Aalen is technically a city, but I always likened it to a large village. Everyone knows everyone it seems, and it doesn’t take many degrees of separation to loop back to the same acquaintance. As one of the few Asian families here, it’s hard not to miss us. Especially when we push all three of our kids on one stroller (a Bugaboo with standing board and retrofit seat – it must look like a Hummer or stretch SUV on the Autobahn), we are conspicuous. When we moved back here this past autumn, a friend I had kept in touch with from Spielgruppe (Playgroup) days told me that she had ran into someone else from our group, someone with whom neither of us kept in touch nor had seen since our group stopped meeting about five years ago. Apparently, this woman had heard that our family had moved away from Aalen and had recently moved back! Then one of the caregivers in Lenny’s, our youngest, group at KITA (daycare) described the house – what street, what kind of house it was, how old it was – where we would be moving in the spring. Apparently, her father worked with the previous owner of the house.
Growing up Korean American, I also know that the world is even smaller when you are Korean. I always checked my behavior in front of Koreans because I knew that if I behaved badly, my mother would always manage to hear about it. The story I wanted to share took place yesterday late morning: someone buzzed at my door. I thought it might be the post even though I wasn’t expecting any deliveries, instead it was a woman who said, “Sie sind Koreaner. Ich bin Fr. XXX und bin auch Koreaner.” Translation: You are Korean. This is Mrs. XXX, and I’m also Korean.” No joke.
I actually knew who Fr. XXX was. I had gotten her phone number from my local Asia Shop where I had told them that I was looking for a Korean student to babysit and speak to my kids in Korean in case they knew of any or encountered one shopping there. They told me that they never see any Korean students. Most of the Asians were coming from southeast Asia, but they took my name and number anyways just in case. They told me about Fr. XXX though who had been coming to their shop for years and was very nice and helpful. The next time I stopped by, they gave me Fr. XXX’s phone number and said that she would do her best to help me find someone. I called Fr. XXX, but she was on her way to a month long visit to Korea. I was supposed to call her when she got back but still hadn’t gotten around to it having been swallowed by the black hole of Christmas.
She never heard back from me…so she came and found me! I recalled that I had told her that I lived in a particular building in the city. But I was nevertheless impressed with her wherewithal to come find me and actually find my entrance.
It was nice to finally meet her, and she is as nice as the women at the Asia Shop told me. She embraced me and as she described to me, Koreans and Asians for that matter are practically family in such a small place like this. What prompted Fr. XXX to come by was that she had met another Korean woman at Kaufland, one of the supermarkets here. This woman also had a daughter who looked to be the same age as my oldest daughter she thought and this woman also expressed a yearning to meet more Koreans. Fr. XXX felt compelled to introduce us. So, while she was sitting at my dining table, she wanted to arrange for us to meet. Before she could give me this other Korean woman’s phone number though, she had to ask her permission. I offered her my phone and as she started dialing, I glanced at the Korean scrawled on the piece of paper in front of her. I made out the name and recognised the name of my friend. Yup, I already knew her: the Korean lady from Kaufland. Whenever I make kimchi, I set aside a jar for her and her daughter and whenever she comes back from Korea, she brings me half a suitcase full of food. I thought I might be increasing the total number of Koreans I know in Aalen, but the three of us are already bumping into each other.
Aalen is small.