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Monday, May 11, 2015

There's This Guy...

Last week was Maxine's spring vacation.  She was the only one in the family on vacation, though I had Wednesday off for my university's sports day and Friday off for Labor Day, as well as not having to teach at Maxine's school.  On paper that translates into six extra free hours for the week, but with Maxine around they weren't that free.

Horyon is concerned that Maxine should be entertained, or at least somewhat looked after, during her vacation.  So she gave Maxine permission to go across town to have a sleepover with two sisters in her school, Hyunbin (in 4th grade like Maxine) and Hyunjung (in 3rd grade, a year younger than Maxine).  Horyon thought that I would just take Maxine there, and leave her, not understanding exactly how paranoid I am about some aspects of her well being.

The sisters have been at our school since March, with their father, Ji Chan-geun, teaching science part time and doing some other work at the school, in addition to running his own organic produce store.  I met him in February at a parent teacher weekend sleepover thing.  He came late, but we got to talk some.  Most of our conversation was alcohol enhanced, and seriously aided by another parent who speaks a bit of English.  I've talked to him a few times since then, but there is no easy connection between us, so I don't really know him very well.

Changeun is a very friendly guy, and a bit eccentric.  He was a high school science teacher, but he wasn't happy with it, so he quit to start up this organic grocery store.
Okay, this looks legit.
From the outside it actually looks like a standard little Korean produce store, with machinery and stuff that your average American would not consider leaving outside just sitting around outside.  When we left, the daughter closed the gates on two of the three sides, but didn't lock anything.  You gotta love Korea.
Wow.  Not exactly standard...
But inside it seemed kind of... empty.  The shelves were about 10% full, not a lot of stuff to buy.

But the store doesn't matter.  What matters is that I spent the night at their home.  The kids had a great time, and Changeun and I drank beer and chatted for a couple of hours.

In my time here, I have spent more than a few evenings chatting with Koreans while drinking, usually in a mix of Korean and English.  Changeun studied physics using English text books and everyone agrees that he is a smart guy, but he is my language nemesis; he speaks far less English than I can speak Korean, and he speaks Korean in a way that I have great difficulty in understanding.  Actually I am understating the situation: I struggle to follow even his most basic ideas, and rarely catch a single word he says.

I've lived in this country for 14 years, and my four years in the States were not without some exposure to the Korean language.  On the TDFS (Taxi Driver Fluency Scale, a measure of how long you can chat with a taxi driver before becoming the village idiot) I usually rate 10 to 15 minutes.  Longer if the driver is chatty, shorter if he is a turd on a stick.

My Korean is not excellent, but I can make myself be understood most of the time.  But with this guy, Changeun, I'm not even sure if he understands me.  I say something in Korean or English, and the response may or may not be connected to what I just said.  I have no idea.  He might as well be just reading from a newspaper or dictionary for all I can tell.

My first thought was accent.  My first year  in Nepal I lived in the far East.  During my second year I helped with a training in the far West, hosted by Cathy Beahn (she's so mean).  When I first arrived, I thought that the Nepali people were speaking some other language, because I couldn't understand them.  This was not an unreasonable guess, as there are around 100 mother languages spoken in Nepal.  But they could understand me, even speaking my American accented Nepali.  I kept trying, and three days later something clicked.  Suddenly I understood as well as I did in the East, or in Kathmandu.

Horyon shot down this idea.  She told me that he just doesn't speak clearly, and uses unusual vocabulary.  I trust her, because her Korean is really, really good.

I don't spend that much time talking with Changeun, so it will surely take more than three days for my brain to latch on to his speaking style.  And the grey matter I'm carting around in this skull is not quite as sharp is it was 20 years ago.  I just need to anticipate how good it will feel when I finally do understand him, and not give up.

Some other good stuff happened that week.  Changeun's wife is a school teacher, so she was at work that week.  Their daughters just hang out when their parents aren't home.  They play in the neighborhood or in the house, get food from... wherever, and do the free range child thing that Americans seem determined to stamp out.  Maxine spent the next day with them, and Horyon picked her up that evening.  Then the girls came and stayed at our home a couple of days later.  We don't have extra bedding, so they slept in Quinten's bed, Quinten slept with Horyon in our bed, and I spent the most quiet, restful night at my in-laws, in their spare bedroom.

I think it was a pretty good week for Maxine.  Of course she caught a cold at the end of it.  I think she is allergic to vacations.  She had to miss the first day back at school the next week, and didn't get to do anything really fun for Children's day that Tuesday.  But hey, she got a Disney's Frozen Lego Set (not to be confused with a frozen Lego set), and Quinten got an Avengers Lego set, so it was still a happy day in our home.

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A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.