Note to self: stop falling down

Friday, November 28, 2008

Some women get clutzier when they're pregnant. I guess I'm naturally clutzy enough that I can't get any worse. I never tripped or fell when I was pregnant with Liam. I blame Liam completely for the fact that I've now fallen twice, in public, in the past month.

The first time, I was walking with Liam on a rainy, dismal day. I remember that it was the day of my friend Aubrey's birthday party and we were returning from the stationary shop where I'd gotten a card and ribbon for her gift. We'd also picked up Liam's favorite little fish-shaped, custard-filled (shuga-cream in Konglish) breads. Liam was tired, which he proved after we got home by throwing a stupid fit (over the fish bread) and then falling asleep on my lap. So, on the way home, he wanted me to carry him, something I've been doing less and less lately. Because of the toddler perched on my protruding belly, I couldn't see the curb very well, came down on my ankle wrong, and fell, dropping my child and the bag with the fish bread.

Why is this worth blogging about? Because there was an older woman walking by who saw the whole thing, saw that I was obviously pregnant, saw that I dropped my child who was then crying, and did NOTHING. She was not feeble-old or helpless-old, just grandmotherly. She didn't even ask if I was okay. She just stared at me for a moment and then kept walking, before I was even collected and off the ground.

Yes, I added this to my "list of slights," an imaginary list that I invented once in conversation with my friend Jen. I'm taking back what I previously said about old people in Korea being extremely courteous. Apparently that only applies when others are around to see them being nice to the foreigners.

This past week, I was walking down the sloped sidewalk in front of my apartment with Liam. He was holding my hand and started running, then fell down. He somehow took me down with him. So there we were, sprawled on the sidewalk, checking out our scrapes, and I looked up. A girl was standing at the end of the sidewalk just staring at us. In Korean, I said to her, "What? What are you looking at? Go!" Then in English, "What are you looking at? Foreigners fall down, too." She looked surprised and walked away. (She might have been surprised because I yelled at her. She might have been surprised because I spoke Korean. Or she might have been surprised because I said, "Mul ba?" which is the way gangsters in Korean movies ask "What are you looking at?")

I know that I'm a cranky pregnant woman. I understand that's just the way Koreans are in general, and specifically around foreigners who don't really fit into the social strata. That doesn't stop me from getting very, very, very irritated. So obviously, I just need to stop falling down. That will solve the problem. (And I still say it's all Liam's fault.)


Monday, November 24, 2008

As I mentioned in the previous post, Konglish is the term used for words borrowed from English, but usually with their own uniquely Korean pronunciation.
Ironically, Konglish can make it easier for foreigners to communicate outside the classroom, and yet frustrating to communicate within the classroom.

Case in point: my middle school listening/conversation class several years ago. The text I was using contained thematic units with completely random vocabulary. One of the listening activities is to choose from several sentences the one which best describes a tiny black-and-white photograph in the book. I think the sentence in question was, "The woman is reading the label." Students didn't recognize the word, "label." After I explained it, one girl said, "Oh, LA-BELL." Of course, la-bell.

Same class, this time the word is "matinee." I explained that it's a movie showing or theater performance in the afternoon. No recognition. I looked it up in the English-Korean dictionary. The first Korean entry was met with blank stares. The students didn't understand. I carefully sounded out the second entry: mah-tee-nay. I almost slapped myself in the forehead as I reitterated, "Come on, guys, mah-tee-nay." "OH, MAH-TEE-NAY!" my class replied.

The biggest slap-myself-in-the-forehead moment was when an elementary school student corrected MY pronunciation of Hawaii. "No, teacher, ha-wa-ee!" Now I realize that her pronunciation is probably closer to the original, but being corrected by a ten-year-old on the pronunciation of a state in MY home country is a little ridiculous. American teachers are hired to teach American English, and if we want to mangle the pronunciation of our states, then so be it.

My friend Sara tells a particularly hilarious story (as all of Sara's stories are) of explaining, drawing, even pantomiming a parachute with no recognition from her students. Finally, she looked it up in the dictionary: Pah-lah-choot. Her students swore they didn't understand any of her attempts, but she suspects they were just toying with her.

Outside the classroom, if I don't know a word in Korean, I often try to Konglishize it: z becomes j, f becomes p, compound consonant sounds are separated (i.e. bl become bul), and often extra vowels are added at the end. It's amazing how well this works.

Some Konglish words, written as they sound:
ice cream: eye-soo-cu-reem-uh
cheese: chee-juh
pizza: pee-jah
hamburger: hame-buh-guh
steak: suh-tay-ee-kuh
coffee: cah-pee (sounds like copy -- so my students were always confused when I said I was going to make a copy during class)
vitamin: bee-tah-mean
bus: bu-suh
taxi: take-shi
motorcycle: oh-toe-bah-i (supposed to sound like "autobike")
cell phone: han-duh-pone (supposed to sound like "handphone")

I killed the voices

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

We live in probably the biggest apartment complex in Sokcho, which we sometimes refer to affectionately as "the projects." Buyoung Apt ("ah-paht" in Konglish) was built 10-20 years ago, depending on who you ask. The complex stretches about a mile, parallel to, but about one block off, the main road through Sokcho. It's divided into smaller areas by various streets which are scattered with restaurants and other businesses. Some small businesses, like daycares, are housed within apartments. The buildings are each about 15 stories high and our floor (which is about average) has 8 apartments. In some ways, it's almost like a little city within itself.

Our apartment isn't fancy, but it's comfortable and fairly spacious. All the buildings (at least in our section) were repainted inside (interior hallways) and out this summer, which makes them look much snazzier than when we moved in this spring. There are lots of playgrounds, which are gradually being updated. We have easy access to a large grocery store, a dry cleaner, a stationary/craft store, restaurants, etc. The only drawback is the voices.

On the wall in our main room (kitchen/dining/living) is a phone, which we never use. We assume it would connect us to an ajashi (doorman), who probably can't speak English anyway. Above that is a small speaker. The size is deceiving, considering the volume of the announcements that come from that speaker. There is no volume control. On average, once per day, anytime from 8am to 9pm, random announcements are made, by various people, through this speaker, always book-ended by a series of dings, somewhat similar to our doorbell.

Of course, if we understand a few words from the rapid spiel, we're doing well. Sometimes, we can deduce the content of the announcement from events that follow, such as the time our water was shut off shortly after an announcement, or another time when we lost power for a few hours. Overall, these announcements do us no good. The last three evenings, after Liam was already in bed, the same man's voice made lengthy announcements which included the word "piano." Piano is Konglish (a recent addition to the Korean language taken from English). Not being able to understand the majority of the message, I can't be sure, but I'm very suspicious that he is advertising (among other things) a piano school.

My first attempt was to muffle the voices. I used thumb tacks to affix a terry cloth dish towel over the speaker. It was completely unsuccessful, but did draw questions from several guests, both Koreans and foreigners. Last night, I finally had enough. I removed the cover and then the actual speaker unit from the wall. Matthew disconnected some wires and replaced the rest of the unit. Now we wait. Hopefully, I will never hear the voices again.

Update: IT WORKED! During Liam's nap today there was an announcement. I know that because I could hear our neighbors' speaker. That's how loud it is! It wasn't loud enough to disturb Liam, though. Hallelujah!

this place in time

Friday, November 7, 2008

Just in case you were wondering:

3 years ago: when we first came to Korea (as of 7 November)
6 months ago: when we returned to Korea (6 months to go in this contract...after that???)
4 weeks from now: Liam turns 2 years old
8 weeks from tomorrow: Rowan's estimated due date

happy day

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

This isn't usually a forum for my political thoughts, but part of living in South Korea is my identity as an American, and the United States has just experienced an historic moment, after which we will never be the same.

Reasons I am ecstatically (one might say blissfully) happy today:
We have elected a liberal president.
We have elected a black president.
We have elected a (relatively) young president.
We have elected a man who believes in change.
We have elected a man who has made me cry twice in the past week, because of the hope he represents.
We have elected a man who I consider a feminist.
There will be a strong first lady in the White House.
There will be children in the White House again...and a new puppy.
There will not be another four years of the same.

God bless America!

a weekend in the country

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It all started with E-Mart, as do so many things here in Sokcho. Matthew & his dad met J.E., a Korean-American from NYC who is teaching out in the boonies on the other side of Mt. Seorak. Since she comes into Sokcho most weekends, she's joined us for Sunday evening dinners and a jaunt to Daepo Hong (harbor). Her bosses also run a pension, or "back packers' hotel," and were kind enough to let us stay in one of their cabins a few weekends ago. We had planned to visit a nearby temple while there, but it was extremely crowded due to the autumn leaves. (Day 1, the line for the shuttle bus was insane. Day 2, we took one look at the back-up of highway traffic and decided to go the opposite direction.) Instead, we drove our rental car down to Gangneung (about an hour south of Sokcho) for the day. Even though things didn't go according to plan, it was a beautiful weekend and a nice change of pace to be completely mobile. (It was on the return trip from Gangneung that we stopped for the disappointing clam chowder.)

Giving credit where credit is due, I need to mention that Matthew & I were photographic slackers that weekend. All of these pictures are courtesy of J.E.

blindsided by pizza

Monday, November 3, 2008

I thought pizza was fairly safe. I thought "Hawaiian pizza" was too simple to mess up. I saw the picture, which certainly looked like pineapple and ham, and thought that would be delivered. I thought wrong.

Yes, it's actually fruit cocktail: peaches, pineapple, some unidentified fruit and (YES!) maraschino cherries. No ham. But those are black olives. I couldn't bring myself to eat the maraschino cherries, but other than that, it was strangely good.
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