Wednesday, May 5, 2010
It is inevitable no matter what country you live in that as long as you have some sort of regular schedule, daily life will eventually become routine. You look forward to weekends. Mondays blur into Wednesdays which blur into Fridays. While life here is so vibrantly different that I still notice all the little differences, nothing has been jumping out to me in a way that makes me want to write an entire blog on just one thing. So here is a combination of the little details I’ve experienced and observed in our (almost) five months here.
-Women’s shoes. The first thing I noticed is that they wear heels everywhere. Sky high, brightly colored, metallic, buckled, zippered, you-name-it heels. I’ve seen them on the uneven sidewalks, on the ice covered ground in winter, at the Yudalsan mountain near where we live, and at the Boseong green tea farm. I’m convinced there’s nowhere on Earth they wouldn’t wear heels and that they must keep the foot and ankle doctors rather busy. And this is coming from someone who has an impressive shoe collection herself, mind you. As for women’s fashion in general, they seem to have mastered the “night look”. But they don’t have much of a day look. The heels and booty shorts on a Saturday night is one thing, but during the day it’s a little off-putting. And anytime before noon just looks like the Walk of Shame. I see a lot of what appears to be the Walk of Shame, but nope, that’s just the way they dress at 9am.
-Konglish. For my family and friends back home – this a mixture of Korean and English that is distinctly different than Spanglish. With Spanglish, you can combine words which are each proper in their own right to make a coherent sentence. In Konglish, someone who thinks he knows enough English but doesn’t bother to consult a dictionary or one of the multitude of native speakers living in Korea puts whatever he pleases on a t-shirt or hat or plastered across an entire building. Sometimes it vaguely makes sense. Other times it’s just word stew. For example, Steve bought a shirt inspired by Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup paintings that was labeled with Facebook and Twitter and called “My Social Networking Soups.” Ok, that’s a little strange. Not the craziest though. But because there must have been extra room on the shirt, they decided to put the logo of Duff Beer from the Simpsons. And then, because there was even more room, the word “cockatoo”. Now, you tell me, what the hell does all that mean? And how can you possibly not buy it? I could give plenty more examples, our favorite perhaps being our friend’s purchase of a hat that said “Donkey Joyful”…with the addition of the words “because the Lord needs it.” This whole country is on crack when it comes to using English.
-As for English names, they have a little trouble with that, too. Our school asks the kids to create English names for themselves to give them more of a Western experience and identity, which also makes it easier on us. But given that they have a hard time discerning differences between the sounds z/j/ch or b/v or f/p, I’ve ended up with kids in my class who insist their names are Ven instead of Ben and Chenny instead of Jenny. And I don’t have the heart to tell them that their previous Korean teacher had no idea what she was talking about. I also had one girl in my class who was obsessed with trying to spell her name in every way possible. She started as Kitty, then Kitie, then Kiti. I just knew she’d start playing around the K, and sure enough she eventually labeled one of her tests “Titty”. That one I had to correct. I could just see her visiting the U.S. one day, proudly telling everyone that her English name was Titty. It’s no matter though. She’s now changed her name to Scarlet, which she sometimes pronounces as “Carrot”.
-There is a distinct lack of kitchen gadgets available. Korean cooking doesn’t focus on presentation, and they tend to do things the same way across the board. There is a plethora of Ginsu type knives, kitchen scissors, and these baby tong things, which is apparently all you should ever need in the kitchen. After five months, I finally found a can opener. Most of their cans have pop tops, so can openers aren’t really hot sellers. But good luck if you decide to buy imported canned goods. If you want something from home that bad, you’ll find a way to open it. Trust me, I have. I’ve also only seen one potato masher, which I refuse to buy for $10. And the serrated knife selection was, well, one serrated knife. So…I guess I should just put that microplane out of my head now. Ain’t gonna happen.
-Speaking of food though, I’ve eaten some things here that I already know I’ll miss when we’re gone. Most of it is dishes I don’t even know the name of or little sauces that are served on the side. There is this bean paste thing that I just adore the salty-sweet taste of. And the gimbap. Oh, the gimbap. It’s basically Korea’s answer to sushi. Instead of raw fish, it’s veggies wrapped in rice and seaweed. Sometimes it has crabstick, processed ham, and egg, which I’m not the biggest fan of. But the tuna kind pretty much makes up my lunch 3 days of the week. I love that I can buy a healthy lunch at a convenience store for $1. And what is so special about tuna salad wrapped in rice and seaweed, I don’t know. But since Americans love food from every other culture, can someone please get on that before I come home? I’d love to walk into Walgreen’s for my daily fix of tuna gimbap. As I wrote this, I just thought of something. Note to self – find a Korean cooking class before you leave, and take copious notes.