Korean 101

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Again, sorry for the delay between posts. March in Asia is a busy time for me: Gonzaga is in the Final Four and I’m learning Karate from a weathered janitor who says he’s legit. …

Sadly, I am not yet fluent in Korean.

I was eager, initially, assuming upon arrival a few conversations with locals would yield language mastery.

It didn’t.

I’ve survived, though, and even become comfortable in most social settings. Much of that can be attributed to the kind, receptive nature of Korean citizens. They are an amazingly kind people. I have been here a month and I am sure of it:

I inadvertently pass by and/or scale a subway toll–they offer aid and assistance.

I enter a formal restaurant and keep my shoes on, because I want to–they untie my laces until I remove them myself.

I crush a brew at a ball game and I accidentally belch, because I’m drunk–they point at the Korean beer can and gesture thumbs-up.

Everything is met with a smile. Their nature is benevolent. They don’t chastise and they don’t scold. I’ve never felt unease here and I’ve never really felt unsure. It’s pretty amazing when I think about the time I’ve spent alone, or with non-Korean speaking American friends, in this foreign country.

It’s about a 70/30 split–as to why I’m comfortable in Korea. 70 percent can be attributed to the previously mentioned Korean countrymen. 30 is a gentle mix (my innate radiance coupled with cultural tips/gestures). If you find yourself in Korea, hopefully South, take note of the content below. These bullets will help. It is a good idea to be attractive and tall, but these will still help.

(The first three main bullets were provided by Jason, the Samsung Lion’s team translator. He is an awesome guy and the prime embodiment of Korean selflessness. I asked him the three most important points he would stress to foreigners coming to Korea. They have helped me tremendously… Alex, the team’s other translator, is also a great dude. He didn’t respond to my inquiry regarding this matter because I went and saw Beauty and the Beast by myself last night, in a Korean theatre. He wanted to go. Hermione was nails, btw.)

Jason’s 3 Quick Tips (in bold):

  • Approach with a smile
    • It is extremely easy to get along and interact if you approach with a smile. Be pleasant. As noted before, I’m warm and jovial–compensation for pale skin and average bone structure–so this has been easy for me. I have yet to come across a shop owner or attendant who hasn’t reciprocated kindness and worked with me to overcome our language barrier.
    • Koreans are especially cordial to white people.
      • In no way is that meant as disrespect to any other ethnicity and I am not insinuating other races wouldn’t be treated equally. I just haven’t seen any (non-white foreigners) since I’ve been here.
        • I voted for Obama twice.
    • “Annyeonghaseyo” is a greeting, meaning “hello”. This is a formal greeting. There are different ways, in different contexts, to greet people, but this is basic. If you smile, and you are genuine, Koreans will always appreciate this. There is a similar way to say goodbye, but it confuses me. I just come in hot on the front end.
  • Bowing
    • This does not mean you are inferior–it is just a sign of respect
      • You are not submitting yourself into their ownership, just a sign of respect.
        • I thought it important to include Jason’s remark about the bow and it’s affiliation with personal ownership. It is not a binding agreement, just a gesture of respect. That would be a tough mistake for an American family to make, if it was that way: Dad orders food for wife and kids, then bows–becomes an indentured servant. Again, this is South Korea, not North. People are awesome.
  • There is more English than you think
    • I found this to be incredibly, and pleasantly true. At most shops, restaurants, and transit stations, English is inscribed below Korean language. Most of the time, the attendant will be able to recognize the English term, if it is listed on a menu or a sign. Do not be afraid to be the dumb tourist who speaks slowly and has to point to what they are after. It can become kind of fun, too, if your point is paired with a smile.
      • The point and smile technique has not yielded any results with Korean women. They will laugh and whisper, but they won’t make out with you(me).subway love            (Example of nice Korean lady who didn’t reciprocate attractions/emotions/feelings)
  • Google translate is a special application. You can take pictures of Korean text and instantaneously translate it to English–vice versa. The translation is usually not right, but still close enough. Don’t be dramatic about the accuracy when the alternative is crude pointing and hip thrusting.
  • Embrace the Transit System
    • Go Places. Immerse yourself in the culture; you will love it.
      • The subway is an extremely easy way to get around. It is cheap, too. It is not difficult to navigate because, as noted previously, English words are listed for all station stops. Subway cards are readily available at transit centers.
      • Taxis are cheap AF. Drivers are friendly.
        • I threw up out of a cab window, in motion, because I introduced competitive beer pong to the Yasigolmok District. The driver did not seem angry. Maybe disheveled, like the side of his car, but not angry.
        • It is a nice crutch knowing you are never more than 30,000 Wan away from home, regardless of the aggressive amounts of beer you drink before getting on the subway.
  • Rip heaters
    • Cigarettes. Cigarettes are big here.
      • Smoke a few, to look cool–like college, when you tried to take down the artistic girl.
  • If possible, travel with an adorable infant/toddler
    • One of the American players has a son, sixteen months old. He is one of the rare American white babies that is legitimately adorable; not part of the other 90 percent that force you to look their parents in the eye and lie about the appearance of their child. Korean adults absolutely love to interact with small children.Henry                              (Henry, my aforementioned traveling partner and son of D-Ruf)
  • Extra reverence towards elders
    • This should be true everywhere. Some old people suck, but they’ve lived long enough for extra courtesy. In Korea–from what I’ve observed–this is a big component of their culture.
      • On a subway ride I got up and offered my seat to two older women as they boarded. The other passengers took notice; they were delighted. They smiled, and looked at me like I was God. For a second, I thought I was.
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