Monday, January 16, 2012
The First Week ~ Into the Fray
OK ~ Reporting in from the first week of class at Yonsei /tehakyo/ otherwise known as Yonsei University and what is now the tenth of my days being in Korea. There is not a flying rat’s chance in hell that in two weeks you could possibly grasp what goes on here. Me either. And that is a reassuring thing. There are many more things that happen in this world that we don’t even realize or take the time to look at. Thats part of what I find so invigorating about living in a new place. Culture shock is your friend. You know what they say, a wound from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.... is that evidence for biblical sadism? whatever. But back to the point, because im SURE you’re all so very interested in what is going on in my oh-so-exciting life. :D (I imagine that you can only mask arrogance as “charm” for so long.) --- Orientation on the first friday here was... interesting. There was a little bit of a chat about what the school was and then... you can go buy your books now. Not what i’d call the most essential of affairs. Whatever, i’ll attend anything if its part of my program. I was also pretty interested in finding a place to stay.... which to be fair, I did have some phone numbers to call from the research I had done prior to coming. However, not speaking Korean really made that a taxing affair. So what did I do? Found someone who could speak english and Korean to help me ask if there was still room at the places... hahaha... oh sadly insufficient in some ways. Eventually though (two phone numbers later and like five minutes of evidently not talking about all that much...), the English speaking attendant in the office placed a call and within 30 seconds, I get a response to the affect of, “wait five minutes, she’s gonna come her.” I was a little dumbfounded, but more than willing to go on this ride. Well... it must have been a latino five minutes because it was like 15-20 by the time she got there, and tooooootally worth it. She walks into the room and im pretty sure I saw bubbles floating in after her. By she, I mean this like 70 year old ajumma (aunti... the generic term for an older woman.) Trundles into the room all smiles and wrinkles in a fur coat that made her look three feet wide. She looks around the room and then looks at me and goes, “Miguk a%*@#^Djhese23?” all I got out of that was (miguk- american)? I spoke... no korean aside from the... “I dont speak korean”, “American”, 1-10 in both of the korean number systems.... oh! and where is the bathroom. She thought it was funny ~ but not in a derisive way. I knew as soon as I saw her that I was going to live in the right hasook-jib. Oh, and a word on that. A Hasook-jib is sort of like an apartment, but its a little bit more like a dorm than a traditional apartment. Separate room, shared bathroom and these sort of... shower room... things. Nice thing is! breakfast and dinner are included in the rent, and so I get to try homestyle korean food ~ which is an experience in itself. Im not gonna pretend that its the best food ever. Its not. Its simple ~ though it is also pretty good. Honestly though... It gets realllly really repetitive. The soups keep me sane though. The variety in these soups changes so that has been keeping me stable and brightening my interest in soups... they don’t NEED to be complicated evidently. Im lovin’ it. I’ve started to go through a simplification revolution in my cooking over the past few years. When I was cooking before, in university and what not, I would always dash dash sprinkle sprinkle.... pour pour pour. More flavours just ends up making your food all taste... the same. SO! simple is good. But back to the hasook-jib. Honestly it feels a bit like a hostel...but without the shared rooms. There are a lot of people around ~ I think about 30 people over 3 floors... something like that ~ and they’re from all over the place. Seriously... its Ajumma’s favourite conversation (monologue). “We’ve got people from America, Russia, China, Japan....uh... which others? oh yah BRAZIL, France, Malaysia, Canada.... ” It goes on like that for a while and then starts to sound like a broken record or the deja vu moment in the matrix. She’s simple... but really kind. And that makes up for a lot with me in this place. (so long as I don’t have to spend tons of time in the exact same area with her.) The bathrooms though... Clean yes ~ when freshly cleaned by the ajumma’s (there’s two). However, I live on a floor with all girls.... which is awkward for me and has made strategic bathroom trips a new angle on my life. It has also led to additional collateral education about female hygiene or lack there of. By the way girls... you’re not all as clean as you may think you are. Foul. I’ll with hold some of the more grisly details until some night when we’re all exchanging stories and I need my ace in the hole. Last tidbit ~ the stalls are really... economical (too short length wise... so not narrow or (not ?) not tall enough.. but when you enter the stall and the door closes... it becomes a serious task to get your pants down and then sit back down. Oh my goodness. It makes going to school to the huge like japanese hotel-sized toilet stalls (and my goodness are they impeccably clean.) Chinese has really come in handy for me! wow, I’ve met ooooooodles of people that I wouldn’t have been able to communicate with otherwise. Its also a great go-to when I need help figuring things out like... the washing machine, which is all in Korean. Dinner conversation~ another plus. Casting people like Ajumma into complete awe that I can speak Chinese (im on another plane to her now). Sneaking up on people in Coffee shops ^_^. It is good. (aside from the bathrooms) --- Monday was a jolt. Linguistics major on the fourth language... and im beginning to think that one will never get to the point where they can just “easily” learn a language. The idea is hokum. The first three days we essentially covered the entire korean alphabet ~ which was very sensibly designed, though I pity any poor dyslexic bastards out there that are interested in learning korean. The difference between “ah” and “aw” is a vertical mirror (flip the character from left to right).... “oh” and “oo” a horizontal mirror (flip it from up to down). “n” and “k” is a diagonal mirror... yeah... its a chore and no mistake... but once you get it, its really neat. Everything is organized in syllables... at least theoretically. Korean and Japanese evidently share very similar grammar, and I KNOW theres tons of loan word from Chinese, because i’ve seen them just this week in the vocabulary we’re getting. Its a blessing in a curse, because things are easier to remember in some ways, but also easier to screw up by saying the word as I learned it in Chinese. Oh well... take it in stride ^_^. Korean is definitely a significantly more difficult language to pronounce than either Japanese or Mandarin (not counting tones...), but that also makes it really cool when you CAN pronounce it, because you had to work so hard to get there in the first place. Every time im in class, I think of the way that Leelu in “The Fifth Element” spoke English. I think its the vowels mostly which are typically more extreme than English vowels. They’re /o/, /u/ and /aw/ are all pronounced like they’re mouth is a tunnel: you kind of have to push out your lips more to say them “right.” Gosh its just adorable to listen to once you deal with the intonation issues that make Koreans (particularly girls) sound like they’re always complaining. So rather than teach you all the little bits of Korean that I know, which im sure would be just riveting, im gonna tell you about my class itself. Each class at the KLI (Korean Language Institute) at Yonsei tehakyo doesnt go above, i think 15 people, and most are 13 or less. So ~ nice small class sizes. My particular class has 2 Russians (1 with Korean parentage), 1 Mongolian who speaks Russian, 2 Chinese people, A German guy of Korean parentage, a Swiss girl, three Japanese girls, myself, and then a particularly unpleasant girl from Iran. --- Its REALLLY interesting to be in such a mix of different people again. There are people at my school from all over the place. Different faces, different races, different languages and a whole bunch of polyglots (multiple language speakers). And while frustrating, its also really nice to be getting back into the dirty of learning a language. No one in my class seems to think its easy, which is nice. Other classes even at the same technical level as us seem to think parts of it are easy... but those savages had evidently already studied the alphabet on their own and new a few things before coming and/or had korean parents and know a decent amount of Korean from their rearing, but not in a thorough enough way to make it to level 2 (particularly regarding how to write Korean). I may be “beneath” them now... but im not worried ~ hard work and effective studying practices win out over such things in the long run, and there are few things I can think of that are such a long run as language learning. There is always a tomorrow, and as long as you have done your best with today, tomorrow will be better ~ even if it doesn’t always feel like it. Its funny to me to look at my class and my school and look at how many languages are spoken ~ often times people already speak 2-3 languages with some degree of proficiency. Who else would be crazy enough to spend as much money as we do to pack up and go to Korea to study language without much more of an end goal than “I wanna.” Many of the people here will only be here for a semester or two, so I expect level 3 to be significantly thinner than the first two levels. Learning styles are also interesting, because people like myself don’t always completely groove with the repetition that is used for the initial teaching in class. You can hit me in the face with a dictionary a thousand times, and I may learn your words, but it doesnt mean i’ll be able to use those words, remember them for very long, and it will probably take the thousand times for it to stick period (and i’d really prefer to not be black and blue for such reasons.) My rote memory isn’t that great... in fact its kind of terrible. Thats part of why I don’t remember names very well, but i’ll remember extensive details about people after just a few moments talking with them. However, if I can find a way to grasp the meaning of a word and how it would be used in a context that relates to my sphere of influence! I might remember it after hearing it three times. Strange - but cool. much better than getting beaten black and blue with a dictionary. --- And we capped it all off by “going out” last night, which was a singularly difficult task to accomplish because we had about 23 people. Try to fit that in to any one given bar club or restaurant on the spur of a moment. It doesn’t work so well... Anyhow, I decided rather fully that there is no allure to clubs and bars for me. I would much rather consume alcohol in a home or at a park. It is far more agreeable and cost effective. The only reason I can see for myself to go to a bar at this point is if they are particularly good at mixing drinks. Otherwise... if your just looking to “get the job done” with a few good friends... institutions are more trouble than they’re worth. With the possible exception of karaoke places in China... but thats a different world entirely. Met some very interesting people... and realized that some other people were... not... that interesting, and further grew to love this herd of Brazilian Koreans that I have been spending time with. They’re even reversing my previous bias against the portuguese language. How bout that? Most interesting people of the night: A trio of Swedish girls... one with Chilean parents, another with Macedonian parents, and the other with startlingly blond hair and swedish parents (I believe...). Having only been in Korea for around two weeks, their thorough knowledge of K-pop (korean pop) songs was truly, in its purist form, amazing. They evidently listened to a lot of K-pop back home in Sweden on account of there being nothing to do there.... except probably knit fantastic sweaters and mittens I’m sure. A four foot nothin’ 18 year old japanese girl who evidently has the drinking capacity of three viking men and a passion for speaking korean and.... the ubiquitous K-pop. Could she scream it out... oh my. Otherwise, honestly, we spent a large part of that evening walking around in the frigid air trying to find either a restaurant or place to drink...or waiting for people to show up. The logistics for that size of group really are a nightmare. Also... that size of group usually has to splinter into factions just for the sake of having a decent conversation. Its not worth it. If you’re just going to do it to meet new people... i’d say house party would have to be the way to go ~ and who wants to offer up their dwelling to that kind of abuse? an excellent question indeed. Most interesting people of the week ~ the herd of Brazil born Koreans. What... and odd... mix. These super friendly folk, who didn’t really intentionally come together, but happened to come at the same time, are an absolute trip. They told me that Brazilian people anywhere in the world will most likely find each other in a random place and go party together. Its just what they do. --- It is good, and it is as simple as that.