So living where we do certainly has some peculiarities. We are the only foreigners in our area and our only friends (so far) live in other towns which require a considerable amount of travel. We’re a total novelty where we live which means a number of things:
(1) No one else speaks English (except if we happen to run into H-J’s students in the street);
(2) Very old people, for some inexplicable reason, shy away from us to the point that they quite often won’t sit near anywhere us in public areas;
(3) Everyone stares ALL THE TIME…but
(4) Most people will not make actual eye contact or say hello…
They are learning English and want the practice on us – in which case they mutter a shy hello and then erupt into giggles;
They are drunk on soju and want to practice Engrish;
We have visited their place of work (bakery, supermarket, various local restaurants) SO many times that they realise they might have to put up with us quite regularly so may as well attempt to interact in a positive fashion.
Due to the above, it takes us about a bazillion times longer than it should to get simple tasks accomplished as we first have to try and locate where said thing/place we require is with very little assistance and where we are in location to it (see bit about no-one knowing where we are – oh, and Google maps ain’t much help either!), then we have to fumble our way through the language barrier and then sometimes we’re on our way! And other times whatever we’re trying to achieve takes a second attempt, haha. While incredibly hard and challenging, it’s mostly proving pretty fun. We’re never going to make huge inroads into Korean culture (Koreans are pretty much the textbook definition of insular!) but it’s fun trying. Admittedly a great fact about the language barrier is that we have been known to call people brats, fuckbags etc and they have no idea of what we’re saying. At least it makes US feel better! (Note: these people are mostly H-J students – this will be dealt with in an entirely different episode. Also a recipient of this sort of language is the driver of the 205 bus).
One of the positives about standing out here is the fact that we get given stuff ALL THE TIME. The folk at the bakery give us free baked goodies with our coffees every single day. When we bought plants for our apartment the lady gave us a free cactus. Students placate us with fruit and candy. A lady at a restaurant we went to once, and mimed a successful dinner order with, ran into us later in the street and gave us bananas. A lady at another restaurant we go to a bit gave us persimmons last time we went. Free soap was given when we ventured to a little shop we found that sells (fantastic!) coffee and soaps. And Dan’s favourite – the manager at the local Baskin Robbins ice-cream shop, where we have been known to go more times that we should, took an intense liking to us when we met him for the first time the other day. He explained that we make a great first impression (it might have had something to do with the fact that Dan was already on first names with the staff member there AND was ordering the biggest bucket of ice-cream they have!) and so topped up our bucket with an extra flavour for free. Hehe.
The locals here are definitely starting to thaw slightly. After solid weeks of being ignored, or even swerved around in complete avoidance in some cases, occasionally now we’re actually starting to have the odd smile returned. And in rarer cases, very, very occasionally, we’re not even the ones initiating it!
The folk at the bakery are the number one group at the moment. There’s mummy bakery, daddy bakery and two kiddy bakeries. Mum doesn’t speak any English but we’ve managed to develop a good rapport with her. She knows our coffee order when we walk in (actually, I think we’re the only people who order coffee ever!) and she has been known to pick up after Dan when he casually throws his stuff on the ground. The Dad is an interesting character – when he’s not up to his elbows in flour at the bakery, he’s often found drunk on soju around the area, or on other occasions, helping out with the volunteer police crew in the village! He has taken rather a shine to Dan and is currently trying to get him to engage in a fried chicken and soju session.
The kids are awesome – the littlest one is super cute, has great English vocabulary (not full on sentences yet but his knowledge of words is sweeet!) and is full of beans. He likes to run round us while we’re chilling on the stoop drinking coffee, pointing at things and telling us what they are in English. His older brother also has a pretty good set of words and entertains us with his shenanigans which usually involve a large of semi violent physicality (a Korean child’s favourite pastime).
Our attempts at using the language often meet with puzzled expressions but we’re finding increasingly that we can manage small transactions, especially ones that involve the purchase of food, without relying on flapping our arms like crazy loons. And we’re starting to get to know people and have them not completely freak out whenever we’re near. So life in the village is definitely starting to become more interesting….