So I was on the phone with Dad last week and he said people ask him, "Does she really like it in South Korea?" To answer the question, yes, I really like it. But is it perfect? No. There are problems people face when they travel to any foreign country, and South Korea is no exception. To be honest, there are some people I work with who are frustrated with their experience here. But the second week I arrived I sought out someone to teach me Korean, and since then I've been learning 1 or 2 words a week, and now I feel pretty comfortable here.
BUT despite the fact that I'm learning a little Korean every week, I still have trouble and I've had trouble since I got here. Learning about the culture and language has basically softened the blow, if you will. I will describe a few times that made me upset and a few close calls. It is an odd feeling to be completely grown and feel helpless, but that is the way I feel sometimes on a daily basis. Simple things like getting a haircut, buying a smoothie, or asking how much something costs suddenly become huge hurdles to overcome. Think about it - when you want to get a haircut in a new town, what do you do? Ask around for a good place and then go there. Then when you go, you talk to the person working there and tell them what you want. Well, what if you don't know where to find the haircutting place? What if you only get one reccommendation because that's the only one people you work with know about? And what if they only speak Korean?
Only last week I took the wrong bus home from the grocery store. Since I don't have a car, I have to literally carry the groceries in a bag from the store to the bus, and from the bus to my apartment. It's about 1/2 mile of walking when you add it all together. Well, the bus had passed the bus stop so people were running to catch it, and I ran too with my bags full of groceries and was just relieved that I caught it. But when it was time for the bus to turn left, it went straight. I turned around to ask these girls why it didn't turn left, and they were basically rude and didn't want to help me. Most bus routes make a loop so I decided to wait it out, but 20 minutes later the bus stopped completely and the bus driver told me I had to get off. As I got off I could see the bus was 80, and I'd needed the 810. I was upset of course, but the bus to head back was across the street so I got on that one and sat down and waited for him to start the route back to where I needed to be. It was 9:20 pm by the time we left, and 9:45 by the time I got back to my apartment, and it was a school night. I was annoyed but tried to be glad that now I know where the 80 goes.
Most of my mishaps happen with the bus system. The day I was supposed to pick up Mom and her friend from the airport, I had to take a special bus for the 1st time. When I went to the bus stop the bus wasn't there, but a bus driver was standing there so I asked him when the bus would arrive. He said not for another hour, and I needed to be at the airport in 1 1/2 hours, so I decided to take his bus even though it would not take me exactly where I needed to go. His bus didn't leave for 10 minutes, so he let the passengers sit on the bus until time to go. While we were sitting there, the bus I needed drove by. I was so mad I jumped up and shouted "Hey! That's the bus I need!" The bus driver honked his horn to stop the other bus but it was too late. Thank goodness a lady on the bus spoke English. I asked him if he could ask that bus to stop and was ready to run down the street to catch it. He could tell what I was wanting to do so he walkie-talkied the other bus to ask him to stop at the next city. The lady translated to tell me what he had done. Honestly I think the reason he helped me is because I started crying while I was telling him what I needed. I couldn't help it. When I realized he would help me I sat down shakily and tried not to worry. Sure enough, at the next city the bus I needed was waiting for me, so I transferred, and the 1st bus driver didn't charge me any money.
This happened last week. I was in a food court trying to find something to eat and I was really hungry. The first thing I saw was pizza, but they only sold whole pizzas so I couldn't eat that. Then I saw something that looked like orange chicken, and the word for chicken is ticken and the word for orange is orangey, so I figured I could pronounce that even though it was in Korean. The way the cafeteria works is that you order at a register and then take the receipt to the vendor. So I asked the vendor the name of the food. "Orangey ticken?" and pointed at the picture. Then this guy smiled and started moving his hands in a weird way, and then he showed me a huge ball of dough. I had no clue what he was trying to say, but he told me the name of the food was "tan gyup tong" or something like that. So I went to the register and decided to ask the lady for help. I tried to point to the picture but it was far away, so I motioned for her to follow me to the picture. She looked very frightened because she couldn't speak English, so I said it's okay and motioned for her to follow me again. She was frozen and still looked frightened, and I was getting frustrated.
In this case I got discouraged and was about ready to cry (I cry easily when I'm really hungry). Why wouldn't this lady just come look at the picture? I couldn't remember the name of the food in Korean anyway and that's the only way I'd be able to eat anything. Then some people walked up who spoke a little English. They had a little girl who was really cute so I relaxed watching her jump around (and she kept talking about me in Korean. I couldn't catch all the words but I heard "American" and "English"). The people eventually found out what I wanted and told me that the food I wanted wasn't chicken, but fried pork with sweet and sour sauce, and the man had been trying to tell me that earlier. I was so relieved, and the lady behind the counter looked relieved too. But after all that fiasco I knew I didn't want fried pork so I just left. Thankfully there was a burger place just a little ways down that I hadn't seen before.
This last thing only happened recently, and it made me discouraged that I've learned so much Korean and I try so hard to meet people halfway, but they still just look at me like I'm crazy or don't try to help. My friend tells me they are simply scared of me or embarrassed that they don't know English.