I was well impressed with myself today. There was fuck all English at the school -- absolutely not one solitary soul who wanted to own up to it if they spoke any English at all. But it didn't matter. I understood every word every person spoke to me all day long. Of course, it was different when they weren't speaking slow idiot Korean at lunch with each other, but even then I was able to pick up far more than ever before. I even almost got a funny story one PE teacher was telling -- something about finding a student outside with a swollen face, or one boy punched another boy in the face.... something about their names and realizing they were brothers. Okay. I didn't actually catch the funny part. But I'm getting there. Slowly, but surely.
I really like the one married PE teacher. He's massive, and really shy for some reason, but he gives this big goofy ear-to-ear smile every time he goes to talk to me. He sent one of the students (who were in, running up and down the halls doing their Arnie from Gilbert Grape screams super early this morning) to get kimbap and ramyeon for us both, and when we sat down to eat together, I tried a little Korean out on him, since we were alone in the office. He didn't laugh one single time, although the look on his face when I just suddenly started speaking Korean was pretty priceless. "Deh?!" He answered me slowly and simply, every time. Good man. He's got possibly the cutest baby in the entire world.
One of my favorite classes were in to clean today. I waved to one of them from down the hall, and he gave an extremely exaggerated, deep bow with a very serious face in response.
A whole group of them saw me go into the bathroom and were crowded around the door waiting to talk to me when I came out. They wanted to tell me that they were sad because they had to come in to clean. Which was much nicer than when a less-lovely herd from another class ran down the sidewalk to catch up with me yesterday on my walk home and shout something about, "Sekshi USA!" Guys. Brush up on the English a little bit, and try again.
The other teachers always get a kick out of watching me interact with the students -- I'm not sure why. A whole group of them were supposed to be cleaning the far side of the office (where my desk is) this morning while I was finishing my kimbap, and I noticed that suddenly they were suspiciously quiet. I stood up and craned my neck to see over the cubicle walls. They were all leaned over something on my desk, whispering to each other -- I assume it was my Korean book.
Their little bespectacled faces snapped up.
"What are you doing?"
"Oh! Sorry Teacher!"
"Get away from there!"
"Yes, sorry Teacher!"
This was uproariously funny to the other four teachers in the office. Which I sort of understand, because for some reason, hearing them yell at the boys in Korean is funnier than if I heard it in English -- I think because the tone is the exact same, and you basically understand exactly what's being said, even if you don't understand a word of it.
I like the married PE teacher because he seems to find the boys' nonsense just as amusing as I do -- he seems to always be telling one story or another about something he found one of them doing. And last week I saw him pull a student aside to laughingly question him on why the hell his pants were so small. I appreciate other people who find humor in everyday absurdity, as I do. And there is a ton of it to be found, as a boys' school teacher.
Well. The rest of the day wasn't so exciting. Reviewing the Korean I learned last week, and now starting to try to memorize more vocabulary, because it's far more useful, at this point, to have a few verbs on hand, than it is to fully understand correct grammar. But the good news is, the PE teacher seemed to catch on that I was freezing my ass off, and closed all the windows and doors, so it was nice and warm in the office today, which made studying Korean much more bearable.
Now, to get back to it. I do wonder if I'm going at this too intensely at the moment, and if most of this will end up in my short term memory for a while, before disappearing completely. The rewards, on a daily basis, though, of studying as hard as I have been for the last week or so, are too great to be overlooked. My motivation grows every day.
As Mike put it this weekend, while we were out having coffee after going to the bookstore, and both in a sort of Sunday afternoon listless kind of mood, we won't ever fully figure into things here. We'll always be foreigners, as he said, even if we speak fluent Korean, even if we marry Koreans -- we will still be outsiders, to some extent. But. The growth in my inclusion that I have felt just having put in the little effort I have has definitely made it worthwhile -- both in the sense that I can understand more of what's going on around me, and even the Korean I don't understand feels less isolating, now that I'm paying closer attention and at least trying to understand, and in the sense that my coworkers seem to shift their perspective of me and my place among them entirely once they realize I am at least trying. I'm less invisible to them, once they realize that I am trying to be visible, to be able to participate. And they are more willing to go out on a limb and speak whatever English they can, in response.
It's a win-win situation. So I hope that I can keep my focus. And I also hope I can stop being so fucking shy about actually making use of what I'm learning, to communicate myself as well as being able to understand.