07.24.2011 - 08.12.2011 89 °F
I have done a poor job learning Korean; there is no doubt about that. I hear it's easy to learn because there is less grammar and tricky irregularities but it's honestly just so foreign! The fact that the language uses Hangul characters instead of Roman letters is a major deterrent in my opinion that I am having a hard time getting past. I cannot read Korean until I memorize the 24 characters that make up the Hangul alphabet and the flashcards I made have started to collect dust in my apartment. However, there are a few words that I do know and hear often. The first is 외국인 or "waygook" which means "foreigner." We hear this often pretty much everywhere we go: small children pointing us out to their parents, our coworkers on the phone to the bank/anything we need help with or on the subway when people are talking about us right in front of us. The more descriptive term is 미국 or "mee-gook" which means "American." Neither term is particularly nice sounding but we've embraced "waygook" more or less. For example, if we see a non-Korean on the street we will say, "ooh, waygook!" and point them out to each other. Recently, whenever we are doing something crazy like renting a car or laughing without covering our mouths I like to say, "waygooks gone wild!" So we have fun with it I guess. Otherwise, at this point, five months in, I can count to 10 and say some key phrases like, "stop here please" or "take out the spam." Impressive, right? Sigh. I have a ways to go but honestly don't have the motivation to put in the effort.
Being a "waygook" in Korea is proving to be harder than I expected. For instance when I went to the doctor the other day to get some meds for yet another sickness I had contracted from the kids and/or pollution the doctor suggested "an injection" to help... well, something and I thought, "Why not?" Before I knew it a nurse that didn't speak any English wheeled in an IV set up, stuck the vein in the back of my hand, started the drip, turned off the light and left! Oh the life of a waygook in Korea... But really, the language barrier is a huge block in the friend making department and that makes me sad. As I have mentioned before, "stranger interaction" is generally non-existent around here. People don't chat in the elevator or the subway or greet people on the street. The drinking culture is lively and fun, but it's hard to find someone who speaks enough English to carry on a conversation and the other foreigners we do meet out at night are often pursuing different objectives. I am a very social person and am so grateful to have connected so well with my coworkers but other than them, I haven't really met many people that have become friends. However...(this will all eventually tie in together)
The last week in July we had our week off for summer vacation and two coworkers and I went to Jeju Island off the southern tip of Korea. The flight only took an hour and then, poof! we were on a tropical island with palm trees and turquoise water! I desperately needed the break and it couldn't have gone any better! Originally we had booked a hostel in the southern part of the island that we thought was conveniently located near the beach, bars/restaurants and attractions but it turned out to be a house-turned-hostel in the middle of nowhere with a lengthy list of rules that could be summed up to; only number ones allowed in the toilet (that everyone shares) and no fun of any kind after 11 pm. We immediately researched our options, hopped back in a cab and payed 3 times the price to stay in a nice big hotel right across the street from the beach with an ocean view, balcony and no curfew. It was totally worth it! Our first night we wandered over to a restaurant right on the water playing live music called, "Sea Blue" which we frequented everyday for the rest of the week. Our waiter the first night turned out to be the owner's son who was raised in the States but came back with his girlfriend (the incredible chef) to help his mother run the place for the summer. We immediately connected with these two as well as the Wayne Newton look-a-like waiter and the Joe Cocker sound-a-like night act. Wayne didn't speak any English at all, and Joe was pretty big on talking into his translator on his phone to communicate but friendships were still formed. It was so nice to be able to talk to people so aware and involved in the Korean culture who are still Americans and can completely relate to us as well. I was thrilled to ask all of my cultural questions without needing to simplify them or worry if they would be considered offensive. Here's the crew:
And here's Sea Blue:
And here's a close up of Wayne:
By the end of the week the three of us kept talking about how much we liked our new friends that we had really bonded with and how we are so sad to be leaving them, even plotting ways to sneak back to the island before they returned home to the States in a few weeks. I realized that the reason we were so emotional about it all is because it's so darn tough to make connections here and now that we had, it was already ending! The point of all that is just to say that it's tougher than I had anticipated to meet people I can communicate with and relate too and I'm bummed. I never thought I would travel to a foreign country and intentionally try to find other waygooks or English speakers rather than locals but that is kind of what it has come to. Swhite and I are looking into some expat sites and blogs to get ideas about upcoming events or classes to take with other foreigners. I'll keep everyone posted on our progress!
Here are some vacation pics!
Remember K-Pop? The Korean Pop industry with crazy huge boybands? Well it's pretty darn popular around here. I actually just bought some socks that say "I love you" with K-Pop stars' faces on them... anyway this is our FAVE K-Pop song! My friend found the translation as well as the lyrics written out phonetically in Roman letters! Our goal is to memorize it so we can be like all the peeps who don't speak English but can sing along to English songs! This plan was all well and good until we saw the phonetic translation... here's the first verse:
"na ajikdo neoreul jiul su eobseo
jakkujakku niga saenggangna
niga neomu bogo sipeo
bamsae hansumdo jal su eobseo
nae mam changmuneul dudeurineun bissori
niga tteona beorin geujari
bamsae hansumdo jal su eobseo nan"
Maybe I will just stick with the two English lines in the song which is the intro, "yo listen up this is my tragic story just the break in my heart" and the second line of the fourth verse, "why did i turn on this love show." Yeah, that may have to do! Listen to the song/watch the video; I love it!
Work has been particularly rough lately which to be perfectly honest, sucks! I made the horrible decision of downloading a "Time Left" app on my desktop and phone until "Freedom" or, 6:00pm on the day my contract ends. At the time of writing this sentence I have exactly 7 Months, 0 Days, 21 Hours and 3 Minutes to go! Believe it or not we are having even more communication issues than normal among coworkers. The fact that I received a birthday cake after work today when my birthday is not for two months is a testament to that fact. I felt ridiculous blowing out the candles anyway but hey, we enjoyed the cake! Unfortunately our boss seems completely unconcerned with our collective unhappiness and whether or not our performance or sanity will be affected. Essentially we have extremely undesirable working conditions (cleanliness included), the expectations and objectives are not clear in the slightest and we don't have any support. Wah, wah, wah right? I wish I could stop complaining about it all but I just refuse to accept I will feel this exhausted and unhappy at work for the next 7 months! Ok, rant over, moving on!
On the flip side, one group that continues to bring me joy in spite of all of my frustrations are my darling students! Man, these kids are sure cute! In the last two weeks I got THREE new students which brings my brood of 3-4 year-olds up to 13 (I was told the limit is 12, fyi). All three are pretty darn cool tho: James, Dottie and David T. James has a Korean mom and English dad and lived in London so he has a British accent and it's brilliant! He's quite chatty and I just let him because I love hearing him talk. He even skyped with my sister! Unfortunately he only stayed two weeks and his last day was today due to a family illness but I sure enjoyed him while he was here! My mom wanted to make sure he was featured so here is a pic of him with Crystal on the fieldtrip last Friday and he's the one with fake binoculars on the right in the group pic. Did I mention he said, "she was going bonkers" on his last day in regards to tickling a classmate who was laughing? Perfect!
I decided to make a few videos of the kids so you all can see the craziness and cuteness and insanity I get to experience everyday. First up is British James. I tried but could not figure out how to rotate the frame, sorry! I think it's because I rotated the camera while recording too. I will just hold it differently next time!
Then I decided to try to get each of my kids to say a little something... Aiden sure knows how to get things started!
My Kid's Say the Darndest Things shout out this post goes to Abigail. She is in the middle age group (4-5 yrs) so I only have her once a week for arts and crafts but we have still managed to bond pretty well. She loves arts and crafts and will ask me every day how many more days or "sleeps" as they sometimes say until she "she has me." She is just an extremely sweet kid with a huge heart and I love her. She has an older and younger brother and talks about them all the time. The other day she was saying how her older brother, Santos is such a good brother because he's 9 and will still sit with her and watch a whole movie. She sealed herself the shout out this month because she continued on to say in one long breath, "I love my brothers Santos and Rafael but I like Santos' name better because my mom calls him Santitos and my older brother and younger brother and me are like twins you wanna know why? because we love each other so much."
Here are some pics from our tandem bicycle rental with some friends on Sunday:
And the cool kids we watched play in the fountain afterward:
Monday the 15th is Korean Independence Day and we have a 3-day weekend! Woo hoo! Swhite and I are headed down to Busan, a beach city with a new coworker of mine tomorrow and it should be super fun! Deets later