Sunday, February 13, 2011

I Look Korean? (10 January)

After a weekend of procrastinating over my marking, I’m finally almost finished commenting on all of my students’ journals which need to be handed back today.  Fortunately, today should be a relatively stress-free day since my students will have the entire lesson to type up their best writing from last week’s lessons for the portfolio of writing to commemorate the ADEPT program.  I can’t help wondering how much the school spends on printing costs for things like this but it looks impressive and that’s probably more important than the cost.

Since the students only have to type one piece of writing, I’m anticipating a fairly easy three hours of class today.  It’s unusual for students here to constantly ask for help in a lesson so I’m very surprised when I realise that in two of my classes, I barely have a chance to register the start and end of each lesson as I keep moving from one student question to the next.  It makes the lessons go by far more quickly than usual and it’s genuine footage for Mr Jeong to film for the video clip he’s making for Friday’s closing ceremony.

I also have an opportunity to just chat with some of my students once they finish their work and I can’t help but laugh when I see one of them looking through photos (of me and the Kiwis) from our school festival which a senior student has posted on her webpage.  Another student makes me laugh even more when she shows me a picture of a Korean woman who is apparently a television star here – and then proceeds to tell me that, in her opinion, this is who I resemble in appearance.  I’ve been told increasingly often over the last few weeks that my mannerisms are very Korean but this is the first time I’ve been told that I look Korean! 

My Personal Challenge

My students seem to genuinely like me – except for the majority of 104 which is still a bit of a challenge.  I’ve also given considerable thought to Malicious Boy and realised that it would be so easy to request that I not have him as a student in the new year but the reality is that, at some point, I’m going to have to deal with him or a student like him – and I already have dealt with similar students in South Africa. 

I’m actually looking forward to the challenge of finding a way to win him over since I firmly believe that he’s actually quite intelligent and has simply had a negative experience with either English teachers or foreign English teachers in particular.  He’s also lived in China for the past two years so he may just be a little insecure.  Whatever the reason for his negativity towards my subject, I’ve spoken to other teacher friends and am determined to get him to participate positively in my lessons.

Conversing Waegook Style

The rest of the day passes fairly quickly and I’m soon meeting Catfish at our favourite Galbi restaurant where we can’t help noticing that we’re once again receiving more attention than most other customers.  It’s particularly entertaining when a mini-scuffle ensues between a male and female server who semi-tackle each other in their enthusiasm – the girl won and the guy stood only slightly to the side looking somewhat bashful as Catfish broke into uncontrollable giggles over the absurdity of the situation.  After dinner, we break with tradition only slightly by going to Angel-in-us (or AngeLInus as the Koreans call it) for coffee instead of Ediya Coffee. 

There, we continue with a typical ‘Western’ chat (ie lots of facial expressions and gestures) much to the amusement of the staff who seem to find us fascinating to watch – or maybe they were just wishing that we would leave.  However, we redeem ourselves by waving and greeting all of the kids who are in the coffee shop and playing with a toddler at the next table.  This is something that we do regularly but in Korea, it’s looked upon very favourably – Koreans like kids so if you show that you like kids, and the kids respond well to you (which, being foreign, most of them giggle and laugh just because we look and sound different), then it seems to be assumed that you’re a good person.

Lotte Mart and the Time Warp

Our final destination for the evening is Lotte mart where Catfish needs to purchase aluminium foil.  Culture shock is a strange little bugger that settles in very unusual and unexpected areas of our lives at random moments.  This is why some foreigners are literally scared to leave their apartments some weekends (I have had several weekends like this in my time in Korea) and grocery shopping and department stores can suddenly seem overwhelming and terrifying.  For Catfish, Lotte mart has become a sort of nemesis – she’s scared to go grocery shopping by herself but she needs aluminium foil for her winter camp lesson the next day so duty calls.

At the best of times, Lotte mart is a sensory overload: there are so many bright colours, neon arrows and singing promotional signs, in-store promoters who helpfully try to help you find the best deal (even when it’s clear that you don’t understand Korean and they don’t speak English), overpowering smells (Catfish can’t stand the fish section where you choose your live fish and I can’t stand the meat section – although you don’t choose meat from live animals behind the counter in this section!), repetitive jingles and more.  In addition, Lotte mart is a bit like being in a casino: It’s so brightly lit and there’s so much activity that you can easily lose three or four hours in this four-storey building without really accomplishing or buying much.  As a result, it’s not unusual to see foreigners shopping in pairs; in fact, it’s somewhat advisable to bring reinforcements on any shopping trip because two foreigners is more intimidating than just one.

Aruminium Poil

Our main mission tonight is to find aluminium foil for Catfish although I do also need to some grocery shopping while we’re here.  It doesn’t take us long to round up the few items we’re each looking for – except the elusive aluminium foil.  In American and South African stores, aluminium foil would be stocked in the general grocery section which is where we’re looking.  Recognising that this is the Western-logic-approach that is so frequently unsuccessful in Korea – and tiring of having fought our way through the late night shoppers and the same aisles one too many times – Catfish approaches a store employee and asks for hep.  The immediate response is the deer-caught-in-headlights/the waegook-is-talking-to-me look but we’re patient and Catfish smiles encouragingly while carefully enunciating what we’re looking for.  Still no luck.  Aluminium foil is not exactly something you can mime but Catfish tries still to no success.

I then decide to make one more circuit of the nearby aisles to see if I can find anything similar or possibly even aluminium foil itself while Catfish continues trying to explain it to this unfortunate victim since my mini-dictionary has failed me once more.  When I return, Catfish is speaking to someone on the phone which I presume is her co-teacher, Miss Kim.  It’s only when she hands the phone back to the employee that I realise that this woman has gone out of her way, using her personal phone, to find someone who speaks more English than her in an attempt to better assist us – such is the overwhelming kindness demonstrated by Koreans on a regular basis.  Her face lights up as she listens to the translation of aluminium foil via the person on the other end of the phone conversation and she quickly grabs Catfish’s hand and leads her to the escalator.  On the second floor, in the aisle next to the car section, is the kitchen storage section of Lotte mart: This is where we find aRuminium Poil (as it’s called in Korean)! Catfish has a far more descriptive, and detailed, account of this particular adventure in her blog which I can highly recommend.

'l/ vs /r/ and /f/ Challenges

Koreans struggle to distinguish between and /l/ and /r/ sound (the Korean character is the same for both of these sounds and the sound is determined by the placement of the character in each syllable) and there is no /f/ sound in Korean.  We already know and understand this.  What we don’t know – and can’t understand – is that if this is true, what did this particular woman hear differently in Catfish’s pronunciation of “aLuminium Foil” and the Korean pronunciation of “aRuminium Poil”?  That is perhaps a mystery that will never be solved.

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