Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Parody of Having Lived Here

Ssangmun, where I lived for a year and some, is in the northern part of Seoul, near mountains, a bit far from where we used to go, Itaewon and Hongdae. Hangeul, the Korean alphabet, is something you can learn in a few sessions of sitting down with it. The bus and the subway train are good places to practice. Do you remember the time you and I were practicing on the train, standing because there were no seats, and the person next to you read aloud over your shoulder? Now, on your near way out, your students teach you words and a few sentences. Now, after having moved to China, I'm practicing every day, going into Koreatown, which is near the school, and I'm making bigger and bigger circles through Dalian as both my Korean and Chinese improve.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I Always Say the Conjunctions in English

An attempt to tell a friend who speaks only Korean that I'm learning Korean in China and that lessons must be in three languages because the Korean Chinese teacher doesn't speak much English: "{In China, I study Korean. The teacher is Korea Chinese. The teacher English [making an X with the hands]}, so {Korean, Chinese, English.}"

She laughed—whether because she understood me, I have no idea.

Only now do I remember that I know the Korean for "I don't know," because I use it all the time (though I do not know the Korean for "I know," which I almost never say), and so instead of using my hands, I could have told her that the teacher doesn't know much English.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Folks Keep Asking, "Do You Like Korea or China Better?" (Part Ten)

"Acceptance is its own verve."
—David Foster Wallace

One hour ahead of home.

On Saturday night, Ted and I went to an outdoor Korean Chinese restaurant, where I ordered in Korean and he ordered in Chinese. At one point, while responding to something I'd said, the waitress started talking to me in Korean and mid-sentence switched over to Chinese. Because each half was out of context without the other, Ted and I separately had to translate each into English in order to make one sentence we could both understand. Then we simultaneously responded in the separate languages.

After I bought a ticket for the bus yesterday, I went to stand at the stop. A man at the curb grabbed the ticket out of my hand, looked at it, handed it back to me, and grabbed my shoulder with his right hand and pointed with his left for me to sit and wait. OK. A bus drove up to the stop, so I stood up and asked the driver, in Korean, "{Are you going to Ssangmun?}" He said no, and then the man from before pushed me away from the driver. A bit of time went by before another bus pulled up. Again I asked the driver, in Korean, whether he was going to Ssangmun, but before he could respond, the man came back, grabbed my shoulders with both hands, and started pushing me rather hard back toward the bench. I twisted out of his grip, and not knowing how to say, "Don't touch me," in Korean, I said it in English. Then I sat there feeling weird about whether I had a right to be bothered by being moved around. It's not as though one doesn't get pushed around all the time.

"Why are you back in Korea?"

Today I bought David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments at What the Book? in Itaewon. Instead of taking a whole bunch of books to China, Ted decided to take only Infinite Jest, thinking it would take him a long time to finish, but then he got something like addicted to it and declined to go out just so he could spend whole nights reading. Since he finished it nine days ago, we've spent a lot of time talking about it. He seems to be in withdrawal. He's even spent hours at work contributing to a wiki on the book. Not that I blame him. IJ was the better part of the summer of '07. Shortly after arriving here last year, I gave IJ as a gift to my then new friends Andrew and Lacy, from Newfoundland, a couple days, I think, before Wallace hanged himself. I've been jonesing for more.

One more week here.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Once again waiting for a bus to Ssangmun.

Only slightly more literate in this country.