Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Oh how I love Korea!

I thought that title might catch the eye of the few who read this once in a while. Because I don't often say anything positive about Korea. But hey, I don't often say anything positive about Canada either. I bitch about them cuz I want them to be better. Only love can lead to true anger. I'm not the smartest guy to ever write THAT.

So I must love Korea cuz it makes me soooo angry sometimes! Like the other day. I had just returned to Korea from Thailand and I was out on a walk to the local Lotte Mart to pick up some groceries. It's about a 2 Km. walk through rice fields and gardens. It's actually very pleasant. And I was soaking in the rural odours and sounds and thinking of how many much worse places there are where a guy could live. I even took a video with my brand spanking new camera. The country in Korea really is nice! Trees and greenery don't come to mind when the average person thinks of Korea but with all the rain and heat they had had, things had been growing while I was away!

It was a hot, sunny day but not quite as humid as usual. The smell of the rice roasting in the fields mixed with fertilizer and car exhaust to make the not so unpleasant signiture Korean countryside summer musk. It gave me a somewhat nostalgic feeling of being home.

I remember when I went to Thunder Bay for university. I hated it. For 7 years I hated it. Then I started to like it. Just before I left, I had finally grown accustomed to it. Thunder Bay has its own grain elevator/Lake Superior/car exhaust musk that is not unlike the Korean countryside's. Well I've been in Korea for 7 years now. I have hated it for long enough I guess. I'm finally accustomed to it.

I was feeling rather positive. I really have to be careful about that. I should know better. Just as I was leaving the trail and crossing the street that leads to Lotte Mart I saw a mother and her little boy who was riding a bicycle. The little boy saw me and informed his mother, "Omma, waegook saram imnida." This means, "Mom, here comes a foreigner." I'm positive the kid wasn't even of school age.

I tried not to let this spoil my good mood because it's happened countless times. I was even impressed that the kid didn't say, "Migook Saram imnida," which means an American person is coming. Not so long ago in Korea, THAT is what all the kids used to say. Baby steps.

And before we leave the topic, yesterday while walking past the soccer field at HUFS where I work I was watching the little kindergarten kids playing soccer. It's just incredibly cute. They all had on their colourful uniforms with extra large shorts and soccer cleats. The whole shebang. I couldn't help but smile. And while doing so I looked at a little girl on the sidelines. She gave me a big, pigtailly smile back. She then pointed at me and turned to her teacher to say something, but didn't. Then she looked back at me and said, "HELLO!" I literally sang, "HELLO!" back to her.

Goes to show that HUFS kids are just a bit further along. One of the reasons I like working there I suppose.

So I got to Lotte Mart and ANOTHER girl said hello to me. THIS time my response differed, however. I was looking at MP3 players and saw her approaching with her boyfriend. Or possibly just a male friend she WANTED to be her boyfriend. At any rate she was quite keen on the idea of impressing him with her humour. So as she approached she said, in Korean, "There's my friend over there," and proceeded to walk up to me, give a syruppy sweet smile and say, "HELLO."

This is a phenomenon I have explained before on the blog. It's exactly the same thing as a person driving by a field of cows and mooing out the window. If one of them looked up and mooed back, it would be hilarious, right? Well probably a hundred times in Korea people, (usually younger people but not always), who are with at least one other friend, NEVER alone, have said hello to me and laughed uproariously when I said hello in return. The little 3-year-old soccer girl didn't laugh when I said hello to her! She had more maturity than that.

But here was a high school aged chick trying to impress a boy by having a laugh at the foreigner's expense. I wasn't about to oblige. I have learned a trick that squelches the joke quite effectively. When a Korean tells a joke that bombs, (or even if what they said WAS funny but someone wants to appear funnier by insulting them), the response will be something like, "That isn't funny." or "There's a cold wind here." or "I'm feeling chilly." or "I have goosebumps." I have learned how to say these things in Korean. So I pierced a hole right through the girl, (just with my eyes), and said, "Jaimee eopsoyo." It literally means "not interesting" but it tells you a great deal about the Korean culture and its relatively recently acquired appreciation of humour when you realize that they don't even have a word that means "funny". This also contributes to their inability to distinguish between the English words "fun" and "funny". But if you talk to Koreans in English you'd think they were laughing their asses off all the time! "We do funny excise and play game in David class. David is funny teacher." Little do they know how funny I really am. Hoo hoo ha ha.

Back to Lotte Mart. The girl was shocked. The boyfriend gave her a look that seemed to mean, "That's what you get for assuming he can't understand you." or at least, "Oh well. You lost THAT battle of wits." Then they both speedwalked the hell out of there. I hope he realizes that he's too good for her. lol

I wish I had learned that trick a long time ago. But better late than never I guess. Now I practically look forward to little bastards playing the ubiquitous "hello" joke on me. The "not interesting" response hasn't yet failed to trump it. Always trying to improve Korea... even if it's one "Jaimee eopsoyo" at a time. I really must love this country!

One thing's for sure: I will never moo out a car window at a cow again. I feel for those poor cows. Me and Gary Lawson. (Far Side) Not enough to stop eating them... but I feel for the cows.

If that wasn't enough to make me fully aware that the holidays were over, the next day was Monday. Work! But we had a meeting before work. I had to go in earlier than usual. I thought I might have seen a bus waiting across the street at the stop. So I made sure no cars were coming and crossed on a red light. Unfortunately, (VERY unfortunately), the bus was the wrong one for me and I missed it anyway. So I sat down on the bench to wait and this Korean woman comes over to me. She was out excercising and her clothes and hair were wet with sweat and rain from the quick rain shower a few minutes before. I'd say she was in her mid twenties. "You KNOW red means stop don't you? Don't you know that law?"

I looked up at her angry face and said, "So you jaywalked right over to tell me that?" She really HAD gone diagonally right through the same intersection. I saw her. Either she ignored the question or didn't know what "jaywalked" meant but she still figured she had the high ground. "You'd better not cross the street during red lights."

I said, "Hey, when in Rome do as the Romans do." She probably didn't understand that and kept at me. "This is VERY dangerous. You'd better be careful." Now she wasn't angry at me but concerned for me. Right.

The intersection is one of so many in Korea where the light timing is ridiculous. There has been a lot of development in Yangju and just past the intersection there is a huge apartment complex. Nobody lives there but they thought they should time the lights optimistically. So generally I DO wait for the walk signal but while waiting I see one or two cars go through towards the apartments and ten pedestrians cross the crosswalk because, (and rightfully so), they aren't going to wait 3 minutes for some stupidly timed light. Maybe if there weren't so many silly lights like this Koreans might obey traffic lights? Ummmm... nah.

So I say, "So Koreans always wait for the lights?" She replies that she agrees and this is something she really hates about her people. Then she says, "So do you need any help? You look like you need help." I'm not sure what that meant but I'm sure she was trying to turn this accosting into something more like a polite gesture. Telling me I needed help was accomplishing the opposite.

"No thanks. I don't need your help." She was upset. "Oh so you KNOW every bus and every number? Where are you going?" Another pretty rude question. I told her I was going to the subway station and I know which buses to take. Just then bus 31 came and she asked me where it goes. "It doesn't go where I'm going." I replied.

"Okay, well I just thought I'd try to help out. Have a good day." she said. "Yeah, you too." I said.

It wouldn't be blogworthy if this was over. Two days later it was Itaewon Pool League night. I was at the subway station around 5 PM and no sooner did I step onto the platform when the woman in front of me turned around and said, "You know who I am don't you?" It took a few seconds because she had make-up on and wasn't wet. "Oh, yes I know who you are." I took my Ipod earphones out but kept them in either hand hoping she could take a hint. She couldn't.

"Where are you going?" "Oh I'm going to play pool." "Are you good at it?" "Sometimes good, sometimes not so good." "Most Koreans aren't very good even though we have lots of water." She had made the common mistake of thinking "swimming" pool when I said pool. Koreans all learn the word "pocketball" and think we English speakers use it. But she was going on and on defending Koreans' inability to swim. I had to interrupt her to explain that the "Konglish" word "pocketball" is what I had meant. She didn't like the word "Konglish" and started in on me about how long I've been in Korea and if I speak the language. I said I didn't speak it very well so she asks me which language I thought was harder to learn, Korean or English. She might as well have said that I was a dummy to have been here so long without learning the language and that even though she had made a mistake, at least she speaks English better than I speak Korean. She even made mention of my walking across the street on a red light. AGAIN! And asked what I would do if I died in Korea.

I sighed, dropped my earphones and tried to explain the "when in Rome" cliche. I even explained to her that I had owned a motorbike in Korea for two years and despite wanting to drive it like a Canadian, other motorist were constantly honking at me and motioning for me to ride on the sidewalk and between cars. Her response was, "So if I'm in America I should have lots of sex and do drugs?" Yeah, cuz that's all they do in America. She wasn't scoring any points.

She then asked, "How do you think about Koreans?" I answered that I really didn't like Koreans who were rude and argumentative. She launched into another defence which ended with, "You really don't like Koreans do you?" I said, "It's not that I don't like Koreans, it's that I don't like YOU. Please go away." She started blabbing some more so I said, "I have a better idea. You stay here and I'LL go away." So I move like 5 cars down the platform.

STILL not over. While riding the train I looked up at the sliding door that separates the cars and thought I saw her peeking through. I opened my phone and sent my friend, and captain of our pool team, Mr. Woo, a text saying that I thought I had a stalker. I was in the middle of that message when she came up to me and smilingly dropped a note on my lap. It was to the "good teacher".

In the note she explained that she just wanted to practice her English and appologized if she had made me feel weird. She had been spoiled by her parents. She explained that not ALL Korean people are rude and proceeded to warn me one last time about the dangers of disobeying crosswalk signals.

I haven't seen her since but have no doubt that I will bump into her again. Maybe if you look closely at the video you might be able to spot her following me down the path to Lotte Mart. Geez I hope not!

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