Thursday, December 02, 2010

더 작은 세상 만들기

I've always been enamoured of this man for shrinking borders. I was amazed at how the village of Chomrong, the last permanent settlement on the Annapurna Sanctuary trek at 2300 or so metres, was in some ways the nexus of the world. On my way up towards Annapurna base camp, I met an American who worked north of Seoul. On my way down, I met two medical students who live in the same neighbourhood as the American.

Now, we didn't meet just anywhere, but at this particular corner of the world, a Time-magazine featured lodge in a mountain village of Nepal accessible, at best, only by a long day's walk from a provincial city.

These two guys had been volunteering in Nepal for about a month, so when we met up this week, we went to a Nepali restaurant. I was stunned to see that one of them, at least, could have a decent conversation in Nepali. He explained that Nepali was reasonably easy to learn because of its subject-order-verb grammar ("I you love"), unlike the subject-verb-object order of English ("I love you"). Until I heard a Korean pronounce the "th" in "theek thak", I didn't really have an idea of what it was to speak a truly foreign language. An American speaking Spanish or a Pole speaking Russian isn't quite at the same level as an Arab speaking Chinese or a German speaking Punjabi (I've heard of the latter).

We often make fun of Koreans for being not as cosmopolitan as Westerners who grew up with a supposedly wider perspective, though one not so wide as to understand that not everyone grew up in the same multicultural environment as us. In many cases, however, at least with respect to languages, I think Koreans would outclass us those of us who don't speak a foreign language for reasons of ancestry (ie I speak Urdu because I was born in Pakistan).

For further evidence, the next night I was at a pizza restaurant near my house, which has long been searching (explicitly) for a Chinese female to work there. At the table next to mine were three people from Spain, Korea and China. These students switched between Spanish, Korean and Chinese depending on the topic and the combinatino of speakers. Unlike in a large Western city, where it's by no means hard to find people who speak all three languages speaking in English or some other local language, these three seemed to have genuine barriers of communication that could only be surmounted in this way.

I sometimes find Korea's internationalism a little more raw and a little more real than what we see in Canada, in the sense that a Pakistani person in Korea will be more Pakistani than a Pakistani in Canada, who usually speaks English and has been Westernized to a far greater degree. No one quite gets Koreanized to that same degree, so the experience sometimes seems a little truer. Of course, that leads us into snobbish, usually Western obsessions about authenticity ("this is nice, but it's not real (insertethnicityhere) food") that are best avoided for reasons of tedium.

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