Klogic One: Windows

Sometimes I get emails or comments from readers who say that I’ve inspired them to come to Korea (or stay away). I think, for the most part, I present a fairly positive view of Korea. However, now that I’m nearly a year removed from the worst of my jobs here, I’m ready to start presenting some of the…more nonsensical aspects of living and working in Korea.

Korean logic, Klogic, is something that defies most Westerners (and Good Man). It is, unfortunately, something that anyone coming to Korea will have to deal with. Ahhh, ’tis the nature of the beast.

Unfortunately, due to insane Korean laws, I can not name my employers. Not even when they’ve been found in a court of law to owe me money and the prosecutor has promised to “punish” them. Not even when they’ve been found to owe others over 15,000,000 won by a court of law. Not even when they got me evicted, and I have proof. Not even when they ran off and closed the school with no notice. Because, you see, if I were to name these employers, I might make them “lose face.”

(Consider that your first lesson in Klogic.)

With that introduction, I present the first in an erratic series…

Fine Moments of Klogic: Windows

I
Imagine, if you will, a suddenly slightly cool fall day. Cool, but not at all unpleasant. Sitting on the floor, in a hogwon, with kindy kids.

Confused Foreigner (me)
: Mellanie, why is the floor heat on?
Mellanie (very rude Korean co-teacher): Because it’s cold outside.
Confused Foreigner: Then why are all the windows and doors wide open, and why is the air conditioning on?
Mellanie: Because it’s hot inside.

II
Imagine, if you will, a damn cold December day. Cold. A substandard heater, and strong winds blowing dust around outside.

Cool Co-Teacher: I’m going to open up the windows, it’s dusty in here.
Confused Foreigner (me): But it’s dusty outside.
Cool Co-Teacher: The dust only goes out. It won’t come in.

“Naughty Girlfriend…”

Today was a weird Korean language day. I was studying flashcards while riding down an escalator and an old man (going up the escalator) leaned over far to see what I was doing. I twisted my wrist so he could see and he looked shocked. Yeah, like I can’t see you. On the subway ride home, the guy I was standing next to was trying to see what I was reading and leaning over until I finally turned the book so he could see it.

I told Good Man these stories and then said, “Hey, I finally figured out how to remember 드디어.” 드디어 means “finally” and it’s said like deu-di-eo. “But you’re going to laugh, cause you laughed about the cow.”

He looked at me and laughed. I went on. “I sort of think of two girls talking to each other and one of them just had sex with her boyfriend for the first time. So the other says, ‘Dude, he finally did’ya.’ Can you hear it? ‘DUde, he FINALLY DI yA.’ OK, so it’s really not that close, but otherwise I can not remember it, and if you say it fast enough, it’s sort of the same.”

I looked at Good Man. “Du, finally di ya.”

He shook his head. “Naughty girlfriend…”

Men Are Butterflies in Korea

Saturday I met YJ for a language exchange. Good Man worked late, late Friday night, so I knew he wouldn’t be at my house when he said he would. (I am very clever like that.)

Meeting YJ was nice, she helped me with my essay and we took pictures of each other. She bought this little camera online and the little plastic pop-up square cracked us both up.

YJ With Her Camera

On the way to meet her, I had to transfer at Sadang station. I passed a group of about 12 middle school/high school aged boys. I sensed one of them would say something and I was right. I heard a few “hi”s and walked on. But about 20 feet away, I decided to say something to them. I turned around, walked back and said, “HI!” as loudly as they had.

It was like Moses parting the waters. The boys moved to the side, leaving the sole speaker in front of me.

“HI!” I repeated.

“Uh! Oh!” He looked so scared. “Um, nice to meet you!” he said.

“No, we haven’t met. First, ‘Hi, how are you.’ Second, ‘What’s your name?’ Third, ‘Nice to meet you.'” In typical fashion, the boy who spoke had the lowest level of English and his friends had to translate what I was saying.

After a minute or two of freaking them out, I left. Only to pass a group of 8 elementary aged boys. This time, when one said “hi!” I turned around right away. They scattered the same way fish do when you tap the glass of their aquarium. I bobbed my head, looking at all of them. “What’s your name?” I said. (Koreans know how to say these things in English: Hi, what’s your name, I am Korea(n), My name is…, nice to meet you.)

“My name is Crazy,” said the primary offender.

“앗! 미쳤어?” I said in banmal. His friends all laughed and hit each other and I walked away.

At Sadang station, I found this ad.

Matchmaking Butterfly Ad

Duo is a matchmaking company. The ad says, roughly, “Men aren’t the only ones who can be butterflies.”

I had to ask Good Man what in the world that meant.

Butterflies choose their flowers, like men choose women. The ad was claiming that women can choose men, too. By comparing men to butterflies.

OK, Korea.

Coffee Baggage

Junior High

When I was in junior high, my brother and I spent winter vacation with my father, who lived in Arizona. He had a friend, 21 years old, Eric, if I recall correctly.

He would buy coffee at the 7-11 and shove those tiny little plastic tubs of flavored creamer in his pockets, not paying for them. I once pointed to the little sign saying they were 5 cents each, and he scoffed.

Eric loved coffee.

And I, in the way only a 14 year old girl could, loved Eric.

High School

This crush, combined with being born between Generations X and Y, made me love coffee shops when I was in high school.

Too young to really be Gen X, I mostly missed the ‘zine wave, the riot grrls movement, and raves. Five years too young to do Gen X, five years too old for Gen Y, I did manage to get into grunge music, flannel, Trainspotting and…coffee shops.

I wasn’t cool enough to partake in the habits of my friends who chain-smoked, talked about dropping acid, smoking pot, or drinking liquid codeine. I was cool enough to drink coffee. I would go home, smelling cigarette smoke when I shook my head, the scent coming off of my hair. The taste of coffee, usually black, behind my teeth.

I remember ordering a triple espresso from Café Zev (Mark, remember that place?) after my classes at college (but I was in high school, yes) and being told by the lithe-gay coffee dude that he’d made a mistake and made a quadruple by accident.

“That’s cool.” I could handle a quad.

College

I lived with a lover for far too long. A lover who didn’t drink coffee, but who plays into my coffee baggage. What the Hell Was I Thinking hated it when we didn’t go to bed at the same time, hated that I got to sleep in later because of my class schedule (and thus, woke me up all the time), and told me—while I was doing my teacher’s certification program, taking a full load of classes and student teaching 40 hours a week—that it “wasn’t fair” that I would get “summer vacations” and I “since I work, you had better work, too.”

I dumped What the Hell Was I Thinking halfway through my second year of grad school, which was also my first year as a teacher. And I never, ever worked summer vacations when I was a teacher in the States.

Just After Grad School

After What the Hell Was I Thinking was Dead Fan (Who Was Ten Years Older and Should Have Known How to Dump a Woman Properly, But Didn’t). Dead Fan liked coffee and I spent too much money on a coffee maker for my house, hoping it would make Dead Fan more comfortable. Dead Fan didn’t last long—my house was always “too warm”—but luckily, I was able to sell the coffee maker for a decent price. (Dead Fan, for the record, dumped me at the same place we had our first date, which was…a coffee date.)

Korea

Now I drink coffee when I am with people who drink coffee. I drink coffee at shops with friends and during language exchanges, and when I’m offered it at work.

I do not drink coffee at home. Good Man, however, does.

Coffee in South Korea is most often sold in sticks. A stick of instant coffee, cream and sugar added. You have to pinch the end of the stick to prevent the sugar from coming out, but the marked pinch point is always off and you end up getting sugar anyway. It’s really not that fantastic.

The teacher I replaced left about a dozen sticks of coffee in the kitchen, coffee I thought would be left for the next teacher.

When Michael left Korea, he gave me coffee. Good, real coffee. My school provided me with a coffee maker, but since I don’t drink coffee, it’s buried under my sink.

The coffee maker and coffee have yet to meet, so I’m still giving Good Man those instant sticks. In fact, I actually had to buy a box of those instant sticks to keep having coffee around.

I bought instant coffee sticks rather than taking ten minutes to clear a space and figure out how to run a Korean coffeemaker.

I am a horrible girlfriend.

When He’s Here

When Good Man spends the night, I let him sleep. I remember too well when I felt forced to act awake, only to crawl back into bed as soon as the door shut, as soon as the car engine turned over.

When Good Man stays over, I pour water in the teapot (an inheritance from Michael) and set the flame high while I try to decide what to wear.

By the time it’s whistling, I’m dressed. I turn off the flame, pour a stick of coffee into a mug, try to pinch back the sugar. I pour in a splash of milk, stir it with an unpaired wooden chopstick.

I walk into the bedroom, place the mug on the end of the nightstand (also an inheritance from Michael), and lean across the mattress to touch Good Man’s shoulder.

“Hey, [Good Man], it’s 8:00. Here’s your coffee. Don’t miss work.” I know he won’t miss work, he never does, but I say it every time.

When I come home after work, I know where Good Man checked his email, where he sat with his laptop. I’ll find the mug on the floor where he drank it, a light circle of dried coffee in the bottom.

All Over Again and Apple Thief Ajumma

2단) 아만다
Second Dan) Amanda

The date is set. February 29th, 3:00. A second time around.

Taekwondo has been so awesomely tough lately. Officer is a fantastic teacher.

And the kids have been so funny. Coverboy started teasing me a few days ago. Instead of 누나 (nuna, big sister), he was using the honorific title suffix, nim. 누님! 누님! Nunim, nunim! And then he was throwing himself on the ground in a big bow. I couldn’t stop laughing. Meanwhile, Crybaby’s been talking about how her birthday is tomorrow. She told me every day I saw her this week, and I brought her candy tonight.

Tonight’s class was a test class, but because of work, I ended up being very late. I was in the closet changing, when Master yelled, “아만다! 끝나!” End.

If the closet hadn’t been jammed with stuff, I could’ve kicked myself. I had seriously considered skipping class cause I thought that might happen. I threw my hands in the air and yelled back, “OK, 알게습니다!”. The kids all laughed; I guess because my voice was coming from the closet.

When class was over Master smiled at me, “Sorry, fast test.”

I shrugged, “Slow subway. But I came!”

He nodded and gave me a high five.

I may not have done anything, but I did show up.

Master Teasing Crybaby

The Boy I Kissed

Coverboy Making Music

Coverboy, Jamming

Coverboy’s Moon Face

Apple Thief Ajumma

Monday, I was coming home from taekwondo. I spotted an apple truck, and the apples on the truck looked delicious. I looked around for whomever needed my money and only found a well-dressed woman.

She looked at me.

I looked at her and said, in Korean, “I want some apples.”

“Oh, no, I do too,” she said (also in Korean), “but I’m looking for the ajosshi.”

I felt bad instantly and apologized a few times. She brushed off my apologies and started yelling. “Ajosshi! Ajosshi! Hurry up!”

We stood around waiting, and she finally grabbed the biggest apple within reach, used her hands to break it in half perfectly, and handed me a piece. “Eat,” she said.

I took a bite of the apple. It was as delicious as I’d imagined. I looked at her, “You had a lot of power!”

“What?”

“The apple, like this,” I said, imitating her tearing the apple apart.

Apple Thief Ajumma laughed and said she has to cook a lot at home.

Finally, the Car Ticketing Ajosshi came over. Apple Thief Ajumma asked him if we could just pay him. She bought a huge bag of apples for 10,000 won, I got a smaller bag (still with more than a dozen, big, juicy apples in it) for 5,000 won. Before I was able to walk away, Apple Thief Ajumma traded out three small apples in my bag for three huge apples from the bed of the truck.

I thanked her and we parted ways with a “맛있겠다 드세요!” Eat well.

Next Up…My Mind

Sunday (I think), I lost a hand-knit glove.

Yesterday I managed to leave my fantastic, awesome wool fliptops that I’ve had for more than 10 years on the bus. Both of them.

Today I lost 50,000 won. And I semi-lost my socks.

I may start crying soon.

Sorak-san and Sokcho

Sorak-San and Sokcho Album

So after my “I can not deal with Korean culture” fit and Good Man’s amazing “OK, I’ll handle it” response, we headed to Sorak-san and Sokcho Saturday morning.

I was a little doubtful that the weather would be nice, as it’s been icy cold lately, but Good Man thought that it would be warm and not to worry about it.

After a four-hour long bus ride (where we studied Korean, napped, and napped some more), we ended up in Sokcho. We then looked for the bus stop to go to Sorak-san. Good Man started to head up the street, but I spotted the tourist office and demanded he ask them. Good thing, too, because the stop was in the other direction.

After collecting our free maps, we headed to Sorak-san National Park. Unfortunately, since we were in the mountains, it was starting to get dark quickly, so we didn’t have much time. We ate some lunch and then got cable car ticket. Good Man had wanted to hike, but apparently changed his mind once he saw all of the snow.

While we waited for our cable car time, we visited the temple. It was beautiful, but a bit crowded. And since I’m not Buddhist, I don’t much understand, notice, or appreciate the differences among Buddhist temples in Korea. (I notice structural/architectural differences between temples in South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam.)

We took the cable car to the viewing point, and it really was beautiful. It was cold, very lightly snowing, and grey, but still beautiful. We had some coffee at a café, just enjoyed each other’s company.

On the way back down, some Halabeoji was pushing his grandson in front of me and making rude sounding comments at me. He actually pushed my shoulder, trying to get his grandson in front of me. I finally turned around and he mumbled something at me. I said, “네, 하지만 사람 많이 있습니다.” Yes, but there are many people.

It was my way of saying “knock it off, old man,” (using the polite formal form, of course, after all, he was old) and it worked. He nodded at me and backed up. Good Man later said I wasn’t rude and that grandfathers are especially worked up over their grandsons. Still didn’t give him any good reason to push me!

We headed back to Sokcho via taxi and looked for a hotel room. The area near the bus station was surrounded with “sauna” motels. In other words…not the kind of hotel Good Man and I would want to sleep up. Think a step below love motels. I was getting cranky (poor Good Man!) because it was cold and my bag was heavy. We hopped in a very short taxi ride basically around the corner and found the fish market area. A-ha.

We found a motel right away and decided we’d go out for dinner. An hour later we still hadn’t left and decided on pizza. We started chatting about what we’d do Sunday and I just fell asleep. Good Man, being evil, kept asking me questions. I probably made my own “maybe me, neither” comments, I was so tired.

The next day, I woke up early and studied Korean a bit. When Good Man sort of woke up, I decided I’d find a bakery and grab some breakfast. Good Man said, sounding a bit worried, “Do you know where we are? Can you find your way back?”

I laughed. I’d spotted a bakery right on the main road, but he didn’t know that. I smiled, “I’ve managed to not get lost enough to never come back in Costa Rica, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, and Sweden, and I actually speak a little Korean.” Good Man grinned and I winked, “But I’ll grab my cell phone, just in case.”

I didn’t get lost, in fact, I found the port area on my little trip, but I was surprised at how dead the town was! Nothing was open. Yes, it was a Sunday morning, but it was after 10 am.

Around 11:30 we headed out, wandering along the port, taking photos. A couple people stared at us, but in his usual form, Good Man wasn’t embarrassed. We decided to head to the Hwarang park. The Hwa Rang were highly trained military guys during the Shilla dynasty, and since I do taekwondo, we wanted to check out the park.

We hopped in a taxi and headed over there only to find out that it wasn’t at all what we were expecting. It was a park with horseback riding, archery, and the like. And since there was snow all over, it was dead. I started laughing, because it was so not what we expected. “Good Man, are you mad?”

“No,” he said, “it’s just not what we expected.” The best part? Had we looked at the back of our tourist maps—which we had halfway done!—we would’ve known better.

“아, 바보야,” I muttered. Oh, so dumb…

The taxi driver had waited for us, explained that it was closed, then gave us a good recommendation for lunch. He was a friendly guy, polite but interested in who we were, what we’d seen, etc. Still, his lunch rec was great. We had chicken soup at a restaurant with live chickens in front. Ahhh, Korea.

A very nice weekend.

(For the Korean version of this story, check out the 공책.)

Cunning

So. Sore.

I am so, so sore from tonight’s taekwondo class.

We ended up doing regular sprints and drills (which I had to do more slowly than normal, because my knee still hurt), then doing back bridges. For some reason, I am very good at back bridges. Even when I’m out of shape, I can do bridges. (Note, I am getting into them from the floor, not from a standing position.) Officer had us doing bridges but by the last set, I was in pain. So what did I do? I went up on my tiptoes. Why I thought that’d help, I don’t know.

Then Master’s Brother’s Studio joined us and we played soccer. My team did terribly, worst of the lot, but it was certainly not because I wasn’t trying! I was really playing soccer, scaring the other team in fact. At one point I was behind a woman from the other team, foot between her legs, trying to get the ball, scooting her across the floor. Another time a kid from the other team was on the ground and I jumped over him to get the ball.

When I first got here, the cheating and slightly-less-than-fair soccer games made me crazy. I’ve since learned the being “cunning” (cheating) is the Korean way. And since being cunning is OK unless you get called out for it, I was cunning.

Luckily, both teams loved it. Master kept high-fiving me, “Amanda, my style, Tongil style, good!”

Heck, everyone was as cunning as they could be.

Still, now my whole body is sore. My whole body. It hasn’t been sore like this in a while.

Damn Me

Good Man and I have only been on a few weekend trips. Anseong, and Nami Island. We have tried planning other trips, only to have his downstairs neighbor die, or to have his bosses make him work.

Well, this weekend we decided we’d go somewhere. Good Man decided on a location, but the train tickets were sold out. We decided we’d just show up at the train station, but then he decided Soraksan would be good, so we planned a trip there.

Friday morning, on my way out the door, I said, “If your bosses say you have to work this weekend, lie. Tell them your aunt is turning 60 or something.”

“OK.”

“약속해?” Promise?

“Yes,” he said, before rolling back to sleep.

Friday evening, while we were chatting, he sent me an “OMG” message that his coworker’s father had died.

In South Korea, when someone dies, everyone who knows Someone who that Dead Someone is related to drops everything to travel back to the hometown to sit around for a few days and wait for a funeral. Oh, and give the family money. Cause everything (birth, 100 days, 1 year, 60 years, wedding, death) is about money here. (And we must keep careful, careful track of who gives us what and exactly how much, because when we must give money back, it will be the exact same amount. I will never get married in this country. Tacky.)

He said he would have to go to Daegu and maybe we could meet in Daegu.

I. Lost. It.

His coworkers don’t even know about my existence, and he thought I was going to hop on a train to Daegu to sit around and wait around God-knows-where for him to escape and maybe meet me?

Oh, no.

So I said as much.

On top of it, I had already declined a skiing invitation and a birthday party invitation and a drinking invitation and I had not contacted YJ because I was supposed to be out of town.

So I said as much.

He is not close to this guy, he is not friends with him. He doesn’t intend to be at this company much longer. I know this is Korean culture, but I did not care.

So I said as much.

Lucky for me, Diana was online at the time. I started CHATTING WITH HER LIKE THIS! YELLING ABOUT KOREA! LIKE THIS!!!! Then she had to get off the computer, but she fabulously called me on the phone SO I COULD YELL AND RANT AND RAVE FOR REAL!’

Now, side. Diana lives in Daegu, and I bet I could’ve done a “please let me stay with you, I’ll be nice to your cat and clean up after myself” if I needed to, but she was going skiing this weekend and wouldn’t be around.

So after I ranted and raved about how I hate Korea, hate Koreans, hate Korean culture, I went back to my computer to find out that seven minutes earlier, while I’d been ranting, Good Man had written that he’d said he couldn’t leave.

Now, this was true, as his coworkers had all dropped everything to go to Daegu, and were already on their ways out the door, but he’d been on the phone doing tech support for two hours.

Still, he did it for me.

And then I sort of felt my stomach crumble because I am just such an utter bitch sometimes. Especially every four weeks or so, and it wasn’t Good Man or Dead Man’s fault that the moon was aligned perfectly this weekend.

“Hmm,” I said to Diana, “I think I owe Good Man something special now.”

So then I went back to packing and prepped and thanked Good Man and apologized.

But this is Korea. You rarely, rarely apologize in Korea. It’s not face saving to do so. And when you do apologize, the face saving thing for the other party to do is to act like it’s not a big deal.

Now, anyone who’s known me for a while knows that I do not like to be wrong, I do not like to apologize, I do not like to admit that I am wrong. Because I am so rarely wrong that we might as well say I am never wrong.

You would think that I would relish the Korean face-saving-no-apologizing-thing. Problem is, somewhere along the way to adulthood, my mom and dad and stepdad and brother and Mark all convinced me that apologizing is not a sign of weakness or defeat.

And so when I apologize, I mean it, because I am not quick to do it.

And when Good Man just said, “It’s OK, baby, I’m not upset with you. We’ll have a good weekend,” I was left sort of standing there. Still feeling crappy about YELLING LIKE THIS.

And also very grateful. Because Good Man is so awesome. And he understands me. EVEN WHEN I AM LIKE THIS!!!!

사랑해, 규드멘.