Last Saturday, on my way to the cigar shop, I made the mistake of not following one of my goat paths and took an alternate route. (It always LOOKS simple on the subway map!) Stupid me – how could an extending arm (picture an upside down capitol letter ‘Q’) of the green line (the one line that is a loop around the center of Seoul) possibly be simpler?
At the terminus/beginning (what have-you) of the line, both sides of the subway tracks had the same signage so I didn’t know which side to wait at. I figured that since it wasn’t a loop and there was no way for a train to turn around, that maybe both sides just went back and forth like the mono-rail did in Seattle. So by just missing one train on one side, I elected to move to the other side and wait for another train. (I turned out to be wrong, btw)
While there, another foreigner chatted me up/hit me up. I’ll try and replicate the conversation, using A and B:
A: [insert Korean here]
B. I’m sorry, I don’t speak Korean.
A. Where are you from?
A. But you look Korean.
B. [here it comes] I am Korean.
B. I’m adopted.
A. Oh, so you were adopted to the United States and your parents are white?
A. So are your parents here?
A. Where are your parents? In the States?
B. No. They’re dead.
A. So what are you doing here?
B. Teaching English, what else…
A. Why don’t you speak Korean!!!
B. Because I was raised in the United States. [I can’t believe I’m getting admonished by this foreign (Indian? Arab?) man for not learning Korean. It’s bad enough when Koreans do this to me.]
A. So you should learn!!!
B. It’s not easy.
A. Sure it is! I”m Pakistani and I speak Korean better than English!
B. [here it comes]
A. Why, all you have to do is talk to some people at the market!
B. People don’t talk to me in Korean. I’m an English teacher. They only speak to me in English. As soon as they hear me speaking English, there is only English or no conversation.
A. People talk to me all the time!
B. That’s because you don’t look like you can speak English. That’s because you don’t look Korean but fail being Korean. They expect to have to train you. They expect me to know it.
A. If you just tried harder, you’d pick it up like I have.
B. And how long have you lived here?
A. Five years.
B. And how long before you could speak?
A. A few years.
B. I’ve been here a year and a half. Gimmie a break.
A. So where is your husband?
B. I’m divorced.
A. So you are single?
A. So you are here by yourself?!
A. Where do you live?
B. You sure ask a lot of questions. [I have never understood why ANYONE would ask a girl where she lives, but all wanna be players seem to do this]
A. Does it make you angry?
B. [Yeah, asshole, it makes me angry] It’s too familiar for my taste.
A. Would you like to go on a date?
B. I’m very busy right now. [like I’d date an insensitive jerk like you]
A. You’re very beautiful.
A. Do you have kids?
B. They are in college.
A. Would you mind meeting me some time? Where are you going?
B. As I said, I’m very busy.
A. I’d like to practice my English with someone.
B. [now that I’m obviously too old to date, at least he can try and get free English lessons] I’m not interested in helping you with your English. That’s my job all day. Have a nice day.
Now, except for the him being Pakistani part and being asked for a date, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation before. Slap me on the face about my Korean and then try and exploit me for English. Seriously. Not an isolated event.
I can’t tell you how irritating it is to get admonished for not speaking Korean all the time! And it’s usually people who have had the luxury of classes who were enrolled in one program or another. Or, it is a Korean who can barely speak English who has been studying for about 8 years. Or, in this case someone brown who comes without expectations of English or Korean…
I am here and forced to self study. With NO ONE willing to speak to me in Korean or give me two minutes. I can’t even reach classes in time if I wanted to because they aren’t offered and the commute to Seoul is too long. I have given up for the time being, because IT’S POINTLESS. The vacuum is so huge there’s only time wasted and nothing gained.
And if it weren’t such a horrible scenario to be in, I still wouldn’t be learning this language on the outside chance my mom, one of 48.6 million, (yeah, I just googled the population stats) saw two minutes of something on t.v. out of about 100 t.v. channels and then decides to step forward. Because this adoptee has learned well to manage her expectations and not hope for something with such bad odds. Besides which, I only want to meet the woman. I don’t know how much of a relationship would be possible or desirable. Only after meeting would taking this language seriously be something I’d entertain.
In the meantime, my only interest in this language is the same as for any other language – and that is rather academic – that other languages are structurally interesting and culturally revealing. All I want is survival Korean so I’m not so freaking uncomfortable here. Compound all of the above with it being a difficult language and totally foreign, lacking any cognates or any root structure that is evident in all the other languages I’ve tried my hand at with moderate success and little effort.
Tonight there’s a lecture on the mental health of adoptees. Whereas it’s a fascinating topic of study, I’m really not interested in it personally. But I did hear before hand that language acquisition is included, and that adoptees actually do seem to have a steel plate in their heads when it comes to Korean. I actually have too much work to do and shouldn’t go or be writing now, even, but it’s on my mind.
I know for me there is something akin to rage when I see other foreigners speaking Korean. Because I spoke when I came to America. So whatever it was that allowed thought and representation to be expressed in my native tongue was killed then. Call this melodrama if you want, but emotionally it’s very real, and I believe it’s handicapping my ability to retain anything. I see other adoptees picking up the language too, but again they have more privileges and better circumstances than I and they were also pre-verbal when they were adopted. I also know that my adoptee friend who was NINE lost sooooo much more than I ever did, and she too has a steel plate in her head and she, too, must self-study in a vacuum, and each and every misunderstood word is like a dagger to her heart because she once owned it.
So, dear readers, and please don’t be offended, but maybe could everyone please indulge me and not hit that button? (also Mei Ling, I know you’re investigating or being supportive, but even your comments about language add to my language pressure) Ask me about adoption. Ask me about incest. Ask me about abuse. Ask me about just about anything you want, but this language thing makes me FEEL VIOLENT.