The Language Barier, part 149.

I really, really like Mr. Lee. By the way, does anyone know why they add the L in English? I didn't realize that until I saw the name written. I assumed people saying "Mister Ee" was because of the r at the end of "mister" and how fucking hard the r/l thing is (I know because I find it impossible to make the sound of the Korean equivalent -- I always end up making a hard r or l). Anyway. It's not like the hard e sound is something we don't have in English. I'm confused. But then that's the natural state of things, these days.

Anyway, today I was waiting for Mr. K for lunch when one of his students delivered the jumbled message that, for one reason or another, I should go ahead without him. Mr. Lee came down and I passed this on -- double translation is no good, by the way. Mr. Lee was even more confused at my message than I was at the student's. But we went to lunch together. I tried to give him the easy way out by suggesting we sit at the end of a table of teachers he usually sits with, so he could speak Korean and not worry about taking the native English speaker on his own, but he said it was too cold by the door, and suggested we sit at our own table instead.

He's far more confident in English with Mr. K there, even though Mr. K rarely has to translate for him. Suddenly, he was acting bashful. I told him his English was very good, and I was just happy to have someone to talk to. He kept getting frustrated while he tried to convey more complex ideas than his English would allow. He finally just had an outburst -- threw himself backwards in his chair, and said, "Ah! I want to talk to you!" I laughed, and he said, "It's very... it's so.... aash!"


"Yes! It's very frustrating!"

"I know. This is me, everyday, with everyone."

Just then I looked over at a few of the gym teachers, including the handsome one, who were gathered at the water cooler. Mr. Lee said, "You like Korean teacher?"

I wasn't sure if he meant one in particular, or just in general, so I just laughed.

"Anyway, that is why I am studying Korean. I wish I could talk to more teachers...."

He laughed, hard, and looked over at the handsome gym teacher. "I think by next year, you will be able to talk to him."

His perceptiveness startled me. Am I that fucking obvious?

He's the first person, at work at least, who I think has really understood what it's like for me, on the level of not being able to converse with anyone on a daily basis. I've stated it to Mr. K before but I don't think it ever really sinks in.

Anyway, today is his birthday. Yesterday was his and his wife's first Christmas with their baby. He seems to be a fucking magnificent husband and father.

As we parted ways, I told him happy birthday, and added, "And thank you. Thank you very much for having lunch with me." I turned to walk up the stairs to my classroom, and he grabbed my arm.

"Uh... thank you...." He looked up at the ceiling trying for more words he couldn't find. He put his hands together in front of him and bowed, slightly. "Thank you thank you thank you."

The other English teachers, by the way, should really stop torturing the students by sending them to give me messages. Today I was in the middle of lesson planning when a sweaty first grader burst through my classroom door.


He was clutching a CD of some sort.

"Sunsengnim.... Teacher.... uh....."

His total enthusiasm in delivering whatever message he had was fucking adorable, in light of the fact that it seemed to have completely escaped his notice that he would have to give it in English.

"Uh....... uh........... uh..... English........ uh........ teacher............................."

I laughed a little. "Okay. Hold on. Who is your English teacher?"


"Sunsengnim.... English.... who?"

"Uh.... glasses!"

"Glasses? Uh.... Kim Sunsengnim? Yu Sunsengnim?"

"Uh..... uh...... bye bye!"

And he never came back.

No comments: