Monday, 17 December 2012

Counting Blessings

I had a pretty good weekend this week, it was busy - but then again here in Korea, I'm only NOT busy when I'm sick!  Still, in all the happy, hectic socialising there were lots of moments where I could only stop and give thanks.

There were several moments on Friday night, when I was out on a friend's hwaeshik (work dinner) when I was grateful for my friends here in Korea and particularly grateful that FDA will be staying for another year.
(partly because, aside from all her sterling qualities and endearing quirks, she is my very own Fellow Drama Addict. She and Lush are the only ones I can really spazz out over dramas with and I would be a very woebegone junkie indeed without those two girls.)

FDA stayed at my place that night, which meant that we both had company when we heard about the shooting in Connecticut.  We both had someone who didn't mind seeing us cry.  In all the horror, I was able to stop and give thanks that my Connecticut cousins, one of whom IS an elementary school teacher, were all far, far away from Sandy Hook.

That afternoon I had my language exchange. I am really loving these lessons! My tutor is delightful and I am really, deep down grateful for her.  She is training to be an elementary school teacher and has already cleared it with me that she is going to be quite strict.  Fine by me, I'm on a clock here people!  February 9th ain't gettin' any further away!
We were speaking about first impressions and how we were both nervous about meeting each other for the first time (as the meet was set up by the friend of a friend of a friend - yeah, tenuous or what?) and when she saw me for the first time, in my bobble hat and bear mittens, she instantly relaxed and knew we'd get on just fine!!

Sunday was the real icing on the cake in terms of maintaining an 'attitude of gratitude'. After church, MsAmused and I hotfooted it downtown to go to the farewell lunch of a very dear friend of ours.  I was sad to say goodbye to her, but in the corniest of cliches, I am more glad to have known her at all. I also have the prospect of seeing her in May to look forward to.  And on a day when I said farewell to one friend, I got to say 'Hello again' to another. Tiberius arrived back in SoKo for another stint and it was quite refreshing to say hello instead of goodbye!

After lunch, MsAmused and I went to Shinae for coffee and Christmas shopping with some friends and then six of us went to see 'The Hobbit'. This was the highlight of my month!  Waaaaay back in 2001, MsAmused and I went to the first Lord of the Rings movie together. We'd seen every other one together, as well as all the Harry Potter movies and I couldn't believe my luck that we would get to watch 'The Hobbit' together in South Korea.
Though if we are to finish the tradition properly, I need to start saving right now so I can fly back to Ireland for next Christmas!

So what I'm really, truly grateful for is that while my days here are incredilby busy - they are that way because I have so many good friends that I want to run around and spend time with  and at this time of year, when I am missing my family and friends back home, that is a very necessary blessing.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Panic Stations!!

I have 25 Korean words to learn before 1pm tomorrow afternoon, so naturally, I'm writing a blog post instead!

A month ago my darling, wonderful, incomparable Co Teacher asked if I would like to stay with her extended family for 설날, (Sol nal ) Lunar New Year in early February.
I was practically jumping up and down with delight at the invitation. Getting invited so share 추석 (Cheuseok) or 설날 with a family is a big, big deal and I was chuffed to bits that Co T would invite me.

Here's the thing, out of the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, only two of them speak english. 
So I had to get my 'game face' on and kick my Korean studying into high gear.
I've been coasting for the last year at comfortable beginner level. I can operate just fine in shops, restaurants and taxis - but ask me to formulate a sentence in casual conversation and you'll get to watch me do a first rate impression of a rabbit caught in the headlights!

For that reason, Lunar New Year is a wonderful focus for me.  It's a specific date to aim for, close enough to cause me palpitations, but far enough away that I stand a chance of achieving some real improvement.
Phase One of 'Operation Lunar New Year' started, also a month ago, on Tuesday evenings after work, my Co T and our Dept. Head and I go to a restaurant for dinner and exchange our diaries.  The two Koreans have written theirs in english and mine is in korean. We correct each others work and then slip into easy conversation. Each week my colleagues push me to speak more and more in korean.

And two weeks ago I met up with a friend of a friend of a friend (true story) for a language exchage.
Jeon Soon (her nickname) is a university student and we get on like a house on fire!  Luckily for me, she is training to be an elementary school teacher, so I think she'll keep me on the straight and narrow!
We meet at 1pm on Saturday afternoons. We speak english for the first hour so that Jeon Soon can practice, then we switch to korean for the second hour.  Like a proper student, I get homework, hence my need to learn 25 words for tomorrow.

I've also been tip toeing outside of my comfort zone with both friends and new aquaintences, speaking more korean than is necessary.  When it comes to meeting new people, I'm seriously considering writing up a flash card that says, "In english, I am funny and intelligent!" cos I sure ain't no sparkling wit in korean right now!!

   My new constant companion.

One Perfect Moment

It's Thursday night and I am basking in the glow of contentment following a series of fortunate events.
After work this evening I headed downtown and thanks to that magical place, 'Lotte Department Store', I managed to get my Christmas shopping done in one hour.
In the cab on the way home I got a phone call from Ms. Amused to tell me that she was making curry and my name was in the pot!  And what a delicious pot it was!
We ate, laughed and wrote christmas cards together.

Now I'm at home and I'm wrapping the christmas presents to be mailed in the morning, I have goodies baking in the oven for my visitors who will come tomorrow evening, the christmas tree lights are twinkling in the corner and I'm listening to a Christmas compilation by my favourite Korean indie band.

Right now, tonight, life is so good it almost hurts.
I am overwhelmed by the blessings I have continuously received since moving to Korea.

What a wonderful way to  head into the Christmas season!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Welcome to Bizarro World....or....I am Kate's Subconscious

I was stopped in my tracks the other morning, en route to work, by the realisation that I have been watching too many Taiwanese dramas lately.
Now what on earth, you are asking yourselves, could have prompted such a pavement epiphany at 9.50am on a cold December morning?

That's a very reasonable question. Hark to my tale Dear Readers, as I guide you through the weird and wonderful landscape of my subconscious.

So there I am, tripping merrily along to work, so bundled up against the cold that I might as well just put on a full burqa and have done with it!  I'm listening to my latest batch of K-Pop songs when it finally dawns on my that I have accidentally downloaded the wrong version of EXOK's new single, 'History'.  Why? Because they're singing in Chinese!!!
And I had listened to this song three or four times already without noticing!

This startled the hell out of me, because on a normal day, Chinese and Korean sound as different to me as German and Italian.  They sound screamingly different to me and I just could now swallow the fact that this song had slipped by me, not once but several times.

In the midst of this crisis of competence I started scrabbling around for explanations and justifications.
There had to be reasons. There. Had. To. Be.
And good ones at that. The alternative is that I'm as thick as two short planks and I refuse to buy that pamphlet thankyouverymuch!

In the end I came up with two causes:
1) Familiarity and 2) The Power of Expectation

1) Familiarity.
As I said, usually Chinese and Korean seem about as similar to me as Belgian Jazz and Early Renaissance Madrigals, but lately I have been following a Taiwanese drama. So I have been listening to about an hour of Chinese every day.  Therefore Chinese had lost the jarring, suprise factor. I had become used to hearing it, and almost as importantly, used to tuning it out and focusing on the subtitles.  My brain had become accustomed to registering Chinese and then ignoring it.

2) The Power of Expectation.

The song in question is by a Korean boy band. I had listened to it and watched the video on YouTube, the original Korean version (shucks, I didn't even know there WAS a Chinese version!)
So I expected the song to be in Korean.  As it 's a new release, sung quite fast and I haven't tracked down a translation yet, I also didn't expect to understand it.  So I didn't pay close attention to it.  It was catchy white noise with a good beat.

Aaaahh. Mystery solved. I spent the afternoon content in the knowledge that I am not, just  yet, an idiot.

And then on the walk home from work, that very same day, my subconscious threw me another curveball!

I was coming home for the day, after work and then dinner with friends. I had arranged to meet another friend but had been stood up, so I stomped home in the cold, muttering imprecations that would do Foul 'Ole Ron proud.  I was comfortably mid rant when I realised that while the majority of my brain was concocting witty put downs, another part of my brain was quietly and with no fuss translating the K-Pop song which was on my iPod at the time.

How, how HOW is it possible for my subconscious to be so spaced out and so clued in all on the same day??!?!?!?!

Mystery is suddenly unsolved.

And d'you know the real kicker? 

Chinese song and translated song are consecutive tracks on my playlist!    Pwah!