Thursday, September 26, 2013

Things with No Specific Place

Here are some random tidbits about life in Korea lately...

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There's a paper/office supply/toy store near our apartment. I'm a sucker for construction paper. So many possibilities! Paper mobiles? A card? A new board game? Paper mache? Or in that day's case: temporary wallpaper. I walked in and greeted the man behind the counter, "Anyoung haseyo!" He continued talking to me in Korean as I perused the shelves. I shrugged my shoulders and smiled: "English?" He looked at me with kindness, exhaled, inhaled for courage, and said, "How can I help you?"

We're friends now. His name is Myeong Hoon. I frequent his shop once in awhile. Sometimes for paper. Sometimes just to say "hello." Or, as was the case last week, to ask desperately for directions and how to say something in Korean. He's such a good guy.

I've had this experience numerous times with good and kind Koreans who know some English, would rather speak in Korean, but compromise and generously try to communicate with me.

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I sent a comment/request to the people at Chipotle that went something like this: "Please oh, please, put a Chipotle in Cheongju, South Korea."

Here is their response:


So what you are saying is that we can move into your home and just open up in your kitchen, right? 

Though we do not have anything in the works right now for South Korea, I will make sure to note your wonderful suggestion. Knowing that we have at least two monster fans in South Korea cannot hurt your chances Heather. Keep those fingers crossed. 

All the best from the other side of the globe,

Customer Service Consultant
Chipotle Mexican Grill"

This pretty much made my day.

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Two weeks ago, the staff at my school played volleyball. It was a blast and I had a great game. One teacher, who helps coach the ping-pong team (a new one for me as well!) came up to me afterward and said, "Would you be interested in playing ping pong sometime?" Of course, I said, "Sure!" She said we'd be in touch.

Last Monday, she popped her head into my office and said, "Do you have time to play?"

We went to the gym where she had already set-up the table and net. We started playing. I'm not awful, but I'm no professional. About 5 minutes in she stopped the game, crossed her arms, and said, "Hmm...I thought you would be better at ping-pong."

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In Korea, the public school teachers operate on a rotation system. A teacher can only stay at one school for 4 years. Every teacher must serve 8 years in the country and 8 hours in the city. No one has quite given me an answer as to why this is the case, but I suppose, I can't necessarily tell them why, in the States, one teacher can stay at one school their entire career. That's just the way it is.

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Ya know, when you're water skiing and you want the boat to stop? The hand gesture involves putting a flat hand to your neck and swiping to the side. Well, I also wanted to communicate "stop" to my kids yesterday in class. They were loudly offering more answers than I wanted, so I put my hand to my neck and swiped to the side, they all let out a horrified scream. Apparently, "cut it" also means "I want to kill myself."

I'm sure some little kid went home that night and told their parents, "English class is so confusing. One minute she's smiling and taking answers, the next she's upset and wants to kill herself." Poor kids.

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Today, we ate chicken porridge for lunch. "It's what we eat when we have a cold."

"Oh," I said, "It's like in the States, we eat chicken noodle soup."

"You eat this when you are sick?"

"Well, basically, yeah."

I thought it was so interesting that we reach for the same thing when we feel crummy.

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I've made a teacher-friend at school who is a little younger than me. We'll call her Gwen. She's a lovely Korean woman who one day asked me, "Why did you come to Korea?" I told her that Jeremy and I wanted to take an adventure somewhere new. Somewhere that was different and would challenge us. "Yeah, but why Korea?" I admitted that there wasn't a specific reason we came to Korea and not Thailand or China or another country requesting native English speakers. It just worked out.

"I want to leave here so badly," she told me.

"Why is that?"

"It's hard to be a woman in Korea," she said. "I cannot make my own decisions. I have to constantly worry what my family thinks. I want to have my own life like an American woman."

She has two sisters who already live in the States and is anxious to leave. She wants to come pursue a masters degree, possibly in Canada because it's easier to get a VISA there. I started to talk about how it's not all roses and butterflies to be a woman in the U.S. and then I stopped myself, because I remembered that while it's not perfect, I still have more freedoms and opportunities than she does.

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Yesterday, I told Gwen that sometimes I say things in Korea that I think are hilarious (!) and no one gets my joke.

She said, "Yeah, I feel the same way when I talk to you."


Jessica said...

You are hilarious :] hahaha!

Emily Shafer said...

Love hearing your adventures, Heather. Thanks for sharing!

Ashley Barber said...

I love these stories!