Archive | June, 2012

Dye-ing to Talk to you

26 Jun

With our second wedding anniversary approaching this weekend, I’ve been thinking about the things that make marriage challenging. Of course, communication is high on the list.

But, living in a foreign, foreign country, I’ve come to learn that communication is so important in thousands of other every day small tasks…like getting your hair done. 

I haven’t had my hair tended to in 6 months so I’m ready to set off to find a hairdresser in a nearby town who comes with some recommendations off facebook. (Facebook is like the Yellow Pages for the expat in Korea!) It’s a 35 minute train ride to Andong and I’m going alone – since Baden doesn’t want to sit in the hairdresser’s for 3 hours waiting for me. The English speaking hairdresser, called Jennifer, isn’t there but someone else can help me. She takes me to the computer, sits me down and opens ‘google translate’. Oh boy, I start to think!

I type in ‘brown and blonde highlights’ and download a picture of Jennifer Aniston with browny blonde hair. She qoutes me and it’s almost R1500. She then writes in Korean and clicks translate: “Blonde tip round the side basket sandwich middle of the base brown.” I stare blankly beginning to think this is a very bad idea. She manages to get out some English which sounds like, “blonde highlights, brown base.” To me that means, she’ll dye the whole head brown and then do a few highlights. Sounds safe. I settle into the big chair with my book. Well…I’m wrong. Base means roots and highlight means hair so by the time I’m done, my whole head – everything – is white, white, white. 1 colour white. Snow white.

I should be learning by now that communication goes wrong all the time. Like the time I told some students that my sister-in-law was pregnant and I was going to be an aunty. The story was combined with a hand gesture making my tummy big, which was followed by an applause by the few who did understand me. I’ve since learnt that half the students thought I was the pregnant one!

Baden recently learnt that some English words sound very similar to Korean words. Following a textbook dialogue, he tried to explain the phrase, “Oh, you do?” which was followed by a screech of giggling boys. After the bell, he asked a student what it meant. The boy’s only response was to touch his chest, make a circle with his fingers inserting the pinky finger from his other hand to form what we think is a nipple. No wonder they giggled.

And then, there are some students who really try. Like today my student shyly wobbled up to my desk and told me, “Teacher, I’m so sorry. I need a dung. Please give me a tissue.”

What can you do, but laugh?

A Giving Culture (by Baden)

20 Jun

 Giving (by Baden)

Christmas and birthdays, those are the big ones! Lots of time to save and lots of time to buy something meaningful for that someone special. Well that’s how I understand it. Koreans seem to do it the other way around, small gifts given more often.

I get a lift to work in the mornings with a lovely little Korean woman. More often than not, she has a little something waiting for me by the handbrake. I’ve received a handful of sweeties, Soy milk, a sweet bun, cherry tomatoes in a zip-lock bag and a seed snack thing. Every morning as her car arrives I can’t help but wonder what little present might be waiting for me. Mrs Hur is a generous lady who sits high in the driver’s seat and hits corners like a race car driver! It’s usually that moment that she reaches for the handbrake and say “this, for you!” She reads the Korean name of the treat and smiles. Other gifts I’ve received have been completely unexpected. Mr Kwon, one of my Korean-English co-teachers gave me his coffee in a tin drink as I was leaving his class. My principle gave me a stunning little smiling ceramic mask curio item. A young Korean teacher charging down the corridor seeming to pass me, stops dead in her tracks, turns to face me and gives me a doughnut wrapped in tissue paper. She said nothing, I just said “Thank you!” I hadn’t even met her before! My favourite and possibly the strangest little gift I got, was during a staff dinner, when a colleague I had only met once, presented me with a tasty steamed prawn between his chop sticks which he had just peel with his own fingers, saying with a smile, “for you, Present.” So simple yet so nice.

I’m trying to give regularly too now, a sweet here, a juice there. It’s quite nice. At a recent staff dinner, I peeled a couple prawns and presented them between chopsticks for two different colleagues, saying “for you, Present.”

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