Friday, October 23, 2009

Unfortunately, there is no internet in my home now, so my posts will probably be more infrequent. I'm in a cafe now with my boyfriend, an iced cafe mocha, and a chocolate mousse cake. My taste buds are so happy!

I have yet to take pictures of the apartment I now share with my boyfriend and his mother, but I will eventually. It keeps slipping my mind. Anyway, we're very comfortable, although the language barrier makes me very shy around his mother. It's also the cause of many laughs. For instance, we were talking about how people stare at me all the time in Korea, especially here in the countryside city of Andong, and she asked if people will stare at my boyfriend when we go to America. I explained, "미국에서는 외계인이 많잖아요" which means "As you know, [unlike in Korea] in America, there are many aliens." The word "외계인" (wae-gae-een; alien) sounds like the word "외국인" (wae-goog-een; foreigner) to me, so sometimes I make that mistake. So, rather than assuring her that her son would blend in in America much better than I do in Korea, I assured her of the common knowledge that there is an ongoing extra-terrestrial invasion in my home country. Mostly, I just listen, nod, and look confused most of the time. My boyfriend's translation skills are rapidly improving, as I'm sure mine will in America.

Speaking of translation skills, as I mentioned before, my father came to Korea on a business trip a while ago. My boyfriend and I took the subway in Seoul to the express bus terminal, from which we took a bus to Andong. Once we arrived with all of my earthly belongings in tow, we rested a while and then left for Ulsan late at night. We arrived in the wee hours of the morning, and my friend 성동 (Sungdong) picked us up from the train station and took us to our friend Reza's house. We all talked for a while, then 성동 (Sungdong) went home, Reza made up a bed of blankets on the floor for my boyfriend and I, and we all slept. In the (later) morning, we woke up and Reza walked us to the bus station and gave us directions to my father's hotel.

Walking with my so very American father and my so very Korean boyfriend in Korea was... strange for sure. Not bad, just really, really, somehow intrinsically wrong. It would be even stranger if we were in France, I suppose, and then I would have a lot more translating to do because I'm the only one of the three of us who knows French. I'm sure there are a hundred million ways it could have been stranger, but I can't explain how odd it felt. As I expected, it was a jumbled collision of two worlds. It was so strange to hear my father trying to say Korean words and sounding so American, whereas in the past seven months I have begun to forget that I'm not Korean. It was so strange to have a melt-in-your-mouth filet mignon at Outback Steakhouse for lunch, speaking almost exclusively English with a person I've known my entire life in America, then stepping outside to be reminded that no, this is not America, this is Korea. It was strange to be so excited that my father had brought me American deodorant (I have yet to find deodorant in Korea I don't have to re-apply 5 times a day) and s'mores ingredients, whereas a year ago those things were just everyday items.

Now I have to sidetrack about s'mores. When we brought the marshmallows, Hershey's chocolate, and graham crackers back to Andong and shared them with my boyfriend's mother, she asked if they were expensive. I laughed, then realized that this simple food I think of as a cheap, fun part of a normal summer or autumn was a novelty to my boyfriend and his mother. Actually, my boyfriend loves s'mores, and his mother likes them, but his little brother hates them. I never imagined someone not liking s'mores, except one of my best friends, Anna, who abhors chocolate. Still, I'm sure she likes marshmallows and graham crackers. There was so much ado about s'mores in the apartment, it made me understand how I'm perceived here sometimes. In Ulsan, we walked by a cart/booth/kiosk (very common in Korea) where a man was selling fish. But it wasn't fish- it was bread shaped like fish. I was thinking, "it's shaped like a fish, so it must be fish-flavored." I've never been a fan of fish, so I was very reluctant to try it until I was informed that it had nothing to do with seafood. My dad bought one for each of us, and as soon as I bit into it apprehensively, I was elated. It was delicious! Hot, soft, sweet bread with soft red (sweet) beans inside. I love soft food, and I love sweet flavors. It was absolutely savory, and even as I'm writing this now, I'm craving another. And how clever- bread shaped like a fish! I've seen ice cream shaped like a fish, but that was the first fish-shaped bread I tasted. My boyfriend was so amused. That food is a traditional autumn food in Korea, and each one costs 1000 won, which with the exchange rate the way it is is less than $1. It's just like s'mores for my boyfriend and his mother.

After lunch in Ulsan, we walked around, alternating tour-guide roles. My father has been to Ulsan maybe five times now on business trips, and always stays in the same hotel. Like me, he's an explorer, taking the first opportunity in a new place to walk around and get the lay of the land, so he knew a bit about the area. My boyfriend is Korean, as you all know by know, so he knows more about Korea than my father and I do, and is obviously fluent in Korean. I'm between worlds; at this point I know a lot about Korea (not nearly half, I'm sure, but a lot), and I have an American perspective, so I knew what things about Korea would be the most novel for my father, and could draw interesting similarities and contrasts between cultures, much like I try to do here in my blog.

In terms of language, my boyfriend can understand the gist of English conversation better than I can understand Korean conversation, because his English vocabulary is larger than my Korean vocabulary. But, I still had to do some translating. However, as I just mentioned, my Korean vocabulary is somewhat lacking. So what I did was translate from English to couple-ish. That's my new name for the English, Korean, Konglish (Korean directly translated into English), and Youngeul (my name for the reverse of Konglish) that my boyfriend and I mix together into our own language. My boyfriend does the same (Korean -> couple-ish) for me when we talk to Koreans or watch TV.

Speaking Korean, around my father was really strange. When I left America, I had one semester of Korean class behind me, so I could read and write and say simple present-tense sentences. Now I'm using more complicated grammar structures by habit, and my vocabulary of everyday words has expanded to an almost fluent level. So, to the untrained ear, it can sound like I'm fluent in Korean even though I sound like a child to Koreans. Where I'm going with this is that Here I am in Korea, chatting away in Korean with my Korean boyfriend and then shifting to English with my American father in America-wait no- still in Korea!

Anyway, I have a lot of things to take care of, so I will write more later, as always. I hope this satisfied curiosity for a while. :)


  1. Awww Kristin. You're so adorable. That bread shaped like fish sounds so delicious. I want some. lol. That's so cool that you're Dad came to visit. I know the feeling of translating between 2 people and it's kinda crazy.

    I'm coming home(rochester)over Christmas so we much hang out!!

    Erika B!

  2. OMG Kristin this summer I discovered something incredible: smoores with peanut butter!! Because marshmellows and graham crackers are super bland, but add peanut butter, and BAM awesome. Just in case you ever wanted to try.

    Anyway I'm glad things are going well & that you're having a great, fun adventure! etc etc <3 Anna