Office highlights

I have two students who pop into the teachers’ office every day to say hello and make small talk.
The first one has been chatting to me for most of the year. I’ve recently made a breakthrough as he’s finally remembering to greet me before diving into a story about his many interests/obsessions (trains, the FBI, zombies, Home Alone 2…).
I had a slow start with the second one. He comes in at the end of every day to fetch his class’s cellphones. He’d always greet me (in Korean) and I’d greet back (in Korean). He’d then tell me my Korean is very good. Because I’m a total dweeb, I started saying it to him, too. For some reason this became a thing. After several weeks of this mindless exchange, he got a little braver and started making basic small talk. His vocabulary is limited, although he manages to express himself well regardless. He’s been getting increasingly more confident and it’s been fun to hear him practice new expressions. He’d ask my co-teacher for translations when he got stuck.
When he asked me “How’s it going?”, I didn’t think much of it. But then he explained to my co-teacher that he learned it from me, because that’s how I greet him every day. Apparently he picked up on it some time ago and has been anticipating the perfect opportunity to use it. He was very proud of himself, and of course my heart swelled, too!
Now excuse me while I go learn some new informal greetings 🙂
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Oh, Korea.

A good many months ago, the following list appeared several times on my Facebook newsfeed. I can’t remember who shared it, and I don’t know who the author is, so I take absolutely no credit for any of it. But I was clearing my inbox and found a message where I forwarded it to my mom, and it made me laugh all over again, so I figured you should get to do the same.

*I must state that the punctuation used is not my own. I believe that there is such a thing as an overuse of ellipsis…

Here’s that list:

When you’ve been in Korea for too long, some things just don’t seem strange anymore…

  • Pedestrians share the sidewalk with automobiles and motorcycles…
  • Restrooms don’t have toilet paper or paper towels…
  • Every child you pass on the street will say ‘hello’ to you…
  • Children love arm hair…
  • Every city bus will have at least 2 teenage boys sitting in each other’s laps and playing with each other’s hair…
  • People think you should board the train first before allowing people to get off…
  • You leave the house almost every day with the hem of your pants soaking wet…
  • Cell phones are meant to always be turned on…
  • People love to know your blood type…
  • Growing a beard ages a guy by 20 years…
  • Kids and non-smokers are invincible to second-hand smoke…
  • Trash can fires are not just for the homeless anymore…
  • You are at risk of being hit by a car the second you walk out of your apartment…
  • There are more oscillating-fan-related deaths than shootings…
  • Other foreigners fascinate you…
  • People think that it is really nice to meet you once again for the 300th time…
  • Most laws are merely suggestions…
  • All food is “delicious” with no exceptions…
  • You never shut your bathroom door for fear of drowning…
  • You only hear Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga’s names twice a week now…
  • The school bell makes you crave ice cream…
  • The apocalypse has not arrived… it’s just some guy selling fish…
  • The naked man is doing unnecessary lunges in front of the mirror in the gym changing rooms…
  • You carry your empty coffee cup for a long time after you finished it…
  • The smell of kimchi, garlic and soju is an aphrodisiac…
  • Every woman under 30 is incredibly good looking…
  • Everyone is fascinated by their own face and like to take lots of pictures of themselves…
  • You need to start making a schedule of your laundry waiting period…
  • Fish and rice belong at any breakfast table…
  • Walking backwards in a circle is a great way to exercise…
  • It makes sense to remove your face mask if you need to sneeze…
  • You can’t find pornography anywhere but there’s at least 5 brothels in every small town…
  • There are only 2 languages ever spoken – Korean and English…
  • Little kids traveling alone on public transit is nothing to be concerned about…
  • Loud construction workers are Korea’s answer to the alarm clock…
  • Any decent men’s tie should sparkle…
  • Animals love to advertise their own consumption….
  • Everyone, including 7 year olds, has a nicer cell phone than you…
  • Even if you are fast asleep on the subway or city bus, you won’t miss your stop…
  • At least once a week you crawl across your apartment floor to get something you forgot after putting your shoes on…

~~~

Did you laugh? Did most of it ring true? Of course, yes!

After reading that, I decided to make my own list, and to ask friends for their input.

Here’s what I/we came up with:

You know you’ve been in Korea too long when:

  • You can pick out a single noodle strand using metal chopsticks.
  • You own only one fork, but several sets of chopsticks.
  • You don’t own a knife, and you cut everything (from noodles to meat) with kitchen scissors.
  • You only lock your apartment door if there are other foreigners around.
  • Guys’ and girls’ cuteness are measured by the same factors: shininess of make-up, quality of perm, coordination of pastel and/or brights in clothing choices. Oh, and of course, heel height.
  • “Hiking” refers to going on a glorified walk wearing designer gear in obnoxiously bright colours.
  • “Hospital” refers to anything from doctor’s consultation rooms to a clinic to that big place where people go for heart surgery.
  • Selfies!
  • You know the tunes of the subway jingle, your washing machine jingle, actually, just about every jingle.
  • Words like “ne”, “aigo”, “chincha”, “ya” and “hul” have replaced their English translations.
  • “ㅋㅋㅋ” (“kkk”) has replaced “hahaha” or “lol”.
  • “^^” has replaced the regular “:)” when typing.
  • You use a “~” where you used to type a “-“.
  • What? Do you mean there are fruits besides apples, bananas, strawberries and oranges?
  • Why yes ~ tomatoes! These are now a very acceptable add-on to fruit salad.
  • When someone speaks to you in Korean, you respond with a convincing “yes” despite having No. Friggin’. Idea. what they’re saying.
  • Dokdo is ours!
  • You bow to everyone, Koreans and fellow foreigners alike.
  • Dinner isn’t dinner without the free vending machine coffee afterwards.
  • It’s OK to not wear shoes inside, but heaven forbid you reveal a shoulder.
  • One of the big considerations when choosing a holiday destination is the whether you’ll be able to shop for clothes and shoes in your size.
  • Before saying “no”, you suck in air through your teeth so as to convey your “regret”.
  • The only consideration when buying shoes is how quickly you can get them on or off.
  • You pronounce your name phonetically, using Hangeul sounds.
  • A latte costs more than a meal, and that’s OK.
  • Every hard copy book you own has a “What The Book” price-tag.
  • You no longer hold your breath in crowded elevators.
  • And last, but not least: you’ve Americanised/globalised/Konglishified your accent to the point where you accidentally use that accent when speaking to friends and family back home – much to their amusement.

I’m sure there’s millions more. In fact, after typing this out, I took to The Googlez to see what I’d be up against. These two posts in particular made me chuckle, and I figured I’d share them, too:

Chris in South Korea

If I had a minute to spare…

~~

And as always, my disclaimer. Every country has its quirks. I currently live in Korea, so this is where I observe stuff. Etcetera etcetera etcetera…

Ode to ROKetship

From the website http://www.roketship.com/:

Since living South Korea, I have noticed the many large and small ways that life is different in this country and, on my wife’s suggestion, I began drawing a comic strip about them. Hence, the magic that became, ROKetship! (ROK = Republic of Korea). The strip is a cultural comedy of sorts, which pokes fun at foreign life on this planet called, Korea! It seems like every day is just bursting with quirky inspirations.

– Luke Martin

I haven’t even been here that long, but whenever I look through the comics, I can only laugh in awkward recognition.

I’m able to relate to the following ones so far, and have used them to illustrate life in Korea:

Although, you also don’t get the free popcorn they hand out with the flyers. 😦

It is not at all strange for patients to have smoke breaks outside the hospitals.

I’ll never get used to being – well – not so much stared at, as watched intently.

When your co-teacher isn’t around to translate, you have nothing but elaborate gestures to get the message across.

Seriously, foreigners are either American military, native teachers or Pakistani factory workers. No exceptions.

And this is true everywhere. It’s a gazillion times worse on the subway!

I’m no longer freaked out by the feeling of little fingers exploring my hair, neck, face and arms.

True story. (That’s ‘Teacher, finished’ in English.)

I’ve seen the matching outfits, and I’ve seen the underwear displays. I’m not really sure which is worse.

There are no bins on the streets; you just carry your rubbish home with you. Apparently the Koreans believe that bins = dirt, and they don’t want dirty streets. And by some miracle, the people don’t litter, so it works!

Thankfully this hasn’t happened to me in a moment of desperation, but it’s hit and miss, especially in public toilets.

Foreigner food!!! What makes it especially appealing, is that there’s no kimchi. Koreans serve kimchi with every meal. Every. Meal.

We don’t have this problem where I live – Munsanites love new foreigners.

They love sticking free things on cereal boxes. You always win!

I thought that people were exaggerating, until, one night, I got into a taxi…

I’m blessed to have a balcony that catches the afternoon sun, so my things take about a day to dry, but not everyone is that fortunate.

True story!

I can’t figure out where Koreans find the extra hours in their days for all these extra activities. Children are at school all day, then spend hours after school at private academies and somehow have time for Taekwondo. None of that ‘8 hours’ business us foreigners swear by.

I feel rather self-conscious when taking my shoes off at restaurants – they’re always the biggest pair by far!

…and even if you ignore them, or say ‘no Korean’, they just carry on. I don’t know what they could possibly be saying, but they’re happy saying it!

Most toiletries are packaged in bulk. Massive shampoo bottles, giant bars of soap, and then of course the bulk packages of toothbrushes and whatnot.

In Korea, it’s OK for your butt cheeks to show in public, as long as there’s absolutely no cleavage. The exact opposite to what we’re used to.

I just love when kids approach me in public to go through their English repertoire. 🙂

Drives me NUTS!

The same happens at school. I’ll say one sentence and my co-teacher translates for about a minute. It kills me that I don’t know what’s being said!

I much prefer the lack of personal space over here, mostly because my personal belongings don’t get taken while someone’s squashed up against me. Whereas back in SA, there’s not only a lack of personal space, but also a lack of personal respect.

Poor kids. Who knows when they have time to socialise in between long school hours, private academies, sport, food, sleep, family time and probably a whole lot of things I don’t even know about.

You’d better hope there’s an open seat. Standing is a gamble!

Thankfully, this hasn’t happened to me. Yet.

This recycling thing takes some getting used to. There are different coloured bags for different types of trash, and different places to put them. Argh!