Monday, November 14, 2011

Korea Lately

Disclaimer: I might repeat stuff I already said.

I'm assimilating into this culture much better already.  Of course I stick out because I'm white (this country isn't very diverse), but I sort of blend in better because I know the way of doing things now.  I can ask how much something is, and now I know the numbers, which is important because if you ask how much something costs then you need to know how to understand the answer.  Their numbers are done in 10s and you just add 1-9 to the beginning so it's not too hard.  Like 90 would be pronounced 9 10, and 900 is 9 100 (same as English), and 9,000 is 9 1,000 (same as English).  Ex: 675 would be 6 (yuk) 100 (paek) 7 (chil) 10 (sib) 5 (oh). 

So let's pretend I'm walking into a store.

I walk in and the ALL the people working there say "Anyoseyo" (hello) and some of them bow.

I nod my head slightly and say "Anyoseyo."

The people working there stare at me until I look at them and then they look away and try to act like they're not staring.  I go about my business until I need help, and then I look at the person and gesture towards whatever I need.  They come up to me and try to help the best they can.

I never ask a question that I know will be too complicated for them to figure out if they don't speak English.  And when I ask a question I try to use sign language while I'm talking.  Sometimes the person will start speaking rapidly in Korean once they understand what I want.  The key here is to nod my head and act like I understand. 

Here is a huge difference between Korean culture and American culture.  When an American doesn't know something, they act like they know it anyway.  Like if you ask an American for directions, they'd rather lie to you and send you the wrong way than admit they don't know.  Koreans are the opposite.  If I start speaking to them in English and they don't know it, they immediately start shaking their head and putting up their x sign (meaning no).  Not all of them do it, but a lot do.  When this first started happening I thought they were saying no to whatever I was asking.  I realized that they just don't want to try to speak English or don't know English.  Now when people do that to me I attempt to communicate with them at least one more time because they probably don't know what I'm asking for (as I said before I try to keep my requests simple). 

I'm getting better at using the subway system and the bus system.  The buses run pretty much everywhere, and I figured out that if I don't know where to get off I can just ask the bus driver to tell me.  The bus drivers can be pretty rude, but if you ask about a stop they'll let you know when you need to get off.  Riding in one of these buses is like riding the Midnight Express from Harry Potter.  The closest thing I can compare it to is driving down the back alleys of Rome in our huge tour bus several years ago.  Basically anything and everything in its path is in danger - old ladies, babies, nothing is safe.  The bus will swerve lanes at all times and cut cars off, honking at people and cars who usually have the right-of-way.  They don't hesitate to run red lights either.  Despite what you'd think, being inside the bus isn't any safer than being outside, because the bus driver will hit the gas as hard as he can for the quarter mile to the next stop and then slam the brake for the doors to open a split second, close the doors and then hit the gas again.  Taking corners isn't any better, and sometimes I wonder how they don't flip over. 

What's even more impressive is watching the people who ride the bus.  They will hop on quickly with their arms full of crap, swipe their card (to pay), have headphones in, and pull out a book and start reading (sometimes without even grabbing the railing).  It freaks me out.  I was doing good not to fall over my first couple months without carrying bags, and more than once I've held on with both hands to the railing.

The food is killing me.  I can't stand it anymore.  I tried, and I gave up.  Now I just buy whatever American food I can find at the store and make whatever I can from the stovetop.  I have some friends who have an oven, but it's pretty small.  I've made brownies at their place once.  This week I made chicken and dumplings.  The chicken looked really small when I bought it, but I figured that was just cuz it wasn't bloated with water.  I've been eating a lot of eggs: egg sandwiches, scrambled eggs, fried eggs, microwaved eggs.  And I eat cereal.  Basically each week I try to find something new I can make by stovetop. 

School's going great.  The kids are good generally, and I have the freedom to change my teaching style when something isn't working.  I'm really tired though despite the good work environment.  I'm beginning to see why teachers get summers off.  Thankfully Christmas isn't too far away.

Shout out to Seth and Beth - CONGRATULATIONS ON GETTING MARRIED AND I WISH I COULD BE THERE!   I hope everyone has a great time!