Walking in the streets of my neighbourhood, I am often confronted by what strikes me as particularly Korean slices of life, things that just wouldn’t happen at home. I am fascinated, and I usually stop in my tracks, or at least slow, to rubberneck. Often I have too much pride to gawk and take out my camera, convincing myself that I am above it, that I can walk on with just the mental picture and a smile that I have seen something different. Other times, my pitiful sense of dignity washes away in the face of something I find cool or hilarious, and I stumble over like the camera-drunk foreigner I am at heart. As I walked home from school one day, I saw numerous students from my school and the neighbouring middle school carrying huge, wafty clouds of cotton candy. I soon discovered that a vendor had ridden up on his motorcycle, parked alongside the school, and set up shop. He had simply attached an enormous drum vat to cook cotton candy to the back of his bike. For several stupid, strained seconds I considered walking past, and ultimately decided I could not: I tore out my camera, checked if he was cool with it, and happily went on with my day.
-Korea is a country that loves corn dogs, and I don’t know how I feel about it. When I think about it, I can’t help but mentally place it in America as a strictly western phenomenon. It’s a hot dog that is battered and deep-fried, food practices seemingly synonymous with North American cookery. But everywhere I’ve gone, I can find corn dogs as street meat, and we had one for lunch at school the other day as well. The Korean corn dog has a bit of a fluffier batter, and if you get it in street-meat form, the corona of breading and other delicious detritus can be nearly an inch thick, a giant, crunchy shell dwarfing the actual hot dog inside. It was especially jarring in the school context because the day before, lunch featured tentacle soup.
-Every Korean school child (and adult, for that matter) knows at least 7 English words: “hello,” “teacher,” and “you are very handsome/pretty.” If you are very lucky, they will construct these in sequence to form one unit, and use the gender-appropriate compliment. I am not entirely sure where they pick up the flattery words, but all of them know it. When stumped, they will revert and simply compliment you (and for the record, they will compliment you no matter what you look like. They can’t even apply Korean beauty standards to your visage, so they assume you are strapping or beautiful in your homeland, despite all possible homeliness on your part). You’d be surprised how many times it comes up. Many Koreans, including the kids, want to talk to you because you are so foreign and strange, but without the English language skills to do it, they drop what English they have and hope for the best. It certainly helps that the most common phrase they all know is flattery.
-Despite the incessant feeling that I am constantly forgetting what is going on in my life here, I continue to forget the schedule that I went out and bought. Even as people continue to make plans, and I rehearse the times and dates over and over to solder the data onto my synapses, I still forget to write anything down. It would really be prudent, considering my co-teachers regularly tell me days I will have off, or times when I won’t have any classes to teach.
-The garbage process here still bewilders me. In Korea, you are supposed to separate your garbage, keeping your recycling, waste, and food waste in separate bags (similar to what I did back in Canada, anyway). You then politely bag it up in government plastics of varying volumes and place them in bins to be removed. My building, however, seems different: my building manager was unable to really communicate anything about garbage pick-up to me through my co-teacher. Some of my neighbours discovered what seems to be our building’s garbage process: dumping your refuse around a tree near the side of the road. Every Tuesday I wander over and dump my bags in a mounting pile, and hope that this is actually the right thing, and that I am not actually breaking arcane Korean garbage law.
-Now that I have a Korean cell phone, I can start getting Korean wrong number calls. It generally goes like this: “Hello?” “Yeoboseyo?” “…Hello?” “Yeoboseyo.” “…I don’t speak Korean.” If I’m particularly ambitious, I’ll try to drop the Korean for “I don’t speak Korean very well.” Should things progress further than the previous exchange, I will hang up and hope it was nothing important.
-A large portion of my job is trying to make sure my Korean coworkers and employers like me, especially my main co-teachers. Thus I have helped my main co-teacher with a graduate school essay, and have compiled lists of English language children’s books for her to use in her graduate projects. This week, she and my other co-teacher got together to plan their trip to Spain, and possibly France, during the winter break. They were looking for guest houses in Paris, and I saw my shot to be obsequiously helpful. I launched into the room, fired up my computer, showed them hostelworld, the Paris metro map, photos I had taken around that city, and where they should visit. I read the French words with a 9th grader’s elan for the tongue, and they tittered appreciatively, finding my meager Francophonics exotic and amazing. I felt like I was being toadyish as much as I was being genuinely helpful, but given how much they do for me, sometimes it pays to be a suck-up.
-Movie theatres here have large collections of free, glossy, 8×11 posters for the films being shown. I have begun a new decorating process, as I plan on periodically zipping over to the movie theatre and raiding them for new movie posters. I eventually desire to cover an entire wall of my apartment in Korean language movie posters. I have one up there now that I do not understand in the slightest, but from what I can glean from the title and the promotional photos, I believe it is about a killer radio station. I am going to continue to think that until someone tells me different.