Thursday, 20 October 2011

Language Learning - the pleasures and the pratfalls.

Do you remember that scene from 'The Matrix' where Neo is 'plugged in' to a training programme for about half an hour and then wakes up to proclaim, "I know Kung Fu!"
Oh how often I have longed for something like that.......for Kung Fu and Korean!

Since, sadly, there is as yet no way of learning a language without time or effort, at least I have the infinite advantage of total immersion.
And if ever there was a danger of losing motivation - though the prospect of watching K Dramas without subtitles is plenty motivation for me! - there are the little victories and the little embarrasments every single day to spur me on.
The victories encourage me and the embarrasments make me bloody determined not to make THAT mistake again!

Allow me to present you with a few examples for your delectation:

  • The taxi driver who was so delighted with my Korean directions that he rounded down the fare.
  • The taxi ride where my pronunciation of 'department store' made a grown man giggle.

  • Introducing myself in Korean at Tae Kwon Do and getting a round of applause.
  • Bidding farewell to twenty students from another dojang (tae kwon do school) and using the Korean phrase for "Thank you for your hard work" (it's catchier in Korean) only to discover the next day that what I had actually said was "I'm sorry."  Over.  And over.  And over.

  •  Ordering a coffee in Korean and rendering the server speechless.  Literally.  She just stood there blinking until a kind colleague led her away and filled the order herself!
  • Ordering in another coffee shop entirely in Korean, without need of repitition or clarification.......and getting what I ordered!!
  • On leaving a restaurant, using the phrase, "I have eaten well", and eliciting a surprised "Oooh!"

  • Dodging a linguistic bullet by asking my Korean teacher about the word 'jaebal'.  It's listed in some Korean phrase books for 'please' but in seven months I had never once heard it used in conversation, only in the more ballad like of pop songs - turns out it's not so much 'please', more like 'I beg of you', or 'I beseech you'.  So some poor sod of an unsuspecting tourist is brandishing their phrase book and declaiming in the middle of a SevenEleven - "A pack of chewing gum, I beseech you!"
  • Getting the joke when my six year old student, Alice, begs me to speak Korean, and uses 'Jaebal' to do it!

  • Trying to tell one of my students that their rabbit pencil case is really cute......when they pick themselves off the floor and remember how to breathe rather than laugh, they tell me I have just said the rabbit has no ears!
Episodes like that make my homework almost palatable!
Though on second thoughts, never mind the dramas, I'll settle for understanding my washing machine!

Friday, 26 August 2011

Why some Waygook women are blind.... or ..... The emasculation of the Asian male.

I haven't blogged for almost a month now, and not for lack of material, but rather lack of internet connection and then simple inclination.
But something happened this week which had my fingers itching for the keyboard, though it took me a day or two to get my thoughts in order.

I was out for the evening with four American girls and the conversation somehow meandered over to the topic of driving - and who were the worst:  Italians, Koreans or Vietnamese?
I said that having seen Korean drivers in action, I was in no hurry to buy a car.  One of the girls agreed with me, saying "..anyway, it's too big an investment when we're here for such a short time,"  To which I replied with a cheerfully emphatic, "Oh, I'll be here for years!"

Sweet momma - the shock on their faces!

It was as if I had just confessed that I was going to become a nun - they could see it was a worthy endeavour but it wasn't something they could ever do themselves!
"Why?!" they chorused in mystification.

I blinked back at them, equally confused by their incomprehension....."because I love it here.  I've never been happier anywhere else, and trust me, I thought nothing would ever beat living in Edinburgh!"

I was then asked to explain myself.

They asked me to list the things I love about Korea.  Now if you give me a few minutes to gather my thoughts I could spend all weekend praising this place.
In fact when I visited my friends, Goulash and Mrs. Goulash, in Yeosu a few months ago I did just that.
They were very kind to this poor, blithering idiot!

Put on the spot as I was my reply was a little uncoordinated.
"Well, for starters, I'm working at what is indisputably the cutest school in the whole country!"
I described the school, the kids and my incredible colleagues.
I gestured to the table, (we were in a Korean restaurant) "I love the food."
"I find Korean men very attractive."
I was moving on to the next item on my mental checklist when I noticed the return of 'The Shock!'
That last sentence really put the cat among the pigeons!
"You do??!!  But they're so girly!!"

I heroically choked back my gut reaction which was a loud, "are you feckin' kiddin' me?!" and attempted a more concilliatory response.

"Ok" I said "In the six months I've been here I've heard this from alot of American girls and it makes me wonder if it is because of the way Asian men were represented on American TV until recently.  You know, either Uber Geeks or Marital Arts superheroes, neither of whom get the girl."
This got a mixed response.  One girl demurred, "there aren't many Asian guys on TV" while the rest said, that's not it, they find American Asians to be very attractive.

Ok, now we were getting somewhere.  So we reached the conclusion that it wan't the men themselves they disliked, but rather the trappings, the hair and the clothes.

That's fair enough as far as it goes.  If.  And this is an important 'if'.  If you are in , not even a Western context, but a specifically Anglo-Saxon, 'we used to be in the British Empire' context.  Yes, I'm looking at you North America and Australia!
In any of these countries, if I saw a man dressed like this:

  then yes, I too would probably class him as gay - once I had checked that he wasn't Italian!

That's because once you step outside the ghost of the British Empire you find men all over the world who are well groomed, fashionably dressed and very, very straight.
I've grown up seeing and in fact teaching, French, Italian and Swiss men who dress like this one minute and tear up the rugby field the next.

So when I came to Korea it never once, not for a nano second, occurred to me to categorise Korean Flower Boys (the local term for 'Metrosexual') as effeminate.
And one need watch only one Bollywood movie to realise that there are Indian men who could make our Flower Boys look like Undertakers!

This was my mindset when I arrived.  Then I got here and actually started learning about the culture.  I learned how hard the kids work in school. Years and years of long days, wearing uniforms and regulation haircuts and working their asses off to get into top universities.
Then, either before or after university they have two years of military service.
Once again in uniform and with regulation haircuts, in a country - though in a long term ceasefire - is nonetheless still technically at war with a communist nuclear power.
This stuff is not for sissies!

So if, while they are in university and before they settle down to a steady job with wife and kids, these guys like to wear bright fashionable clothes and try 'interesting' hairstyles - well, quite frankly, I'd be more worried if they didn't!

  And while I'm comfortably mid-rant here, I'm going to go a little deeper and say that my criteria for masculinity has never been based on how a man dresses but on how he behaves.
To me real man is one who shows compassion to those around him, from his family down to the guy on the street.
He is someone who shoulders responsibility gracefully.
He understands that what he wants to do and what he has to do are not always the same thing, and even when they are, you must be prepared to work hard for it.

I have been blessed to know many men like this, both back home and in my travels around Europe.
I am utterly delighted to find them in absolute abundance here. 

But I have kept ye captive for long enough my lovelies, so I'll leave the cultural aspects of Korean masculinity for another day (week, month?).

So in a nutshell, what's the moral of the story? :

The next person to ask me why I like Korean guys is probably going to be told:

"Because I'm not an ignorant twit!"

*Sigh* I probably won't say it.  I'm too flippin polite.  But you know I'll be thinking it!!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Confessions of a rubbish blogger....and 'Quotes of the week!'

*sigh*  you know, I was doing so well there in June and July, my posts were actually approaching regularity.....kind of.
Then the internet connection went down in my apartment, just as Vacation started, which meant it took me two weeks to get it back and that just threw me right off my game. 

So here is a short little post, to get the ball rolling again.  A light and easy quotes of the week.  Some humerous moments from here in ROK:

while discussing Korean winter fashion, which I am a HUGE fan of, I can't wait for it to snow:
"Koreans don't really go for thick, heavy overcoats, cos they layer like motherf*%$ers."


"Kate, do you have any Irish cousins who are good-looking and single?  Cos I need a man who can make me laugh and won't judge me for my drinking."


On first seeing me after I dyed my hair a few shades darker:
Louis (8yr old):  "Kate-uh Teachuh, hair!!  Hair......(searches desperately for a word)"

Me:  "Different?"

Louis:  "Yes."

Me:  "Yepuda?"  (pretty)

Louis, pauses and stares consideringly for several seconds:  "No."


Korean woman to my sister in a bar:

"You drink?!  I like you!"


Right my lovelies, normal service will resume shortly.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Tae Kwon D'oh!

******* The internet connection has been down in my apartment for the last week, coinciding with my school vacation.  Couple this with the fact that I was just too lazy and unmotivated to go to a PC Bang and you have the fact that the next few posts will be a little out of date.  But I figure, what the hell, it's not like it's crucial life or death stuff I'm churning out here, a few days here or there makes no odds.  ********

Last Friday, the 29th, I had my belt test for moving from White to Yellow (level 1 to level 2).  I should have taken this test at the end of June, but had to bow out because of my gammy ankle.  I therefore missed a lot of classes at the end of last month and the begining of this one, so I was feeling ridiculously and needlessly nervous about the whole thing.  So in order to get my ass in gear I actually went to Tae Kwon Do four times the week before last.

Monday night was fine, just the usual and it felt good to be back in the routine of it.  Wednesday night was really enjoyable.  It was M's last night (this was not the enjoyable part!)  so she tested for Yellow.  After class we all sat on the floor, eating watermelon and shooting the breeze.  It was a great chance for us two foreign girls to have a nice, quiet chat with the Korean women.  When attempting to conduct a conversation in broken English and shattered Korea, the last thing you need is a lot of background noise.  We started with the traditional 'How old are you?'  to get our Confucian hierarchy sorted out and what not.  I got a flattering double-take when I confessed to being 33.  I do love those moments!  TKD Bride's eyes bugged out. 
"Chincha?!" (really)
"Chincha.  My 34th birthday is next Wednesday.  I'm your Unni."  (older sister)
Great laughter allround at that.
Randomly enough, as we were leaving our Kwan Jam Nim gave us all boxed towels.  Really nice, thick ones they were too!

So far so good.  It was Thursday night that was the real killer.
My third workout that week, my second night in a row and my muscles were begining to protest.  I held my own though and was feeling quietly pleased with myself.

Can you say 'false sense of security'?

15 minutes before the end of class we get a visit from another dojang (studio).  Thirty of the feckers - and every last one of them was a blinkin' black belt!
"You want us to spar with these guys?"
In vain did I plead my lowly white belt status.

I actually held my own when it came to the sparring.  I mean, my punches and kicks were obviously no where near black belt material, but I didn't embarass myself either.
That all changed when we got to the intense exercise bit.
Hmmm, least said soonest mended.
Let's just say that I got a lot of use out of the phrase, "Chincha pigonayo!" (really tired)

Towards the end of the session Lush was doing a 'high round house kick' ( I love that I actually know what that is!) and managed to rip half the nail from her big toe off the sparring pad.  Thankfully BlackBelt Unni is both a 4th level Black Belt AND a mother and therefore has extensive first aid experience.

Being a true sucker for punishment, and as I already said, nervous about my belt test, I even showed up for class on Friday!
Good thing I did, too, as only two other students showed up:  TKD Bride and TKD Girl (she's only 10 and I wish I could do Form One as well as she does!)
I was the only Waygookin but that didn't matter for a second.  We had great fun that night, especially when we got to 'push kick' the hell out of our Kwan Jan Nim!

I had a regular class again the following Tuesday and then on Friday we had our belt test.  New Jersey and I were the only Whites and we were first up.  Like a complete dufus, I had forgotten that I would need to count to ten in Korean and could only manage as far a six without severe prompting. 
On the bright side, for the first time ever, I got to break a piece of wood with my foot!  Go me!!

In the words of my friend Trudy, it was 'More mercy than justice', but I am now the proud possessor of a Yellow Belt!

And just in case there was any danger of me losing interest in TKD, we got to watch the Black Belts go through their Forms and then do some sparring.  Wowsa!  Just think - five or six short years and I'll be almost as good as they are - hmmm, that sounded more inspiring in my head.


Sunday, 24 July 2011

Girls just wanna have fun - boys, read this at your peril!

Accidental Pilgrim is a seriously pissed miss today.  Well and truly hacked off indeed.  This is not helped by the fact that there is no one to blame but Mother Nature.  Like she'll take a blind bit of notice!

I had a nice day planned for today.  Church at 12, it is our Pastor's last day today, so that was sure to have been a special service and a packed crowd.  All followed by a pot luck lunch.
I was in a dither all week trying to figure out what my gastronomic contribution would be.  Back home I always brought a few loaves of Irish Soda bread but I had left it too late to try and track down wholemeal flour online and have it delivered.

Yesterday though, Lush and I decided to do a recce of the Food Hall in Lotte Department Store and wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles! Wholemeal flour!!  Calloo Callaay!  I carted off three bags of the stuff, as well as the sunflower and pumpkin seeds.  Thus becoming quite possibly to first person in Ulsan to bring assorted baking ingredients with her into a DVD Bang - told you I knew how to work the 'Crazy Foreigner Card'!
It was only when I arrived home that I realised that while I had baking powder, what I actually needed was baking soda.  Small chance of getting that!  Still, I needed to get weighing scales anyway, so I set my alarm for and duly set off this morning for the supermarket.

Did you catch that?  8am!  On a Sunday!  That's thirty minutes earlier than I get up on a weekday!!

No baking soda in the baking aisle, ..... no surprise either.  Curiouser and curiouser however was the fact that I did find it in the detergent aisle! It is sold to clean saucepans!

Got what I needed and headed home.  Mixed up my batch.  The wholemeal flour was paler than I'm used to, and finely, rather than coarsely ground, but oh well, foreigners can't be choosers.

Everything seems hunky dory doesn't it?  What on earth do I have to be peeved about, everything is falling into my lap?!

My fricken' period started today (you were warned in the title boys, so don't whinge now!)  with cramps worse than I've had in at least six months.
My bread is baking nicely in my dinky, little oven, I have a nice day with friends to look forward to and here I am writhing on the bed doing my damndest to contort myself into a pretzel.

Now you see why I think Mother Nature is a scabrous, auld besom!!

I tried texting one of my church friends to let her know why I was a no-show, but the text wouldn't work and the resulting message from my phone provider was in Korean, so I don't know why it didn't work.  My Korean tylenol took an absolute epoch to kick in, though I don't think it's because it's Korean, as there have been plenty of times when my Irish paracetemol has failed to cut the mustard on days like these.

On the bright side, my bread - though different from the usual - is utterly delicious and a very welcome break from the 'almost brioche' white I've been eating for the last five months.  I slapped on some Philadelphia cream cheese and strawberry jam and oooh yummy!!!
The pain is finally subsiding and there's a Harry Potter marathon on tv.
It doesn't nearly make up for missing today......but it doesn't hurt either.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Farewell mes amies

Last Tuesday we had a 'Farewell Soiree' for the two founder members of our 'French Conversation in Ulsan' club.  They are heading back Stateside at the end of this month, so we had a evening of fun and frolics, but for a sad reason.
This was the first of what will inevitably be many goodbyes from the transient world of English Teachers in Ulsan.  It's a good job I'm making friends with 'Lifers' (long term foreigners) and actual Koreans, otherwise I'd go daft.

We had a feast of french breads, cheeses and pastries all washed down with lovely red wine while watching the hilarious 'Asterix et Obelix: Mission Cleopatra'.  Gerard Depardieu was born to play Obelix!