Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Korean Challenge (22 January)

Before going home last night, Catfish, the other South African and I arranged to meet each other today at midday to have our nails done.  We meet at Dasarang in Naun-dong which is near their apartments, an easy landmark for me and across the street from the nail salon that can’t actually fit us in as we discover once we’re already there.  We’re determined to have a girly salon day so we start walking towards Lotte mart where Jess knows of another nail salon – another salon that is fully booked for today. 

Cursing the Korean obsession and slave-like attitude to anything beauty-related, we decide to have lunch at a nearby Vietnamese restaurant that Catfish has been trying to convince me to try for weeks now.  I’m not a fan of Vietnamese food but, in all fairness, that’s probably because I haven’t had particularly good Vietnamese food prior to this.  This particular restaurant is fantastic!  The food is great, the people are friendly and good times are had all around. 

After lunch, we head back to Lotte Cinema to see if there are any English movies playing this afternoon.  I have yet to meet a waegook in Gunsan who has successfully worked out the movie playlist without having to go to the actual cinema and simply hope that an English film is playing.  Our options today are limited but there’s an animated film, Megamind, playing which we all agree on – we even decide to watch it in 3D – and happily prepare for a relaxing afternoon at the movies.  In the actual theatre, we settle into our seats while Catfish plays with the children who are seated in front of us.  They’re all giggling away at the sight of three foreigners in this movie and the adults are looking at us a bit strangely but we’re used to being stared at and in the minority so we don’t pay much attention to their reactions.

Korean Overload

The lights dim and the movie starts.  As the opening line is said, we all blink at the screen in confusion.  There’s a blue alien type character falling from the sky; we understand the visuals but the audio is not making any sense at all and that’s when it hits us: This is the Korean version of the film!  We’re so used to all the animated movies being in English with Korean subtitles, and the cinema staff usually warn us too, that it never even occurred to us to actually ask if this movie would be in English.  Jess utters a few words of surprise and sinks lower into her seat as she covers her eyes; Catfish and I look at each other with a What-the-heck-do-we-do-now look and burst into slightly hysterical laughter.  We decide to stay for the movie simply because it’s warm, we’re comfortable and Catfish and I are curious to test just how much Korean we understand.

Each time we hear a few words that we understand, Catfish and I cheer and congratulate ourselves on our limited Korean comprehension.  Even more entertaining are the English words scattered amongst the Korean dialogue and these scenes suddenly become far more entertaining than if we could understand the entire movie.  It’s an interesting exercise in comprehension, stamina, determination and sheer stupidity.  It’s also a unique experience to suddenly be on the reverse side of the movie situation – the side that our students are usually on: We’ve all watched foreign films with subtitles but we’ve never tried to watch a foreign language film with no subtitles. 

It’s inevitable that this particular movie experience reminds me of the old Choose Your Own Adventure series of books that were popular when I was at school.  We have limited understanding as to what is happening in this movie and so, from what we can see and the limited conversation that we do understand, we create our own, personal storylines to accompany the visuals on the screen before us.  This is, without a doubt, the longest hour and 20 minutes of my Korean adventure thus far!  The effort involved in trying to work out the storyline of even a children’s movie that is playing in a language that we can barely understand is enormous so it’s hardly surprising that we all fall asleep for part of the movie.  At the end of it, we’ve understood the gist of the story: Bad Blue Guy (Megamind) kills Good Guy whom cute reporter loves; Bad Guy likes cute reporter and attempts to win her over, creates another ‘Good Guy’ who turns into a genuine Bad Guy who original Bad Guy now has to defeat which, when he successfully does so, wins over cute reporter.  Catfish and I are very proud of our deduction skills although we’re now exhausted and in need of coffee!

Give Me Caffeine

We make one more futile attempt to have our nails done today before saying goodbye to Jess and heading to Ediya Coffee to try to wake up.  We’re planning to go to The ROK tonight where an English band from Jeonju is playing and I don’t feel like heading back to my apartment because I know that I probably won’t leave it again tonight if I do go home.  Catfish is a few steps ahead of me in entering Ediya Coffee: She walks in and immediately turns around and back out the door to excitedly tell me, “It’s them!” which attracts a lot of attention.  By “them”, she is referring to the guy who served us a few weeks ago while his friends heckled him about trying to speak English.  He seems to remember us too because he quickly pushes the second guy forward to help us.  This guy speaks pretty good English and Catfish seems to go directly to flirt mode.  The cynic in me can’t help wondering if he’s secretly thinking Yes! I finally get to use that situational conversation lesson that ______ teacher insisted on doing with us back in middle school!  As is customary when spending time with Catfish, the afternoon quickly sprints away and evening appears leading us to dinner at the Galbi.  We can’t deny that we’re creatures of habit! 

The Galbi is extremely busy considering that it’s a Saturday night.  As a result, we’re seated in a separate side of the restaurant that we didn’t even know existed until tonight.  We’re also not the token foreigners here tonight which is slightly disappointing and, when we see other foreigners seated in the same section as us, we can’t help wondering if they’re trying to seat the foreigners separate from the Koreans tonight.  By now, we’re well-practised in how to do a Galbi dinner and are further disappointed to realise that we’re being left to cook our dinner solo tonight.  It’s only later, when we see a table of (presumably) US military guys being helped with their food that we realise it’s a compliment to us that we’re being left alone – it means we finally know what we’re doing and can be trusted not to screw up the food!

Satisfying a meal as ever, we barely pause to question whether or not dinner will be followed with coffee at Angel-in-us; we simply know that that’s our routine as we automatically walk to our second coffee shop for the day.  By the time we’ve settled into Angel-in-us, we’ve decided that we don’t really feel like going to The ROK anymore and that, being a Saturday night, it’ll probably be overcrowded and filled with annoying military guys.  We’re far more content to simply while away the hours, chatting over coffee in the warmth and comfort of one of our favourite hang out spots.

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