I’m back from Korea. In case you were wondering, I’m also front from Korea. Wakka wakka! 6 months of listening to broken English hasn’t robbed me of my love for a ridiculous pun …
6 months here in Japan – I quietly celebrated my 6 month anniversary of moving to Japan about 2 weeks ago. By “quietly celebrated,” I mean I simply noted the date in my head. Taking my trip to Korea inspired me to celebrate it a little more loudly, by which I mean actively noting differences in my life since I arrived. For example, I arrived on January 8th after an absolutely miserable 13-hour flight spent suffering from a raging flu. The trip from airport to meeting point was made even worse by the fact that I was saddled with two enormous and heavy suitcases. Aching, tired, anxious, sniffling and completely disoriented, I tried to make sense of the airport and find the train terminal. I lugged my bags up and down escalators, made several false turns, attempted to ask airport staff “Where are train tickets?” and discovered to my great dismay that my 2 months of Japanese study had done nothing to help me understand anything that was said to me.
I left for Korea on July 15 and, upon disembarking from the train station with my light carry on, was hit with a sense of recollection and nostalgia. Why, this was the same train station I’d left from 6 months before. There were the signs that had made no sense; there were the ticket booths that I stared at for 5 minutes before finally picking the one that looked closest to what my school had instructed me to use.
On July 15, I knew where to go. This sign said, “International departures” and this other sign said “No. 1 Travel Agency Meeting Point.” I spoke to the travel agent in simple Japanese – “here you go! thank you!” – and browsed the gift shops before boarding the shuttle to reach my flight’s gate.
Once on the plane, I immediately sensed the stirrings of Korean sensibilities. The flight attendants had replaced the now-familiar and comforting “arigatou” with “kamsamhamnida” and I felt a brief panic – in Korea, I would be at square one again, wouldn’t I?
After 6 months in Japan I have managed to learn enough Japanese to make various wants and needs known. I can now also understand when others have certain wants and needs. I can express disappointment, delight, boredom, sleepiness and hunger and can tell someone to stop doing something I don’t want them to do, or, conversely, to please do something. I can suggest activities, I can talk in the past and in the future and can read at least a little bit of most advertisements or signs I see. On the airplane to Busan, my Korean vocabulary consisted of “thank you,” “please give me,” “hello!” “where is …?” certain names of delicious foods and various mild swears – things I learned from Erma and our college roommate, Songhae. Fidgeting on the plane amid Asians who weren’t speaking the way I’m accustomed to hearing them speak, I wasn’t quite sure if I was ready to feel so lost again.
Three days later, my Korean vocabulary included “I don’t know,” “a little,” “over here, please,” “fast, fast – no!,” “yes” and the knowledge that “yoboseyo” is how people say “hello” when answering the phone. I had a little opportunity to use these new phrases plus my old ones but, as I soon discovered, Korea is far more English-speaker-friendly than Osaka. There was English writing all over the buildings and to my shock, it was fairly simple to find service staff who spoke English – cab drivers being a notable exception but as cab rides are so unbelievably cheap compared to Japan, this issue was completely forgiven. Square one at some moments, sure, but since I was on vacation my vacation Korean was perfectly suitable and I needn’t have worried – I’ll save my energy for trying to decipher kanji in instruction booklets that have no English translation, thanks (I’m talking to you, Brita filter!!). Anti-foreigner sentiment might be far more out in the open in Korea than it is in Japan, but they sure seem to be more eager to help us make sense of their country.
Pepper was the ultimate hostess – in 3 days she and her lovely friends showed me an amusement park, a beach, a foreigners-only casino (my first time gambling yielded $15!!), two cities, mountains, shopping and lakes, not to mention previously unexplored culinary wonders. It is not an exaggeration to say that we crammed 6 days’ worth of glorious food into 3. Wonderful, too, was being exposed to feminine energy for the first time in 6 months – the friends I’ve made in Osaka are all male.
There was also a recurring theme throughout the Korea trip – a hunt for poo socks.
Let me introduce you to poo socks. The Koreans call them “ddong socksuh” and the Japanese might call them Crayon Shin-Chan socks (or Crayon Shin-Chan no kutsushita, if we’re being technical). Crayon Shin-Chan is a cartoon character drawn by a Yoshito Usui, Japanese artist. The character is 5 years old and, like any 5 year old, loves taking off his pants and worshiping poo.
Pepper and her friends told me about “poo” socks and at first I didn’t believe her but then she showed me the pairs she has bought – Crayon Shin-Chan hugging a mound of poo, Crayon Shin-Chan shaking his naked bottom, Crayon Shin-Chan lying on his back with a censored blurb covering his exposed privates. Instantly, I wanted my own! And thus, the Hunt for Poo Socks began. Pepper and I found Crayon Shin-Chan socks pretty easily and I bought a couple of pairs, but, regrettably, through our search we found none featuring his relationship with poo. In between calbee-eating and exploring, we carried out the hunt for poo socks for about two days before finally giving up. Pepper very kindly gave me one of the pairs she bought for herself. And now, happily, I have poo socks of my very own.
I can see all of you sick with envy!
An interesting note – Crayon Shin-Chan is big in Korea but the Koreans are quick to tell you that he’s a Japanese creation. My internet research proved that Crayon Shin-Chan is in fact a Japanese invention but I have never seen any Crayon Shin-Chan merchandise and certainly not any socks emblazoned with embroidered poo.
I’m not sure where I’ll wear them – most likely in the comfort of my own roasting 10×8 apartment. I have entertained the thought of wearing them to my kids’ classes. Yesterday, I made clay animals with the 3 year olds and two of them decided to make “unchi (poo)” and “kuso (sh*t)” instead, so I’m guessing wearing them to class would be well-received. Yet, I somehow doubt the staff members will be so welcoming.
A few more Korea shots:
Colorful Daegu, as seen from Pepper’s rooftop
The beginnings of something wonderful ….
Bo kim bop – Fried rice. Kimchee. Cheese. Heaven!
A beautiful lake in Pepper’s town
Pepper’s calbee dinner
Burn, baby, burn …
From outside Hyaeundae Aquarium – no trip is ever complete without a random picture of a mermaid.
3 beautiful days to recharge, reconnect, and experience more of this crazy continent I’ve chosen to call “home” for the next 8 months or so. Kamsahamnida, Pepper! I boarded the plane, groggy and still full from the enormous calbee birthday dinner eaten 8 hours before. I landed back “home” in Japan about an hour later and, upon entering the airport, realized I felt relieved to hear Japanese around me.
Because it felt familiar.