Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Reasons to learn Korean # 46 - Preventing 'The Look'

Last week I was fighting a valiant rearguard action against yet another cold, so I popped into a nearby pharmacy for lunch to stock up on Theraflu, the Korean equivalent of Lemsip.
When I asked for it however, the pharmacist apologised but said that they were out of stock and wouldn't have it for a day or so.
It was at this point that 'The Look' crossed his face.

'The Look' says - oh how clearly it declares: "I can't say this in your language! How the hell do I mime this!"
It is a facial expression with which I am initimately familiar, because during my average week there may be several occasions where I am either recieving 'The Look', or making it myself.

And bless Mr.Pharmacist for even trying to figure out a mime. Quite a few people, myself included, would have contented themselves with the simple, yet efficient, "Theraflu. No." and made this gesture:

So when I replied in Korean, "Oh, that's alright, give me Tylenol instead please.", the look of relief which dawned across his face was a joy to behold.  He complimented me on my Korean, whereupon I did what any self-respecting Irish (and indeed, Korean) person does when they get a compliment - the old 'Demurral Two Step'.
"Oh no, it isn't good. I'm only slowly learning it." etc, etc back pedal, back pedal.

The funny thing is, I'm not being falsely modest here. I really DON'T speak that much Korean and I AM learning it quite slowly.
That being said, there are whole phrases which I use all the time and therefore they trip effortlessly off the tongue.
Ironically, one of those phrases is "Oh no, I only speak a little Korean. I'm just learning it slowly."
It's a fair mouthful and I have to own up to a childish glee whenever I trot it out and see them processing the fact that I've just "I don't speak Korean.", in flawless Korean! heh heh.

So I skipped out of the pharmacy that day clutching my Tylenol and a warm glow of satisfaction that for once I had been able to disarm 'The Look'.

I could get used to this feeling.

Not the copious and arduous amounts of study it requires though.  Sigh.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

You know when..... List Mania #1

To lighten to mood after my previous maudlin offering, allow me to attempt something more entertaining.

Here is a list of occurrances which cause an ex pat to pause and exclaim, "Wow! I have been here waaaay too long!"
  • You don't even realise you've bowed until you are on the way back UP!
  • You and your friend belatedly realise that ye've spent the last five minutes eating your french fries with chopsticks.
  • You drink Brown Rice Tea.   Deliberately.
  • I see a picture like this :

and think "Yum!!" rather thank "Eeeewwww!"

  • We're watching a K drama where the hero dashes into the apartment to rescue his fair heroine  and we all sigh happily and exclaim, "Look! He's really worried about her! He didn't stop to take off his shoes!!"
  • All the coffee shops within a two block radius of my school (and trust me, that's a lot more than you'd think!) they all know that I take my  Cafe Mocha with no whipping cream.
  • I find myself in a taxi cab which DOESN'T have Wi-Fi and this is such a rare occurrance that I'm more than a little discombobulated. "What? You mean I CAN'T watch YouTube on my mobile phone right now?  I don't understand!"
  • I can bellow 'Chug i oh!" across a restuarant to get the waiters attention with only the smallest twinge of embarrassment.
  • All my exclamations of surprise, shock, frustration etc are now in deliciously onomotopoeic Korean.
  • You see a news announcement about an actor coming out of his two year military service and realise that you were around to see him go IN!  (Hyun Bin Ah! I'm gazing at you!!)

  • You know and recognise the specific sound of the wind soughing through a bamboo thicket (and I wonder if I'll ever be here long enough to not immediately think of 'Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon')
  • After two years of drinking light and delicate green tea, rice tea, chrysanthemum tea and the like, the robust and boisterous Irish tea is to be approached with extreme caution.
  • Triple parking barely even registers with you.
  • You handle the commute on Korean buses with all the balance and grace of a seasoned snowboarder.
  • You find yourself going to Indian and Vietnamese restuarants in the forlorn hope of encountering a pea.
  • You find yourself going to Indian and Moroccan restaurants for a taste of 'Home'.

Feckin February! - The Long Goodbye

I'm looking down the barrel of the last week of what has been a real bitch of a month.
As an english teacher in Korea, February and August are the months you brace yourself for.  These are the two months when contracts end and newly minted friends strike out for distant shores.

I got off lightly last February as the vast majority of my friends signed up for a second year.  On the flip side however, this has left me a little more vulnerable this time around, as the same friends have had an extra year to burrow further into my heart and so the seperation will cut that much deeper.

Here's where being an ex pat gives farewells an extra bit of a kick.  In a nutshell, for the most part our relationships here in Korea are a bit like ships passing in the night.

It just happens to be a reeeeeaally long night!

We both come from different places and will part to move on to new and still more different places.
Saying goodbye to my friends back home is difficult, yes,....but in a way that I can't express at all well, it is difficult only because I miss them.

What I mean is, my 'Home' friends are tried and tested. We have already survived seperations and reunions.  Emotionally speaking, they will stay where I 'put them'.
With my 'Korea' friends I don't always have that security blanket.  The intentions are there, God knows! But are our foundations deep enough? Will it survive the distance, the new, unshared experiences and, let's face it, my abysmal track record at correspondence?

Last weekend I said farewell to two of my friends, next weekend I shall be seeing off one more. Now add to this emotional cocktail the foreshadowing of six more departures in August, including my sister!  Eeeep! and you get an idea of how bruised my myocardial muscle is feeling these days.

This feckin February I have had the highs of :
  • staying with a friends family for Lunar New Year
  • having the best First Date Ever!
  • really sweet affirmations of my teaching, my baking, my general ranking as a decent human being and friend
I have also had the lows of :
  • best First Date ever turning into a idiot at the end of the night
  • saying goodbye to three friends in one month
  • having my father on the other side of the planet become incredibly sick (though thankfully is now on the mend)
  • and I have bid farewell to 75 of my Kindergarten students as they graduated into elementary. I have taught these snot nosed cherubs every day for two years - that's almost a third of their lives people! It hurt like a vicious kick to the shins.
So roll on March. February, I've had my fill of you.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Worthless Witterings

When last I posted, I was gearing up to spending Lunar New Year with my friend and her extended family.  I had been warned that only two members of the clan spoke english and so had been preparing accordingly.
I started meeting a language exchange partner, initially once a week and then amping it up to twice a week in January.
I even learned a Trot song in case we had a session!
(More on the weirdness of Trot music in a later post.)

I practised whole chunks of imaginary conversations, trying to squirrel away snippets of dialogue for every possible scenario.
It was like being back in school and cramming for my final French Orals! (whole body shudder)
Despite all the prep and study, the k dramas and k pop, I was still feeling deeply inadequate for the task ahead.

This was largely because at some level I am still comparing my language aquisition in Korea to what it would have been had I moved anywhere in Western Europe.
This is a ridiculously unfair comparison, like asking someone who has spent ten years playing drums why they can't master the piano in eighteen months.
Yet it's a comparison I still have to consciously shake off.

Happily, while I was comparing myself to a mythical might~have~been, my host family were busy comparing ME to the only other foreigner to have spent time with them.
Sunny's brother had done his military service with the 'US Forces in Korea' and had brought one of his American friends home for the holiday a few years ago.
On Saturday afternoon during a lull in the cookathon, Sunny and I were in the sitting room when she suddenly burst out laughing. She told me she had just overheard her uncle exclaim in the kitchen, "Well this foreigner is much better than the last one. Her Korean is great, she can take a joke and she even uses chopsticks! That other one just sat there, blinking."

I did feel sorry for the Unknown Soldier, it must have been a very strange two days for him, but I must admit that what I primarily felt was relief.
I was a hit!
All my worrying was for nothing.

Which begs the question: Will I learn from this experience and worry less before trying new things?


Probably not.