[life in korea, christmas 2004]

Topic: Korea

Here’s a note from Graeme, my friend and former colleague in Korea:

Greetings all,

Just a short note to let you know that I’m alive and well in Anyang.

My new school is pretty good, the boss doesn’t cause me too much stress and my two co-workers, while quiet, are reasonably communicative and helpful. Most of my classes have around six students, most of whom are well behaved and have good English. Of course there is the odd need for behavior modification … I had a middle school kid mutter “son of a bitch” at me in Korean … but even he has been fine since he stopped crying. (Don’t worry, no violence, only intimidation.)

I’ve been pretty lazy since my vacation as far as studying Korean and getting fit go … my two erstwhile goals. I actually went to my first Korean language class on Saturday. The shoe certainly was on the other foot, with my imploringly shaking my head at the teacher, begging that she not ask me questions. Despite my fear, it appears that I have picked up a surprising amount of the language through osmosis. I know what you are thinking … he should be fluent, but remember everyone I meet wants to speak English. Oh, and I am dumb and lazy. [This is false. -Ed.]

I continue to have a pretty quiet life. Most Fridays I have dinner and a couple (read 15) of beers with some mates. Saturday we generally watch a football game at night and Sunday I usually spend window shopping or reading. I haven’t been walking in the hills so much since my dog was abducted and forced to live in Japan.

Next weekend we are going to Busan to watch the international friendly Korea v Germany. I mentioned this to a woman I had lunch with on Sunday.

The conversation sort of went:

G: “I’m going to Busan with my friends next weekend so I can’t see you next Sunday.”
Her: “What are you going to do?”
G: “We are going to see Korea-Germany.”

A look of horror, surprise and revulsion appears on her face. She has pretty good English, but the idiomatic deletion of “soccer game” made her hear it slightly differently; especially with the difficulty over “r” and “l”, “Germany” can sound like the Korean word for “young men”.

Thus my innocent news was translated in her mind to “Me and my mates are going to a sleazy port city to see young Korean boys.”

Luckily we were able to clear that one up.

The Korean economy continues to be talked down by everyone. The locals fear that their rising currency will have the same effect as it did on Japan 20 years ago when it caused mass relocation of factories and two decades of recession. That combined with the rise of China and people really fear for the future. Despite that, things are pretty good for foreigners … especially since most imported things we buy are priced in terms of the US dollar.

I know I’m not a bookseller anymore, but I’d like to recommend my reads of the year … it’s a nostalgia thing, humor me. In no particular order:

1. “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis … don’t worry, it’s not really about baseball … anyone interested in human behavior will love it.

2. “Travels with a Tangerine” by Tim MacKintosh-Smith … a pom following in the footsteps of Ibn Battuta.

3. “Land of the Living” by Nicci French … the scariest book you will ever read … a young woman wakes up to find she is blind-folded and tied to a bench in basement … where her captor only talks to tell her about the previous women he has killed.

4. “The Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” by Alexander McCall Smith. Simply lovely and sweet.

5. “Korea and Her Neighbors” by Isabella Bird … it may have been written in the 1890s but it’s still the best insight to life here.

Of course Dick Scott’s autobiography should be on the list, but you can’t get it here!!

I hope you all have a great Christmas. If anyone is in Mt. Eden and would like to have dinner and a beer on January 15 can you let me know!