Friday, January 4, 2013

Vacation Day 6: Relaxing in Wasu / Daily questions / more

Not too much happened today. I spent most of it reading Mockingjay, the third book in the excellent Hunger Games trilogy and hanging around the apartment. It felt good to have a day without any obligations.

Since I don't like making empty posts, here's something I picked up at a lecture in the second Orientation back in September of 2011. I've been meaning to get to this one for a while now, for it deals with something I've noted a few times in various posts: Koreans interviewing you. It comes up almost every day here. What follows are notes from the Orientation and reflections on them from after 16 months of living here.

Questions Koreans Ask You

"Where are you going?"
--My notes say, "They don't really want to know," "Ask to show they care," and "Answer specifically if possible"--All of which is true, yet my students do seem genuinely curious. I've been asked this question countless times because it's the one thing every student knows how to say. To the Korean and foreigner teachers who taught their students this expression, well done. You've taught them well. If I ever see a student on the street, he invariably asks, "Where are you going?" I've heard the question more times here than I ever did in the States. Also, Koreans ask "Where are you going" of each other all the time, so it's not just something asked of foreigners.

Of all the times I've heard this question, one instance stands out. It happened some time in October last year I bumped into a middle school girl on the way to the grocery store and this is what we said. My thoughts are in italics:

"Teacher Ben! Where--are you going?"
To buy beer--no, can't say that. "To the grocery store."
Why? The grocery store has food. If I'm going to there, I need food. "To get food."
Seriously? "I'm hungry."
"Oh. Bye bye!"

"Have you eaten?"
--From what I've gathered, Koreans don't like to eat alone. My office usually goes to lunch as a group if we're all present. In my journal's notes from the lecture, I wrote, "It helps to answer honestly. If you haven't eaten, they'll take you to a restaurant." I've actually had that happen a few times. Usually, the person will tell me to eat or give me something to eat. If I'm in a Korean's home, it's one of the first questions to get asked. But after plenty of experience, no matter what I say, food will appear because Koreans want to offer you something anyway. It reminds me of my friend's mom, for every time I came over, she'd ask if I'd had anything to eat and if I'd like anything to eat. It goes like that here: people don't want you to go hungry. For example, once I stopped by Dave's place on my way to dinner to relay some information about a meeting and upon seeing me, his fiance invited me in for dinner with them. And since she cooks like a champ, I needed no convincing. ^_^

"How old are you?"
- Got to get age to get to know someone personally. Korea's still largely a Confucian society, so people ask this question to ascertain how to talk to you and treat you. The talk matters because of the honorifics in speech. If the other person's older, he'll play the big brother; but if he's younger, I need to play the big brother.  As a foreigner, I don't need to worry about this because Koreans generally don't expect foreigners to know about it. Usually my foreigner status means I get treated like a VIP or elder in town or at school: I get the front seat in cars, for example. Despite being the youngest teacher in the school by at least 3 years, I have the status of a veteran.

"Can you use chopsticks?"
--This comes mostly from Koreans' general lack of experience with foreigners. I used to get the question all the time, but it's stopped because I've proven my chopstick skills.

Bonus material:

I meant to post this picture sooner, but it got lost in the shuffle. It's dedicated to coffee lovers around the world. As you can see, it was taken in Ildong, a town about 45 minutes away that's on the Wasu-Seoul bus line. I took this shot because it's yet another example of the interesting English names of places over here: A coffee shop named Need Coffee? Talk about blunt. It even makes for a fun exchange:

"Where are you going?"
"I'm going to Need Coffee."
"When I go there."
Here's hoping that somewhere in Korea stands a bar named Need Beer.

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