Friday, January 29, 2010

What it's like

Today is January 29th. I arrived in Korea on November 28th. Here's to two months.

You're wondering, what is Korea like? It's hard to summarize really. I need to tackle this question sooner rather than later. Every day that passes I find myself raising my eyebrows less.

Some of my recent inner thoughts:

So I told the cab driver "Daegok," but as I look closer, this is definitely Chilgok (Boston equivalent of asking to be taken to Quincy and ending up in like Framingham). No problem, bound to happen eventually.

A truck towing a hoard of bundled up Korean women just rolled by my classroom on a neon parade float-like trailer blasting dance pop music with a PA shouting about how the prices and quality of food at their restaurant is unmatched in Daegu? And?

(At a night club) Yes, I understand for the sake of "comic relief" there will be male strip show that features crude pinned-on stuffed genitals. Am I troubled by the fact that the "live guitar player" just swung his instrument around his neck while stutter stepping with his hands on his hips AND playing a musically flawless g-major scale? Not particularly, because that's Korean for talent.

My school routine has normalized. I've made solid friends, foreign and Korean. On a surface level, the differences are there - the old world Korea of fishy street market smells, squat toilets, and structures like I saw in Gyeong ju, and new world Korea of a smattering of neon lights and signs, pounding dance pop synth music, and cutting edge technology/design. Taking a step back, I mutter under my breath: "where the f*** am I?"

I mean, it's just a lot of information questions: why, where, how, what? Take for example, the squat toilet. Looking at the hole in the ground and sizing up the logistics, I asked myself each one of those information questions in exactly that order. I get it now, but the first outing went something like a game of Twister. I'll leave it at that.

My increasing comfort with situations in which I haven't a clue what is going on comes in handy. These are most often meals with coworkers. It's really not bad. The food is great! I'm not quite yet sick of my diet that exclusively consists of rice, noodles, vegetables, and sodiumsodiumsodium (not a typo). Also, only in Korea can you order rice and vegetables only to discover squid and shellfish "hidden" in there too. Surprise!

My language skills are limited to "yes" (nay), "no" (an-yo), "hello," (an yang ha say yo) "goodbye," (an yang hee ga say yo) "thank you," (cam sa hamnida) and words/phrases that I've heard my students say hundreds of times, loosely translated: "I have no clue what the hell he just said" (mool yeo), "this one" (igo), "here" (yogi), "foreigner"(way gook), "American" (mee gook). And they think I don't know they're talking about me. I also know how to tell a cabbie how to take me home: Daegok eeee dun-jee! I think of former Colts head coach Tony Dungy every time.
I'm slowly but surely finding my way around town. The reality is that I only leave the neighborhood on weekends, and that's to go out. Everything I need, restaurants, shops, groceries, department stores are all here in Daegok.

I recently got a subway/bus keypass that I can just wave at sensors (like a Mobil fastpass) for fares and recharge any time. It's great, though the buses are a little intimidating. The day will come when I get taken somewhere real far away. I have most of the Korean alphabet down (I still can't understand what it means, but I sure can read it!) but I still need much more practice. With a few drinks, I still can't tell the bus headed for home from the bus headed for the PRK gulag. It's a problem.

Without any transition, I'll conclude with some sunset shots of the scenery behind my apartment.

The park.
The lake and mountains beyond the park.
Facing away from the lake towards my hood. Directly in front is Dowon Middle School. My apartment is on the other side.