Weekly Waygook: The Global Taste


Snow on the Mr. Pizzacycles.

 

Winter has befallen Incheon, and we felt the first ballast of snowfall yesterday. As someone of good Canadian stock, I am genetically encoded to observe upon this fact, and complain about it endlessly. Snow sucks. It’s cold, and it’s only pretty for about twenty minutes before it mixes with car exhaust and salt and becomes a blackened slush. Korean sidewalks are already woozily uneven, and this will only serve to make them more slippery. And Korean roads are deathtraps masquerading as motorways, a sheen of black ice will only add to the mortality rate. In sum: boo snow.

Also in weather: Korean schools, or at least mine, turns off the heat right after lunch in order to conserve energy, and because the kids trample away around 2:30 or 3:00. Thus, my classroom becomes ice, and somehow colder than outside. How? It defies the laws of physics, and I come to wear my gloves at my desk to combat the feeling.

 

-Hallway hit and run! Roused suddenly from my chair by the familiar Western school sound of smashing things, I bolted for the hallway near my class to discover a caved-in display case. And apparently I was first on the scene! Other teachers soon assembled and discussed things Koreanishly, summoning the beleaguered janitress to pick up the pieces.

 

In the intervening minutes when the other teachers, however, decided to go about their business, I sent away a girl gaggle of grade 5 gawkers, flagged other students to alternate routes, and pushed the more enormous shards out of the path. Good to see my “Students have done a thing, caused possible danger” instincts have not dulled since coming to a far more docile school environment.

 

-Probably the most common questions I get from Koreans is about their food. Do I like it? Is it too spicy? Am I capable of eating kimchi? Below that, there is also the deeper, underlying question: can you truly appreciate kimchi and why it is obviously a miracle and a sign of God’s love for humankind? Koreans are intensely curious about what you think about their culture, and as so much of it has to do with food, they are intrigued by your reactions to the cuisine.

 

There is rarely a day that goes by when one of the Korean teachers doesn’t watch me while I eat lunch (this also happens out in restaurants, often enough that it has faded into the background for me). The other day, after several minutes of watching and quietly nodding to herself, one teacher spoke a rapidfire paragraph to my co-teacher. My co-teacher reported, “The other teacher was worried that you would be homesick, because of food. But you eat Korean food very well. She says you have a global taste.”

 

-My unrelenting efforts to learn Korean are ongoing. I have made obscene amounts of flashcards, and now, as the students see them on my desk, they slowly filter over to quiz and help me study (though I tell them they cannot help during English class time, only before or after, as it’s like pulling teeth to get them to say things in English anyway). Some of the kids are harsher language teachers than I am, gesticulating at word cards and demanding, in Korean, that I produce the antonym and begin using the words in sentences. 반대! they command. They give me reminders of what days I have my classes, as though setting mental deadlines for when I will have to show the fruits of my studies. I have my own personal hagwon.

 

Meanwhile, I have also got Rosetta Stone, which I imagine will eventually be helpful, but right now is infuriating. While it recognizes my speech when I speak entire sentences (남자아이들이 물을 마셔요, the boys drink water, is recognized as perfectly pronounced), it claims that I am unable to utter basic syllables. I spent twenty seconds trying to convince the program that yes, I can say both “ha” and “ju,” but it was recalcitrant and steadfast that I had achieved no such linguistic prowess.

 

-Almost half of the games and lessons I teach involve at least some amount of charades. These generally work out well, and though I originally wavered on ever asking kids to act out “Tae Kwon Do,” the grade 4s and 5s satisfied themselves with a few punches and “hoo-ah!”s to represent the martial art. Not the grade sixes. They needed outdo each other. This meant several close calls where students pretended to give one another roundhouse kicks, leapt from the stage area of my classroom in acrobatics, or dropped into poop stance to show off their moves. And then the crowner: one kid tried to do a running jump but didn’t know his footing and flew onto his ass. MichaelTeacher, do not laugh at student pain. Reprimand the children before they see the stifled chuckles.

 

-Amazing shit happens outside of my window. As I type this, two women are on mic prattling on about the opening of the 80567th cell phone shop in my neighbourhood, Yeonsu. They stand under a multi-coloured balloon arch, the preferred declaration of a grand opening. The pluckier-voiced one has not stopped speaking for five hours. Headlights pour down upon them, bathing them in cold, ghostly light. They are both in skirts, despite the weather. The other one, when not throwing herself upon bystanders to usher them into the stoor, steps into the street and dances. She dances in the cold, winter night, arhythmically, and without passion, like she has never seen a person dance before, and rather has only had it described to her third-hand from her manager at SK Telecom. “Move your arms in windmill motions, and gyrate your hips erratically, like you are having sex with a broken washing machine,” I imagine him saying. The music they play is not even K-pop, it is just electronic noise, even more soulless and dispirited than most commercial Korean music. I could watch these two for hours.

Dance like you mean it, or at least as if your job is counting on it.

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9 thoughts on “Weekly Waygook: The Global Taste

  1. Good luck with your continued language learning! Rosetta Stone is useful for some people and not for others, I think, but the voice recognition sounds like a bit of a flaw… I was excited about taking a Korean Beginners class in my next uni year (it seems to be a one-off) but now can’t, so tonight I skipped sleeping to study the language. The best I could come up with after a few hours was 저한국어를대학교에서공부하겠습니다, which is untrue and probably incorrectly phrased anyway.

    Do you have a lot of trouble with the sounds of the language? That is the hardest part for me, I can understand the theoretical difference between ㄱ ㄲ ㅋ, they sound different, but how on Earth can you tell which is which?

    Global taste sounds like a very respectable thing to have, I think. Congratulations 😛

    • Yeah, I’m mostly going on with it now as a way to get more vocabulary, and practice generating grammatically correct sentences (in speech, Koreans are a lot more forgiving of dropped subject and object markers, or at least my teacher is, than the program).

      I figured out, roughly, what you were trying to say, but I think you were missing a few pieces. If you went ahead and added your object marker for “Korean” you should remember to add 는 to 저. I’m a little confused on “study,” though, because I have mostly learned the -yo endings for the verbs versus the -nida endings. Were you trying to say you do study in uni, or you will study? Do study, you could probably go with just 공부합니다 . Will study, I’m not sure how to generate with the -nida ending, but in -yo form, I believe is 공부를 할 거예요.

      The sounds still give me trouble from time to time. If they’re at the beginning of a syllable, ㄱ is a sound sort of between g and k, leaning towards the hard g. ㅋ is a k sound. ㄲ, from what I understand, is sort of a built up /g/: you stiffen your tongue a little and build a little more pressure before releasing the sound. If they appear as batchim (last symbol in a syllable), they generally all sound like a swallowed /g/ sound, not aspirated (though you would hear it more if your next syllable starts with a vowel). I have more difficulty distinguishing ㅉ and ㅈ, as well as ㅅ and ㅆ. I can produce many of the sounds now, but I still have trouble noticing them in speech.

      • Ah, thanks for that! I’m going to look more at the different verb types now, just looking for a good resource is tricky. So far I was basing it off the Korean lessons on WikiBook (roughly at least, because I don’t mind about conversational language yet). Your description of the sounds is quite helpful, ‘tense’ consonants are just beyond me. I suppose listening to native speakers is the best way of getting tricky sound distinctions down pat — it was like that for Mandarin at first, but after a year the difference between sounds and tones is a lot more obvious.

        • Yeah, the verb types can be hard at first, especially because most resources out there will default to more formal Korean (-nida endings), which is good and polite, but which you wouldn’t use on Korean friends or young people. The only time I would use a 니다 ending is on a superior, and I’m not confident enough in my Korean to talk at them yet. Almost always I’ll use 요 endings, which is still polite, but a lot more even in terms of respectfulness.

          Tense consonants are, indeed, difficult, and generally I think of them as powered up versions of their regular selves (except ㅉ, which is sort of a sound that’s like /ch/ and /tz/ mashed together, sort of.

  2. “A girl gaggle of grade 5 gawkers”

    That’s some fine alliteratin’ there cuz.

    Also, I’ve always thought of laughing at children falling down as a global language. No Rosetta Stone necessary.

    • That particular poetic nugget came to me seconds after shooing the kids away. I know, I know, surely it took me hours to construct such bon mots into that curlicue of English phonetic genius? But no, mere seconds.

      It certainly has an appeal beyond all language. It’s just so much harder to harp on the kids for laughing when I am also clearly laughing at his pain.

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