4.2 Fall 2022

October 16, Progress

I returned to Seoul for a brief weekend getaway and was surprised how much more empathetically the city and I were able to meet each other.

I met friends I haven’t seen since the Before Times and more importantly I paid tribute to a giant rubber duck. Like the most animal parts of ourselves, we flocked to the giant yellow monstrosity, ridiculing it but still ultimately showing up to gaze at its wonder.

There was a kind dumpling man, a patient taxi driver that took us to a concert (whose accent I understood for once), London themed bagels because obviously that’s a London specialty, and an atmosphere of general ambitious, chaotic energy. People certainly don’t wear suits in Busan on Saturday morning. Or… ever?

And: culture shock. A man opened the bus window and said sorry for getting wind in my face. A guy a stepped on my foot then apologized— I had to do a double take. Gyeongnam people will step on your foot then dare you to do something about it. They’re gruff and ruddy, with an infamous dialect to boot, so I like to call this area the Scotland of Korea.

Despite the collection of little adventures, the getaway was coming to a swift end.

It was 1am at the Seoul Express Bus station and I still had to get in my macros. My friend and I were dehydrated from the concert we spent three hours screaming and giggling over so tired but satisfied we drug our suitcases to the only open convenience store in the shining cavern of the bus terminal.

I picked out a chicken breast and plain rice while my companion debated on fruit snacks. The old woman behind the register was surprisingly chipper for it being the middle of the night. Another older man stood behind her, instructing her how to tap the right keys for my purchase. We got to talking.

“Oh my, your Korean is really great!” She said.

The man who had moved next to me to help microwave my food added quietly, “your pronunciation is really good.”

“A lot of foreigners just talk down to people using casual language.”

Hoo boy, I understood the offense that gives quite personally. But I also know how easy it is to accidentally drop polite 요 or blindly trust online translators.

“Oh I think it’s because many foreigners use Papago or Google to translate and for some reason those just give casual language instead of polite language,” I told her.

My friend came up to pay for her purchases, intersecting my chatty self and the manager who was essentially cooking my food for me.

I guess there’s not a lot to do at 1am.

The lady complimented my friend, who looked at me to translate.

“She said you have beautiful eyes. And that your Korean is good,” I explained.

“A lot of people say kam sa ham nee da,” the lady said, imitating the stilted way new learners say hello in Korean. Native Koreans say “kam sam needa”. The lady and I had a laugh about how awkward the first way sounds.

The manager had finished microwaving my food at this point, bless him, and I nearly upended it all after scorching my fingers.

“Be careful!” He said.

“Your wallet is open, close it, close it!” the lady added, gesturing to my purse.

“Oh, thank you!”

We said farewell and I felt so successful.

Look at me, communicating! I’m not as good as I want to be, but I sure have improved a lot! There are times when speaking Korean feels more natural, like pulling on a comfy sweater. Maybe one day I can get the whole pajama set.

The complimentary duo was a great bookend to a surprisingly wonderful weekend. Seoul is doing its best to make me come back.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: