Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Today I felt like a Coke bottle that fell out of the sky. After over a year here, I was treated more like a circus attraction than ever.

At a government office, I made small talk with the man helping me. He told me that he studied English at a nearby language school every night. I asked if his teacher was a Korean or a foreigner. He said it was a foreigner, an American. He paused for a second, unsure of what he was about to say, then asked if I knew Jamal. I said I didn't.

Later, on the bus, in a foul mood and engrossed in a book, I was interrupted by an old man shouting "wonderful" from 15 feet away. He asked what I was reading, asked where I was from (I don't think he had heard of Canada) and, most importantly, asked me if I knew the word wonderful. Then, when I got up to read the list of bus stops (Korean buses have a long line listing all the bus stops, maps would be too useful), he was shocked that I could read Korean. I didn't have the heart to tell him that it was in both Korean and English.

Parenthetically, translating bus stops and street signs into English is quite possibly the most useless endeavour ever taken in this country. Nobody would know the Great East Gate, but everybody would know the Seoul landmark of Dongdaemun. Similarly, the "Ajou University Entrance and Intersection of Three Roads" is not only a ridiculous mouthful, but it's meaningless. Writing Ajou Dae Ipgu Samgeori would get people a lot farther.

In the evening, I went for dinner at a Korean's house. I'm likely the first foreigner to ever visit my friend's sister's house, and my friend's sister didn't take the occasion lightly. She asked me to pose for a picture with her camera phone, which she promptly sent to all the mothers of her son's friends, with a cosmopolitan caption along the lines of "right now I'm conversing in English!"

No comments: