Archive for the ‘Language Barriers’ Category

“I have a new favorite British word!” I told my roommate last night.

“Oh no.”

“I’ve been thinking about how we have this huuuuuge communication problem, and how it affects our relationship in and out of the office.”

“What are you talking about?”

“So I figured that if we took some time to learn about our different languages and cultures, we’d share a stronger bond. So, you wanna hear my new favorite British word?”


“It’s ‘besotted.’ How cool is that! ‘Besotted.’ I bet you didn’t think I’d heard of that before, huh? It’s so fancy, and it’s very versatile. Like, ‘I am so besotted with this muffin.’ Or, ‘I find this book very besottable.'”

Shelly lit a cigarette and groaned. “First, you’re saying it wrong. It’s besotted.”

“Besotted. Yeah, that’s what I said. Beh-saw-ted.”

“Er. Never mind. Second, you’re using it wrong. You only say besotted when you’re talking about a person.”

“Gotcha. ‘I am besotted with my mummy.'”

“Um, no. I mean, when you love someone in a romantic way.”

“That sucks. I’m not in love with anybody! Anyway, nobody except you and I know, so I can keep using it my way. Mmmmm, I am besotted with this ginger tea.”

“What? You can’t do that. You have to use it properly.”

“I am besotted with my bum. Look, I used two of your words! Heh heh, I am going to be so British when I get back to California.”

“I’m going to sleep now.”

“Don’t you wanna learn some kick-ass Californian vocab?”



I spent so much time planning my trip to Thailand that I didn’t think about what I’d do (or where I’d stay!) when I get back to Korea. I’ll have seventeen days left on my vacation!

I decided against spending all of December in Thailand because I wanted to be with friends on Christmas and New Year’s Day. But what about the time in-between? Today I picked up Lonely Planet Korea and flipped through it, trying to come up with a ten-day trip.

Then I started to get a little sad, because apparently Korea is not something you want to do on your lonesome. There isn’t much to do in Busan right now. And while I would really like to go hiking, it’s too cold and I’d be scared to do it on my own.

I called Mark, a friend of mine who I met while temple-hopping in Gyeongju. He suggested I go to Jeju Island, but it would take me sixteen hours to get there from Seoul, because I’m sure the flights are taken up. I’m thinking about it, though. But ten days on my own–man that could be depressing.

A part of me just wants to sit back and chill, and not do anything except read and drink overpriced coffee. So I’m also thinking about Seoul. But man that would be so depressing, to go all the way in Korea, then go home and tell people you that you spent a year in Korea and just visited Seoul, Busan and Gyeongju. And seventeen days in Seoul??? I don’t know if I would die from the bliss of not working, or kill myself out of boredom.

A few of you gave me some super-duper advice on Thailand. So if anybody has any suggestions on what to do in Korea, I’d be happy to hear them.

Ugh, now I have to grade tests and write report cards. So unbesottable.


Read Full Post »

This is the trailer for the first Korean movie I ever saw. (Or was it Shiworae?) Its commercials looked sappy, but I found the theme song addictive. 

A Millionaire’s First Love 

I know a lot of you are shuddering. But goddammit, it made me cry.

But I do have some good films waiting in my apartment. And I’m looking for more KDramas. Any recommendations?


I had just finished shopping with Shelly in Dongdaemun and was sitting on the train when an elderly man turned to me and asked me why I was speaking in English.

At first I was startled, and pleased, because I still don’t understand what people are saying most of the time. But languages and nationalities are covered in the first few chapters of my Korean textbook, so I told him that no, I’m not Korean, I’m American.

He said my face looked Korean, so I added that I’m also Filipino.

“She’s an American,” he said, gesturing towards Shelly.

“No, she’s British,” I said.

Then he asked why I was speaking English. “Korean language, small,” I said in Korean. “Very sorry.”

“So many foreigners come to Korea,” he said. “People from America, Canada, France, Africa, England . . . and they don’t know Korean. They only speak English. Why?

“And you’re face . . .” he added, waving his hands over his own, “it’s Korean. Korean people, Filipino people, same-same.”

He didn’t address Shelly. This happens quite often, especially out of Seoul. Even after I tell people I’m a Filipino-American, they keep talking to me as if I’m a local, all while ignoring my non-Asian friends. And a few of my white friends actually have a better grasp of Korean than I do. It’s embarrassing sometimes.

“Speak Korean,” he told me. “Your English is so loud. My ears . . .!”

“I’m sorry, Grandfather,” I said, bowing.

“Did he just tell you off?” Shelly asked after we stepped off the train and caught a cab.

“Yeah,” I said, near tears. It wasn’t the first time I’d been lectured by an elderly person. A few months ago a little old woman told me not to date a Korean. “You American, you Filipino,” she’d said. “Go, marry, same man.”

But this was a little more troublesome, because it had occurred in a public place. And the truth was that in the past few weeks, I hadn’t studied the language. I’d been so busy with work, the new teacher and yoga that I had neglected my textbooks. I felt guilty.

“That was rude,” she said after I told the cab driver to head for Wal*Mart. “He didn’t know us. What if we were tourists?”

“Yeah, but he has a point. A lot of people don’t make an effort to learn the language or the alphabet, and it can be an inconvenience to others. Even if we were tourists, we should know enough to travel out of Seoul.”

We stopped near E-Mart. “This is the wrong place,” Shelly noted.

“No, they just changed the name,” I said, getting out of the cab. “This used to be the Wal*Mart Supercenter.”

It saddened me–when I first arrived in Korea, one of my first big outings had been to Wal*Mart. Going there had also been the first time I’d taken the bus all by myself.

It was the same shopping center, just with a different name. But Wal*Mart had been a link back to the states. Something western, in a sea of east.

“You look shattered,” Shelly told me after I’d taken a cart.

“I had a dream about my Taekwondo instructor last night. I don’t remember exactly what happened . . . just a lot of talking. And he spoke American English.”

“Why don’t you just see him?” she asked.

“Because it took me weeks to get over him, and I don’t want to put myself through all that again. We can’t date, and I can’t be friends without feeling torn up about it.”

“But you know enough Korean. I saw you talking to that old guy on the train for five minutes!”

“I only understood snippets of what he said. And I only know basic stuff, like how to order in restaurants and ask where the bathroom is.

“Look,” I snapped, “He made me happy. He made me happier than anyone in this entire country. And I still think about him. I . . . I still miss him. But it would be stupid to pursue any kind of relationship!”

“Okay, okay,” she said. “But I just think you underestimate yourself sometimes.”


Yesterday we held another birthday party for the students. I sat down and held Cathy in arms, while Sammy pat my back. Elly threw her arms around me and June tugged on my elbow.

“Teacher is my box,” Sammy said, resting his head in the small of my back. Tears filled my eyes, and I reached over to rub his hand.

Read Full Post »

What does October have in store for me?

Let’s check my Hyun Bin calendar!

Return of the Hyun Bin calendar! 

3rd: Day off. Time to watch those pirated DVDs gathering dust on my bookshelf.

On Wednesday, I have to go back to work, but the holiday extends through–

5th-8th: Yoga in the mountains! Four days in Gyeongju, at my favorite temple. Which also happens to be my favorite place in all of Korea.

I’m knitting a gray scarf for the head abbot. The last time I saw him, I asked about practicing Buddhism, but I don’t think he found me serious. Hopefully we can further discuss this.

14-15th: Pusan International Film Festival. Heading down south with MF, Z and Z’s coworkers. 

20th: Jay-Z concert in Seoul.D already bought the tickets. H to the izz-o!

21st: Korean Proficiency Test. I’m signing up for a class that’s associated with a church in Seoul.

You actually don’t have to be Christian to join, but they do encourage you to attend church. (People from different religious backgrounds take the course, so I probably won’t be pressured.)

The semester only lasts for six weeks, but you know how competitive I am. If I’m not working, and I’m not in yogilates, I’m studying.

Read Full Post »


I have just finished yogilates class and have one foot out the door when my instructor, “Seung-Eun,”  asks if I like tea.

“I studied in London for two years, and now I enjoy this tea,” she says, handing me a bag of Earl Grey.

Earl Grey is actually my favorite kind, but I don’t want to look too enthusiastic. I say thank you and tuck it into my purse. She watches me for a moment, hesitating.

“I want to tell you something in English, but it is difficult,” she says. “My English isn’t so good–”

“It’s excellent!” I protest.

“Thank you. But I feel I have a hard time saying this. For the last five minutes of class, we have relaxation on floor. I say how to breathe, but maybe you don’t understand.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, don’t apologize. Let me think. When you breathe out, it is very important to tighten this one muscle. Mmmm . . . I had it in my head, but I forget–forgot. Wait a minute . . .” She grabs her dictionary and flips through it. “I’m sorry. You see, it is my dream to teach yoga in English, but my English is so bad.”

“No, you’re very good! I’m glad I found you.”

“Ah, here it is. How do you say . . .”

I look over, and the color instantly drains from my face. “Anus?”

“Yes! A-nus. When you breathe out, it is very important to squeeze this. This is very good for you! It helps the muscles in that area. It prevents hemorrhoids. You should try it. Breathe in. Now, breathe out–tighten! Tighten.”

“I’m tightening.”

“Good. Now, you want to do that at the end of class. When you are out of class, practice very many times. Not in public. That might be embarrassing.”


“This is very good for you. And, are you married?”


“Well, after you practice, this makes a good sexual . . . what is the word–”


“It makes a good sexual life. Try again. Are you doing it right?”

“Uh-huh. Allgessoyo. Thank you. I will practice often.”

“You will have that tea in the morning?”


“Remember, practice! Good night!”

I can’t get out of there fast enough.

Read Full Post »

 Is it possible to have feelings for someone you barely understand?

Last week I told The Instructor I would not leave my job after all.

“Sabunim,” I said, as his younger students made kissing noises behind his back. “Me, Pia, no go Ca-li-porn-nia.

Pointing at the ground: “Here–yogi–yes.”

I hooked my thumbs together, made flapping motions with my hands, then unhooked them and made an X with my forearms. “Ca-li-porn-nia, aniyo.”

His eyes flickered with recognition and his jaw dropped. “Pia, yogi?” he exclaimed, pointing at the ground.

“Ne!” I exclaimed, clapping. “Korea, yes.” I gave him a thumbs up.

“Pusan?” he asked, mimicking my bird hand motion.

“Pusan, no,” I said, making another X sign. “Yogi, yes.”


“Wonderland, yes.” I made puppets with my hands. “C Teacher and Pia Teacher, talk-talk. Wonderland good! Pia . . .” I gave another thumbs up. “Happy.”

He spun around and told the boys in rapid-fire Korean. I got teary-eyed as their faces lit up. I hadn’t realized they cared so much.

He pointed to my belt. “Pia, red belt.” He raised one hand, and lifting fingers, counted: “July, August, September, October, November–black belt!” The boys recited the months to themselves and nodded. Yes, yes, five months would give me enough time to train for my black belt.

I wrung my wrists. “Black, no.” I bit my lip, wondering how to convey this. “Chun-bee, aniyo.” I’m not ready.

The Instructor and students squinted in confusion for a moment, before a young boy said, “Chun-bee. Ready.” After all these months, my pronunciation of basic words was still awful.

“See?” I said. “My Hangeul, not so good.” More puppet motions with my hands, then a descending thumbs-down.

I locked eyes with my teacher. “I don’t understand you,” I said weakly, and he nodded, his mouth firm.

Read Full Post »

A girlfriend of mine left me her copy of "Making Out in Korean," and it quickly replaced the dictionary in my handbag. This slender little guide contains useful phrases for parties, dining, fighting and screwing.Thanks to this book, I found my new favorite word: Chokka! It literally means "Kick penis" and I can use it when I want to tell someone to fuck off or threaten to kick his privates.

The girls and I had a ball with this book last night. There's a whole chapter on what to say when you're getting laid–as if a foreigner could speak in Korean during sex!–and N, one of our Korean friends, wanted to learn some dirty English phrases.

"'I wan-na see your poo-shi.' Poo-shi? What is this word?" she asked.

"Pussy," E corrected as we fought to contain our laughter. N whipped out her electronic dictionary.

"'Cat.' I don't understand. Why would my boyfriend want to see my cat?"

"It has two meanings," I said, pointing to my own kitty.

"English is difficult!" N shrieked, covering her face with both hands.

The next day I tried to impress a coworker with my newfound knowledge. "Yochum bapoyo," I sighed as we sorted through files in the office. Things are busy.

When she shrugged, confused, I repeated myself.

"Yochum ba-bba-yo," she urged. "Be careful. You sound like you're saying you're an idiot."

Korean is difficult . . . but fun.

"My instructor wants me to have dinner with him," I told M when I returned home from Taekwondo practice a few hours ago.

"He probably wants you to kick his penis," she said.

Read Full Post »