Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Involuntary Eavesdropping

Living in a country in which English is rarely spoken in public definitely has it's challenges.  However, I have always told people that is one reason I love living in Korea, because it is a challenge and forces me to learn a new culture and language if I want life to get any easier.  On the other hand, the language barrier has some advantages too.  I often get neglected by pesky promoters trying to hand me a flier that inevitably gets thrown away, I have made friends with strangers simply by asking them for help or using them as a translator in a certain situation, but most of all it is extremely easy to zone out and relax in public as I can easily block out all the conversations around me due to not knowing what they are saying (unless I intently focus on the conversation, then I can usually get a general idea about what people are talking about).  This is nice because there are times, such as on my bus ride home after a rough day at work, where I just want to zone out and not have to hear the blabbering of the other commuters around me.

But, occasionally my linguistic ignorance is ruined when I find myself on the same bus or train car with other English speakers.  Because it is a rarity to hear conversations in English, I find myself subconsciously listening to these conversations, despite the fact that they are almost always intolerably superficial and boring.  For example, just the other day I listened for almost 15 minutes to an American about what her favorite fruit is, which was strawberries except when in a smoothie she likes blueberries, and attempting, but failing, to explain what the air quotations (" ") with your fingers means.  Listening to these superficial and sometimes ignorant conversations of my fellow compatriots annoys me, but it is something that I cannot turn off. 


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Rugby: I'm Back!

I want to start the post with a direct message specifically to my mother.  Yes Mom, I do have health insurance.

Yesterday I played in my first rugby game in over two years, with the last time being with my club team in Singapore.  This is with my new team the Seoul Survivors, making it the third team I have played for in three different countries.  Boy had I missed playing this sport!  It was a great day of rugby against a few Korean rugby teams, and to top it all of my team won the tournament.  I had forgotten how much fun this game is, and definitely forgotten how sore it makes you the following day.  I am writing this at work and incredibly sore.

Monday, October 17, 2016

International Food Festival

One of the great advantages to now living in Seoul as opposed to Incheon is the numerous festivals and events that are being held in Seoul almost every weekend.  It is not that attending these festivals was impossible living in Incheon, it is just that it was not nearly as convenient and it was extremely difficult to learn about these events living outside of Seoul as well.  This past weekend was an International Food Festival held in the unofficial "international district" of Seoul; Itaewon.  This is an event that I had wanted to attend for the last two years, but only learned about after the event had passed.  Friends of mine would say, "Oh, I went to this fun International Food Festival this weekend," and I would be disappointed for another year.  This year that was not the case, as I ride a bus through Itaewon everyday on my way to work, I saw the advertisements and made sure I was going to attend.

So this festival was really fun, and I made sure to make the most of it.  Up and down this very popular street were tents and each tent represented a different country from around the world.  At these tents you could purchase food that represented that country.  There must have been around 20 different countries represented.  Some of them were commonly eaten cuisines such as Thai, Indian, and Mexican, but others were more exotic such as Moroccan, Uzbekistani, and Iranian.  They even had a Singapore tent and I was really excited to hopefully try some of the foods I so dearly miss from my previous home country.  However, I was disappointed upon approaching the stall to see they only sold ginger chicken, which is not uniquely Singaporean nor is it really a popular dish.  I was hoping for some beef hor fun, or some char siew wanton noodles, or even some chicken rice, but no such luck.  The American tent was a real treat though!  Buttermilk chicken biscuits.  I got to teach my Korean friends a little bit about my culture and share stories of my grandmother, MaMa, cooking fresh buttermilk biscuits almost every morning when we visited her.  I boasted that I had never had a biscuit that could compare to those, but upon eating this biscuit I have to say it was very reminiscent of MaMa's.  These small and rare reminders of America, my childhood, and my family are special when living abroad.  You learn to treasure them.

The festival included other things besides just food.  There was a parade, which my brand new rugby team I had just joined literally earlier that day was in the parade and I had the chance to participate in it, but not having any of the team gear and already having made plans I was reduced to just watching the parade.  There was also music throughout the festival.  They had one stage set up for different DJs to show off their DJing skills.  Electronic music is not really my scene and I really don't understand the "skill" involved in DJing enough to appreciate it, so I didn't spend much time there.  There was another stage showing cultural performances from different countries, which, from the few I saw, seemed interesting, but honestly I spent most of my time bouncing from food tent to food tent trying as much food as possible.  I definitely ate enough to make up for the last two years when I missed the festival.

Taste of home
Iranian Lamb Sandwich

Moroccan Sandwich
It was crowded...

Bulgarian Meatball and Cuban Coconut Shake

The disappointment....

Busy street

You can't really see, but in the back is apparently a really famous chef in Korea.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Nice Ajumma

The word ajumma (아줌마) is a respectful term for an older woman (usually anyone above the age of 40 or 50).  However, to me, it carries a negative connotation; almost like a discriminatory slur.  The reason is for this is that almost every experience I have had with them has been unpleasant.  From the looks of disapproval on the subway, to them stepping on my feet and pushing me out of the way everywhere they walk, I have grown to hate them and I am not alone.  Ask almost any foreigner and they will agree that the typical ajumma is rude and does not like foreigners in Korea.  They are like the Korean version of Trump supporters.

I speculate the reason for this has a lot to do with the culture here.  Respect, as it is in all Asian cultures, is extremely important in Korea.  They even have a different language (존댓말) that is used for speaking to someone older than you, as opposed to speaking to a friend or someone younger than you (반말).  The effect of this culture is that the older generations in Korea have begun to expect this treatment, feel entitled to it, and in the case of the typical ajumma, use it as an excuse to do whatever and behave however they want.

Now this brings me to my story.  This weekend I was riding the subway to go to my first practice with a rugby team I have joined in Seoul, when an African lady asked me if I could move over one seat to make room for this ajumma she was with (I think she was the ajumma's helper as the ajumma was quite old).  This was a simple request, so I moved.  Now, my expectation was that this action would go unappreciated because, for one, it did not require much of me because there was an empty seat on the other side of me, and secondly, because of my prejudice towards ajummas.  However, she gave me a smile and thanked me in Korean, to which I replied "you're welcome (괜젆아요)" in Korean.  Although that was already almost unprecedented compared to my usual experiences with ajummas, it did not end there.  She continued to talk to me, all in Korean of course, for the remainder of our ride together.  Her helper, who did not speak Korean, became suspicious and a harshly asked me, "what is she saying to you?" To which I replied, "she is just asking me where I live in Korea, where I am from, and complimenting me on my Korean".  To this the helper just sat back in her seat and didn't say a word.  The ajumma then asked me if I had eaten breakfast and I told that I had not, but that I had my breakfast in my bag.  She then, right as I was about to get off the train, offered me a candy, which I happily accepted, thanked her, alighted the train, and continued on my way with a smile on my face that she had placed there.

Now I do not consider myself a racist or a sexist, in fact I am passionately intolerant of people who are, but this experience made me realize that in Korea I had become an ageist, specifically towards older women in Korea.  The first step in eliminating prejudice is to acknowledge it, and I am hoping this experience helps shatter these prejudices in myself and to realize that not all ajummas are rude.