Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The title of my blog should really be...

The title of my blog should really be "AMA: Alex's Misadventures in Asia." I'm not entirely sure misadventures is a word but here's my definition of the would be word:
-When in extraordinary circumstances, how ordinary tasks turn into a comedy of errors.
-The things that go wrong while living abroad.

I love Wednesdays. It's definitely my favorite day of the teaching week. I have the best class schedule with the most breaks possible which leaves me refreshed and energized for each of my classes. The happier you are, the happier the students are and the easier it is to make the lesson go smoothly. That being said, I'm a little startled by how whipped I have my kids. They stand up, sit down, put their pencils down, pay attention, don't slump, answer promptly--all on command. My most rambunctious class now greets me sitting up straight, hands on the table or in their laps, no toys in sight and is quiet when I speak. They are 6 years old. I have to tell you, six year olds love discipline. If they follow the rules they get Praise, Positive attention, and if they are very lucky, stickers.

In any case, during my first bank of the afternoon I rushed off to the bank to make a transfer before it closed. My plane ticket for Indonesia was all lined up I just needed to do a bank transfer--something that is very easy and cheap in Korea. Most bills are paid through bank to bank money transfers and companies don't want cash or check. I had all of the information I needed typed up, my bank book and a note from my supervisor written in Korean saying that I wanted to make a wire transfer from my account to the one I had listed on the page. She asked me if I wanted her to go with me but I told her that it wasn't necessary, I know she is super busy with parent meetings this week. In any case, I like doing things on my own and I especially hate feeling like the helpless foreigner who needs an interpretor to do everything.

When I got to the bank everything seemed to be in order until the man assisting me went to type/process the transfer on the computer. He kept repeating something to me but I didn't understand the word. I was perplexed--I knew I had more than enough money, I filled out the form correctly but what on earth was the guy saying to me? Realizing that saying it slower wasn't helping he mimed calling someone to help. I called my supervisor and figured out while they were talking that he didn't understand my name! Korean names tend to be very short, the family name generally only has one syllable and the first name seems to have between 2 and 5. Shorter names are more common. I have an unusually long name, even for the states but written phonetically in Korean it's even longer since some of the sounds, like 'x,' need several characters to express them. He couldn't get my name to fit in the box on the electronic form! Even after the call he couldn't figure out how to make it work. Anyways, when it finally dawned on me what was going on I passed him my Korean health insurance card and pointed to my name written out in Korean--shortened to 5 syllables to fit on their health form. Voila! 2 minutes later I was out of the bank and on my way back to work, back in time to take off my coat, go to the bathroom and freshen my ever present cup of coffee.

See what I mean by misadventure? In France opening a bank account was a bit of a trial but at least I spoke the language. On the other hand, my pidgin Korean is really starting to come in handy. I nearly always understand what price things are when sales clerks tell me, I finally mastered the second number system, I can order in a restaurant, take a taxi and get take out food on the way home from work. I'd love to be able to go to the bank without a note written by someone else in Korean but for now, baby steps. I was really frustrated the other day by how slow my Korean is progressing and venting to my Mom. She reminded me that French was really hard for me at first too but that I worked my butt off. It was actually the most encouraging thing I'd heard, much better than "Korean is just really hard" from other expats and Koreans. It's true, Koreans hard, but so is any other language that isn't your own. When I lived in New York city, I worked from 9 to 5:40, hopped the subway at 5:42, went to class from 6-8, came home, ate dinner and studied until 1 am--or later. I studied during my lunch break, on the subway, while walking. I read kids books in French, I watched French movies, I listened to French music, I did everything humanly possible to beat French into my head. When I studied Spanish last year, it was effortless--everything seemed related to French and I absorbed it the first time around. I think I got complacent with my language skills. So, I'm back to flashcards during my commute, on break and reading signs in Korean. I can't go at Korean quite as enthusiastically as I did French. It's not that I don't want to learn, it's just that teaching and living in another country is as exhausting as it is exhilarating. Next semester I'll enroll in a formal class instead of just doing language exchanges but at least I'm learning something. I can officially count higher then 2 people I know who have been living here for a year. That's got to count for something, right?

My kids noticed my studying while they were playing. They were so amused by my flashcards! I think they liked turning the tables for once and enjoyed testing me on my vocab. For five minutes there was much giggling and help before I made them go back to all English and playing. As cute as it is to have them help me, they are at school to learn English and immersion really is the best way to go.

This has been a rambling entry. I'm not sure what to do with myself this evening. Usually I go out to eat after my Korean exchange but tonight I ate dinner with the family. It was yummy! I had some sort of soup dish made with rice cakes and meat. Sooooooooo good. Sometimes I go for a pint and pool at the expat bar to wind down after dinner and before that but I can't drink because of the ankle medicine, not even a pint and I can't comfortably stand long enough to play pool. However, the pain was manageable today and no 80 year old men beat me going up the stairs at the train station! Always an inspiring thing!

I'll probably update again after this weekend. I'm going to the movies for the first time in Korea! Very exciting. Nothing much else planned though I might try to finish my Hanukkah shopping. Any advice on house presents for the family I'm visiting in Indonesia (American expats)? It's a month and a half away and I'm already stressing about what to get them. I don't know their taste at all so I'm thinking something generic but special, if that makes sense. If I'm staying for a week, I feel like I need to bring more than a nice bottle of wine...


Chris said...

OOO what movie are you gonna see? Is it gonna be english with korean subtitles? When I'm in New Zealand I really hope that the new releases from America dont take god awful forever to get there.

*wants to see star trek and Watchmen*

*is a nerd*

Anonymous said...


Alex said...

bug me to charge my camera and there shall be more photos...