiter asks you a question, and hope that your plate doesn’t arrive with a whole octopus and a side of intestines; angry old ladies barge in your house and scream at you for reasons you will never know; you walk into stores and mime “can opener” and “plunger” and realize that your entire life has become a game of charades; you try to flush the toilet, but press the wrong button because you can’t read the buttons, and the bidet sprays all over the bathroom stall while you duck and cover. It’s true, these things all happen.


Everything in life has become so simplified that you feel like a child again, learning society’s fundamental survival skills. Yet in the same fashion as childhood, it is now the little things that give you the greatest sense of accomplishment. Have you ever seen a kid throw a rock, or jump, or do something so incredibly simple, but seen the look of sincere pride on their face afterward? Like, yeah, how many kids do you know that can throw a rock like that? I did that, I’m so awesome!


Korean mandu dumplings

That is precisely how I felt on the day I ordered three dumplings and finally received only three dumplings.  Because up until that point, every time I ordered three of something I would receive AT LEAST ELEVEN. I honestly smiled on my entire walk home, giggling to myself in glee like a madman because I only had three dumplings.


It was at that point that I realized that my happiness here is based entirely on a collection of little moments, scattered throughout the days and weeks. That, despite and through all the challenges and frustrations, one of these little moments of triumph can override a week of negativity.


Moments like when I’m teaching my class and there is a solid, though fleeting, minute of silence during which I know I have my students’ rapt attention and enthusiasm.


That moment when I buy strawberries from the sweet old lady on the corner and she insists on giving me a discount and a toothy grin.


That moment when I’m slowly sounding out a word in Korean like a 5 year old–and it suddenly clicks and I realize I know the word.


That moment when the special needs student stands up in class and participates with a smile, and I know that for once in his day he feels smart and included.


That moment when I figure out how to take the correct bus and I suddenly feel like a member of adult society.


That moment when I find lentils in the store and I am so unbelievably ecstatic because all I want in my life are some gosh darn whole grains and legumes.


That moment when I’m feeling homesick so I cook up some spaghetti, pour a glass of wine, open the window, blast some country music, and suddenly everything feels alright.


That moment when I’m walking down the street, staring up at the blue sky, and for no reason at all I’m struck with the feeling of happiness.

In the words of Brad Paisley in one of my all time favorite country songs…

Yeah, I live for little moments like that.”

  • Awesome, Kaleena. =)

    • KaleenasKaleidoscope

      Well thanks, Heather. I’ve been meaning to email you… Expect a little note sometime soon! 🙂