One of the many things I am grateful for for the years I spent in Mauritania is having had the opportunity to travel to many countries, something my family would most likely not have had the money nor the time to have done, had they stayed in Korea. I do regret not having visited more countries in Africa (the only two other countries we visited in our dear old continent was Senegal and Morocco), but having seen much of France, Spain, or Austria, among others, I’m not going to complain.
Aside from my ‘travel records’ meticulously kept in small notepads, from the time the plane took off to when we would enter one of the many touristic places, these trips have left me with an extensive array of trinkets and stuff I can never make myself part with. The list includes pamphlets for all the places we visited (museums, palaces, gardens), tickets for those places, plane tickets (yes, remember when we used to have those?), train tickets, and postcards, mainly.
But the two items I am most… proud of… because of the sheer weirdness and eccentricity, are, first, phone cards, and second, receipts.
I don’t know why, but we sure phoned a lot when we went on trips. My guess is that telephone calls at that time were quite expensive to make from Mauritania, and we took our trips to Europe as an opportunity to call friends and families in Korea. And also to call friends back in Nouadhibou once in a while to check whether everything was going fine. A little bit ironic, come to think about it, because I absolutely hate making phone calls to families and relatives these days, when it costs almost to nothing delivering those phone calls.
Phone booths are almost useless these days, because basically everyone has a cell phone, but back then, it was a delight finding one on the streets, taking turns on the two people that would be going in that minuscule booth, pushing in, and diligently press down those buttons, following the instructions on the phone cards. I don’t know if I actually talked to my uncles and aunts when my parents made their calls to Korea, but I do think I was excited by the simple fact that my parents were talking to them from miles away.
The only phone call I probably made to Korea for myself was actually to my Korean ‘penfriend’. Among the many penfriends I have had in Mauritania (this is another blog entry I’m actually looking forward to writing), she is the one I wrote the most to, and the one I felt the most ‘connected’ to. She was, in a way, my very first Korean friend, and we actually do keep in touch now still, albeit not in letters anymore. The first time I decided to call her (which, considering now, is a bit weird, since we had never met in person, and all… but well, we were teenagers… phone calls mattered then), I was so nervous that after rehearsing many times ‘Hi, this is Seulgie, may I speak to A please?’, when her mom actually picked up the phone, the words that unconsciously came out of my mouth instead, were ‘Hi, this is A, may I speak to Seulgie please?’. Yes, so embarrassing.
Receipts. Shopping was a big part of our trips to Europe, mainly because there were no shopping malls in Nouadhibou. Finding a shopping mall or just a plain clothing shop, casually, in the streets of Paris or Madrid, and actually going in those stores, and then, lo and behold, pick something up, try it on, and come out of those four walls with that very item in a shopping bag in my hand… was a once in a year (or even once every two years) experience my sister and I would savor during the last 3-4 years we spent in Mauritania. And so, the receipts from these stores represent more than just a piece of paper. Sure, when I collected them, initially, the main reason was that I needed them to match my expenses for the day (I was a bit of a freak back then with money, everything had to match to the cent) and I would lay them down at night back at the hotel, and calculate whether the money left matched with what I had spent. But now, over 10 years later, when most of the ink on those receipts has faded away and all I’m left with are blank papers, I cannot throw them away because they’re a reminder of the frivolous teenager I was and the excitement I had when I set foot in Pimkie, Corte Ingles, C&A, etc.