500 Days Later, I Asked Him to Speak More Slowly

So Good Man and I almost never do anything for our anniversaries (measured the Korean way, in 100 day chunks, this is Day 500), but tonight we decided to order pizza.

I picked Good Man up from school and we picked up our pizza. Over dinner, Good Man said, “아만다나랑결혼해줄래?”

I nodded, “천천히 말 해 줘.” Speak more slowly.

“아만다…” he said, switching to word-by-word mode.

I laughed, “‘Amanda.'”

“나랑…”

I was reminded of a children’s book I have. I thought and said, “‘Me-with.'”

He nodded, “결혼 해 줄래?”

Gyeolhon,” I repeated. I froze. “결혼?”

Good Man nodded.

I switched to English, “Did you just ask me to marry you?”

Good Man smiled.

“Yes!”

His First 100 Days

“Oh,” I said yesterday, “tomorrow is your 100 Day Anniversary in America!”

“How do you know that?” Good Man asked.

“Because you got here 2 days before our 400 days, and our 500 days is Wednesday, so tomorrow is your 100 days.”

Good Man laughed, “You are more Korean than me.”

So today is Day 100 for Good Man. I must say, he’s doing better after 100 days in American than I was in Korea. After 100 days in Korea, I was working really hard to get another job.

His culture shock seems fairly minor so far. He doesn’t like checks, carpeting, how infrequently the bus runs, and how you can’t by soju at the Korean grocery store. He likes Americans’ “silliness.” He likes the crazy politics, too.

I think there are some big differences between our adjustments. One, my job was not going well, his classes are.

Two, he had to pass English tests—multiple tests—in Korea before the US gov’t would give him a visa. I didn’t have to even know the Korean alphabet before they let me in. The language difference is huge.

Three, I’ve lived alone before. So while I wasn’t sure how to use a Korean washing machine, I at least knew how to wash clothes. Good Man has learned how to make coffee, use a dishwasher, launder clothes, what can and can’t go down a garbage disposal, how to make and stick to a budget, and so on. (And oh thank kimchi, thank kimchi, he’s learned it all quickly and without any nagging on my part.)

Four, I wasn’t in Korea with a Korean lover, he’s here with me. In many ways, this makes his adjustment easier because I can teach him how to deal with stuff. Like the aforementioned evil checks.

On the other hand, while he gets a buffer person to deal with the culture, he also has the “fun” of making his mistakes in front of someone else.

Once, in Korea, I ended up riding the same section of the subway 3 (4?) times and was 90 mins late in getting home. Nobody had to know about my mistake. A few weeks ago, late at night, Good Man ended up on the wrong bus and had to have me come and pick him up.

I once bought some sort of ice cream that I thought was chocolate filled and faced a red bean paste center. Ick. Somewhat similarly, Friday Good Man went to pick up dish detergent. He bought two bottles of dish soap. Thank goodness I was able to tell him that we couldn’t use that, or we would’ve ended up de-bubbling the dishwasher this weekend…

Poor Mother, Poor Sister

Mother called us this morning. She called Good Man’s handphone rather than his laptop, so when the phone was handed over to me, it was one-on-one. (When she calls the laptop, we have it in speaker mode, so Good Man can hear her and help me understand anything.)

I told her I wasn’t feeling well and was getting a cold. She freaked out and told me to get a blanket (이불). I promised I would.

Then she told me my sweater was beautiful and I tried to explain the Sweater Curse to her. The Sweater Curse states that if you knit something for a man before you’re married, you’ll break up immediately before or after you finish it.

I made some really, really convoluted sentence to try and explain it. Mother, who is polite but totally willing to tell me she doesn’t understand, responded with, “Huh?”

I took a deep breath and decided to simplify. But even my “simplifying” wasn’t that great.

“여자친구가 남자친구를?” Girlfriend-subject marker boyfriend-object marker? “남자친구한테?” Boyfriend-to? “남자친구로?” Boyfriend-directional move?

I was tacking every damn marker on there that I could think of, trying to find “for.” Good Man was sitting at his desk, two feet away from me, being of no help whatsoever.

Suddenly the lyrics from 가지마 가지마 popped into my head. I had been wondering was 위해 meant, and Good Man had told me “for.”

“앗! 남자친구 위해?” Oh, boyfriend-for?

Mother said, “어, 어, 어.” Yes, yes, yes.

With that hurdle out of the way, I could explain myself. And she understood me.

Whew.

Poor Mother. One thing she worried about me before meeting me was that she wouldn’t be able to communicate with me. Sometimes, it’s very true. And even when we do communicate, it’s at my low level of Korean. She’d have a much easier time with a Korean daughter-in-law/living-in-sin-with-her-son-girlfriend.

***

Meanwhile, on the Sister front, I had some random Crises of Language today about how I should talk to Sister. I want to use banmal (intimate form) because I really like her, but I don’t want her to feel uncomfortable because we don’t know each other well.

Good Man told me to just ask her, so I did (asking her “favor” to speak banmal). But I did so knowing that she’d say yes to banmal because I’m older, which sort of defeats the whole point of asking.

She said yes.

Based on the exasperated look Good Man was giving me, I think he thought I was Crisis of Language-ing over nothing.

***

Speaking of language, Good Man came up with a good circumlocution today.

“My stomach feels sad.”

Success!

When we first came to America, Good Man and I tried to institute a One Hour of Korean a Day rule.

It didn’t work.

So we tried instituting a One Hour of Korean a Week rule.

It didn’t work.

I would get frustrated because I didn’t know a word, or we’d be tired, or want to discuss something serious, or… and then we’d slip into English and it’d be like, “Well, that didn’t work.”

Mark suggested taking an entirely different approach. He suggested speaking in Korean for one full day every week. They did this in German in his graduate program in Germany. He said since it was one full day, and the same day every week, you just knew, “Well, that’s it, today’s the day.” He also said it became a sort of a game after a while, and that once you got over the difficult part at the start, it was fun.

Well, we decided to try it today.

As an extra incentive, I went out and bought a medium bag of M&Ms, figuring we’d remove one M&M every time we slipped into English. But I made a mistake in buying a medium bag (seriously, 9 servings of 1/4 C each is a “medium?”) because we only had to remove 30 M&Ms. Thirty M&Ms, in the grand scheme of a medium M&M bag, isn’t much.

And we did a good job, too. This wasn’t English spoken as Konglish with a Korean accent. We were speaking Korean and only used Konglish when it was a phrase like “Florida Keys.”

Our cut off time was 10 pm and frankly, I was shocked that we’d stuck with it all day. We mostly lost it while in the car.

The only bad thing…my jaw hurts. I think it’s because all of that pronunciation in a different way takes more work. I am sure that sounds weird…

Two Packs of Mi Sticks

When we had Mark’s family over for dinner, we picked up “Mi Sticks” for us. “Beautiful” Pepero Sticks have “air choco” on them as well as a “coffee+milk” layer. We were saving the Mi Sticks as a treat.

Well, one night during the week, I came home to find an empty box of Mi Sticks. I teased Good Man about it and the next weekend, we bought another box of Mi Sticks to share.

We broke out the Mi Sticks a few nights ago and I discovered that within one box there are two individually wrapped packs of Mi Sticks.

“You ate both packs of Mi Sticks? Both?

Good Man grinned at me.

“왜 사랑하지 않아?” Why don’t you love me? I asked.

“Noooooooooo.”

***

Good Man was teasing me over something last night and I started to chase him. He ran into the closet and locked the door.

I stood in the bedroom doorway and stared at the closet door.

He opened the door a crack and looked at me.

“You’re hiding in the closet? That’s going on the blog.”

I’m It, But I Quit

William tagged me and told me to ignore it. I’m going to half ignore it. I’m not following the rules and I’m not tagging anyone else (I always hated tag), but here are six random facts about me. (Last time I did this—the only other time I’ve ever done one of these bloggy things, it was seven facts.)

1) When I was a kid, four or five years old (maybe six?), I’d take a huge spoonful of peanut butter and I’d dip it in the sugar jar. Then I’d suck a layer of peanut buttery sugar off and re-dip it in the sugar.

It drove my mother crazy.

2) I didn’t learn to drive until I was 19, and I didn’t get my license until 1 month before my 20th birthday. My first car, Anika, cost $1 and a hell of a lot more in repairs. When it finally died—the heater core broke the same day I failed the NOx emissions test by 600 times the legal limit—I sold it for $1.

3) When I first met Good Man, my friends would ask how things were going and I’d say, “Good, comfortable, easy.” I suspect they wanted more drama. But there wasn’t any.

4) When I was very, very young, we lived in “the yellow house” (which is now painted brown) in Duluth. It had wood stove heating. I remember learning to skate at that house. I had Fisher-Price plastic skates that went over your shoe and had a key of some sort.

5) [Redacted]

5a) That above point is so personal I might delete it after I get some sleep tonight.
5a1) It didn’t even take sleep.

5 Redo) I wrote about every single date I had in Korea in this blog, but I never called them dates. I didn’t want people to start commenting on dating in Korea, and I didn’t want anyone to expect that I’d ever write about any of the men again.

Of those dates, only one was not a Korean-born man, and he was still half-Korean.

In America, I never ended up on a date with an East Asian, though I went on a few dates with Indian men.

6) I hate that Sister speaks to me using -요 form, but Good Man tells me that she would never be comfortable speaking banmal (intimate form) because I’m four years older. But when she speaks to me in the -yo form, it makes me think she doesn’t really like me.

Korean

So now that I’ve vented about my reverse culture shock, next up is Korean.

I don’t know how in the world to study Korean any longer. Further, this weekend I couldn’t really figure out why I wanted to study Korean. When I lived in Korea, the benefits of studying Korean were immediately apparent. Here? Not so much.

But I know why I want to study Korean. I

want to be able to speak to Good Man’s family better,
expect to live in Korea again,
enjoy learning Korean,
like having a secret code to use with Good Man and others,
think it’s freakin’ awesome when I can understand an entire note from Master on my Cyworld page!,
like the coolness factor of learning an Asian language (sad, but true),
want to be bilingual,
think it’s important,
just want to—no explanation needed.

The problem is that my study methods aren’t really working here. In Korea I mostly did the Sogang book and focused on using it and hearing it around me. I did read and write, but it was mostly to reinforce what I’d learned and what I was orally using. I also met with a language exchange partner from time to time.

Since Good Man and I still haven’t managed to get even one day a week down to a Korean Only Day (any advice on this would be appreciated!), and I am now surrounded by English, this emphasis on speaking won’t work. I think I need to transfer to a more reading-based method, at least until I figure out how to get myself into Korean-speaking situations…

Good Man and I have joined a local Meetup group to practice Korean. We’ve gone to two meetings. Unfortunately, the easiest language to default to is English, and that’s what we tend to do so far, even with two or three Koreans in the meetings.

Any advice or thoughts are appreciated.

Out of Place Me

I am feeling very, very frustrated right now.

My aunt, one of my father’s sisters, moved to Korea in August because her husband got a job with DOD schools. My aunt and uncle are both art teachers, and they have one son. I’ve never been super-close to Aunt Melanie, but that’s mainly because her family lived in Florida while I grew up in Minnesota, and my father lived in Arizona.

Although we weren’t close when I was young, Aunt Mel and I are, in my opinion, fairly similar. It’s surface things—Grandma and Dad both confuse me with her on the phone, we both love photography and do fiber arts, we’re both teachers—but also that deeper wanderlust sort of spirit.

I got to talk to Aunt Mel Thursday night, and last night Good Man and I got to talk to the whole family (using Skype video, which is cool in a freaky sort of way). It was really nice to get to talk to her, though I’m a bit envious (to use a common Korean phrase) that she’s in Korea. My uncle told me a lot about applying to DODS, and I’m filing that info away for future reference.

Mel lived in Germany for five years and I asked her if she had any problems getting used to America. She said she never felt like she fit in after Germany.

That’s what I was expecting.

I am so frustrated living here.

My job is great (though it’s ridiculous the number of meetings I have to attend), we’re comfortable with money, taekwondo (when I can go!) is fine (not like in Korea by any stretch of the imagination, indeed, but it’s going well enough). Living with Good Man is great, we get along well, he’s fantastic to live with.

But I do not like

that I have to drive everywhere,
that Americans currently seem very angry and distrustful of each other,
that I don’t have floor heat,
that when I go out, the streets are empty,
that I can understand what everyone’s saying,
that we need two different cell phone chargers in this house,
that cell phone plans are so expensive and lock you in for so long,
that cell phones are junk here,

that the holidays here are about buying crap,
that I can’t buy soju at a corner store,
that health care is ridiculous here,
that most Americans don’t know where Korea is on a map,
that everything “Asian” is either Japanese or Chinese or some totally oddball Fauxsian thing,
and so on.

On top of it, Good Man has to keep a B average to keep his visa. Do you remember group projects? Do you remember how one or two people were stuck doing all of the work?

One (lazy!) professor has a group project worth 40% of their final grade (lazy!). (This is bad pedagogy, in my opinion, and I ran my opinion by a bunch of teacher friends who pointed out the same thing before I even brought it up.) Which means, as far as I can tell, that the foreign students are stuck doing the project since they’re the ones at risk of losing their status/stay if they don’t get a good grade. Good Man is often at school the nights he’s supposed to be home, or he’s at school for 11 hours on a Sunday (like today). I miss him.

And if I could go to taekwondo, that would at least give me something to do with myself in the evening, but I’ve been out of commission for three weeks and it’s at least another three!

I am, frankly, bored in this country. It’s not a matter of where I live—this area has tons of stuff to do. It’s that whenever I stepped out of my house in Korea I was immediately surrounded by foreign (to me) words, sights, smells, sounds, experiences. Passively, it was interesting. Here, when I leave my house…nothing is unique.

Taxi drivers used to ask me what I thought of Korea, why I came to Korea. I would answer, “미국에서 생활이 쉬웠으니까 재미 없었어요. 한국에서 생활이 어려우니까 재미 있어요.” In America, life was easy, so it was boring. In Korea, life is difficult, so it is interesting. And it’s just as true now that I’m back.

I also know that the most frustrating things in Korea were often the most rewarding. I know that I got homesick in Korea. I know that people will think “the grass is greener/your rice cake looks bigger than mine.” But this isn’t so much about Korea as it is America.

From a young age, I wanted to live abroad. I wasn’t sure how I would do it since nobody in my family had (other than Aunt Mel), but I knew I had to live in another country. I never felt like America would be my home forever. I always felt a bit out of place (and no, this wasn’t limited to the teenage years, when everyone felt out of place).

The thing is, I’m back here now and I feel even more out of place than I did before I left.

I felt out of place, often, in Korea. But I knew that as much as being a foreigner could be frustrating, it gave me a unique place in the culture that worked in my favor in many ways.

But it’s one thing to be out of place in a foreign country. That’s to be expected. It’s quite another thing to be out of place in what should be your “home” country.

When we lived in Korea, when people found out we were leaving together, they’d ask where we were going to live. I always understood that they expected we’d live in one place forever. That’s what many international couples seem to do. I would answer, “저는 미국에서 살고 싶지 않아요. 하지만 [굿맨] 한국에서 살고 싶지 않아요.” I don’t want to live in America. [Good Man] doesn’t want to live in Korea.

I picked Good Man up from school at 9 tonight. He got in the car and immediately asked if I was OK. I started crying and I said, ” 미국에서 영원히 살고 싶지 않아.” I don’t want to live in America forever.

He nodded and said, “나 때문이야?” Is it about me?

I shook my head and told him I was just unhappy here. He said, “I have only been here three months. I wanted to come to America for 14 years, but even then I knew I would not live here forever. We will not live here forever.”

“I know, and I don’t want to take America away from you, believe me. It’s important that we live here, it’s really important that you get a Masters here. I’m just… going through some wicked reverse culture shock.”

Foreign Is As Foreign Does

Last night Good Man said to me, “I could always tell Korean man at [University] because they dress like gay.” I laughed and he continued, “Seriously. And then they speak Korean, so I know, but do I dress just a little gay?” I shook my head and kept laughing, “And Korean woman! I always can tell because they dress Korean! Not like Chinese students.”

I had flashbacks of living in Korea and knowing immediately whether the foreigner I was talking to/spotted was American, Canadian, or from the UK.

***

“OK, hon, you need to learn how to cash a check and how to deposit it at an ATM. And you need to order checks. Monday, go to the bank and order checks! Please.”

Good Man nodded, “But I do not want to learn because it’s bullshit.”

I showed him how to do it, in any case.

***

I need to figure out why I want to continue studying Korean.

Why I Don’t Teach Lower Elementary

I had to cover someone’s morning duty so I could leave early this afternoon to go to the foot doctor re: my broken toe. My job was to watch all of the second through sixth graders in the gym with the PE teacher.

A second grade student who didn’t know my name walked up to me. “Ms! Ms…um…?” I said my name and nodded for her to continue, “He told another boy that I like him!”

Oh please. Shoot me now. “Do you?” I asked as sweetly as I could.

“No.”

“Then he’s being stupid. Go sit down.”

Her eyes turned into saucers and she gave me a “that’s it?” look and ran off.

***

So I went to the foot doctor and the foot doctor said that my fracture is actually worse than it was three weeks ago! How is that possible? I have been wearing that dumb blue orthopedic shoe constantly!

He called for another three weeks off of taekwondo and on the shoe.

Six weeks without taekwondo. Sigh. And it’s not even like I can substitute exercise here. I’m stretching and doing pushups (from the knees) and situps, but I can’t jump rope, I can’t walk to work… Arg!

***

So my new favorite Korean song is 브라운아이즈’s 가지마 가지마 (Brown Eye’s “Don’t Go Don’t Go”). Note, this is not the official video, because the official video has some weird donkey fetishization in it.

I can’t stop singing, “가지마~ 가지마~ 가지마~!” Kajima, kajima, kajima!