Monday, January 26, 2009


My first time skiing was last week. I'm not sure how I grew up in Michigan without once skiing. Maybe it was the ever-oncoming track season and the worry of injury. Regardless, I'd never been, so when our friends Skyler and Nara asked Alex, who's skied since she was five, and me, at twenty-seven, whether we wanted to go, I shrugged my shoulders and said OK. We met up with Skyler and Nara at Ssangmun Station. Nara introduced us to JJ, a doctor. "He speaks English, but he hates it." Joking, I suggested we speak in German. "He hates that too." After teaching all week at a hagwon, I could sympathize. Sometimes I'm tired of the language.*

Thinking of pizza and French fries the whole three-hour-and-some ride to the mountain in Yongpyong, I wondered how I'd do. Well, not well. First we started on an intermediate slope. The second fall sent my glasses flying off. "Do you want me to hold them?" Alex asked. "I mean, I might fall and break them." But there was a greater chance that I'd fall and break them than she would, and it turned out that she didn't fall once—no surprise. I fell all day. Alex waited for me, but mostly I'd lose control and go speeding down the slope. I hit the bunny hill a few times and kept myself up, but when we went back to the intermediate slopes, I was on my ass again.

Finally JJ tried explaining which muscles to use and where to put the pressure. His English was difficult to understand, so Nara translated what he couldn't say. No lessons. Just trying to hold myself up while listening to somebody explain to me, in a language I didn't understand, something I'd never done before.* I started to get it, though, and for a while, I could go down fine, but by the time I really started to understand, I'd already fallen on my ass and head all day and was too tired to use the muscles JJ had pointed at. I kept standing back up, though, and when I returned my rented gear, somebody called me a snowman. I was in pain the next day.

Alex had already made reservations to go skiing again on Saturday, and after a hard week of working out, with both of us already pretty sore, I was, I'll admit, nervous about going again. We went to High1* this time. To my surprise, I was a lot better. Besides after being clipped ("You weren't clipped that hard," Alex says), I fell only during the first run. Granted, I went slowly every time, but I had a lot of fun. Alex would motion for me to go ahead of her, and then I'd see her handle her snowboard beautifully past me.

Today's Lunar New Year's Day, so I have today and tomorrow off.

* [To be read now or later—that is, as a footnote or as part of the main text, if there is a main text. (Hi, Mum. I'm fine. Dad, download Skype.)] I'm kidding; I'm never tired of English. By the way, the Korean alphabet is easy to learn, but I could read a whole book in Korean and, with little exception, not understand anything. "In Korean," Will, a coworker, said, "everything's the predicate." I love sounding out a word only to discover that it's a transliteration of an English word. There are so many things with English names—for example, High1, which was transliterated into 하이원. Is 하이원 meaningful Korean (whatever that means) or is it just gibberish to Koreans? Another way to ask that is, why name something in English and then transliterate it into something that could be meaningless Korean? Why name something in English in the first place? Is English so chic?

I'm so used to understanding so little of what anybody says that when I hear English now, it sounds wrong. I hang out with six-year-olds all day, and though we speak only in English, it is an English that is at times hard to decipher. I love when they ask me how to spell a word they're mispronouncing:

"Teacher, how to you spell [undecipherable]?"


As I lost control and sped down the slopes last week, JJ yelled two different things: "아니, 아니!" and "No, no!" (are those two different things [they translate into each other]?). He drew symbols, not even Hangul characters, into the snow, expecting me to be able to decipher his meaning and ski without falling. And how odd to try to remember the Korean for "Please excuse me" as you're increasing in speed, trying at the same time to form a pizza out of your legs.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Feedback Fed Back

"You said you enjoy me," she said.

"That's probably the wrong verb," I said.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


I've been dating Alex for the past two months, though I'm not sure either of us knew it in the first few weeks. She's the newest teacher at LCI, hired to teach a new class of four-year-olds.1 For a long time, before our trip to China, I wondered whether I'd ever be able to know her only in this place—that is, in both senses: (1) only while I'm here in Korea and (2) only in this context. Is this version of Alex, I asked myself, the same one one may find in the States, in her case, Nantucket, Massachusetts?

That's not to say that this version of Alex isn't the true version of Alex. What true version? Context recontextualizes her at every step. To say that one context is the correct context is to forget context always becomes recontextualized, which is the same as saying Alex is always recontextualized. Maybe I'm being redundant.

But this is just to say that I enjoy Alex. And, really, all of the other expats I work with—Andrew ("A." above2), Elena, Erin, Lacy, Pat, Terry, and Will—are good people, and I should have been writing about them and Seoul all along.

But one gets distracted. What I really mean is, one gets used to things. Like hardly ever understanding anybody, except at work, and even there the English gets slippery. And you—I mean "one"; I mean "I"—forget what you were going on about online, forget you're supposed to be updating, forgetting not because Korea isn't amazing but because it's become home.

And, no, no pictures. But soon perhaps.

1 Though the kids will, or would if they could say it in English, probably tell you they're six now. Korean age starts at one, not zero. Plus, at the beginning of the year, at least from what I've been able to figure out, everybody turns a year older. Nevertheless, Alex's kids were born in 2004.

2 Well, that is, before, as in when I wrote about him in August. You're probably reading this online (I doubt these posts will ever appear in a book [I'm not sure how they'd work if they did (ideally, I'd like this writing to be more hypertextual than it is [I'm not sure how hypertextual it is, even if it takes place online])]), and so above is actually below, at least as it's represented on your screen. These shortcuts in writing become not only habitual but also more and more inaccurate. Web page? It's only a way of thinking. Maybe.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Tim(e) in Korea China

I've spent the last week in Shanghai with Alex (my girlfriend) and our friend Elena. Now we're in the airport, waiting to go home—that is, to Seoul.