Monday, October 1, 2007


My life is now full of people gaping openly at me as I walk down the street, turning and giggling with their friends, until the "brave" one steps forward, waves, and shouts "Hello!" I used to respond, "Hello," but I have taken to answering "Annyeong Haseyo" instead. This often results in more looks of shock, but sometimes, as in last night, a bizarre conversation in broken Korean.

Four 20-something Koreans were standing outside a norae bang (singing room--like karaoke), obviously a little tipsy and enjoying themselves. They noticed me and I had they typical "waegukin" encounter. When I answered with the Korean greeting, one of the girls started speaking at me quickly, in Korean. (Translations below are approximate--and only the things she said that I actually understood. She said other things that I don't know what they meant).

"Oh you speak Korean!"

"Korean..." I hold up my fingers with a small space between the pointer and thumb to indicate.

"A little? Ok. Are you a student?"

"No. English Teacher. Oedae Hakwon."

"Your face is very beautiful."

"Thank you."

"Are you American?"

"Yes I am American."

"Where is your house? (she had been telling me where her house was before this... but I only understood like 2 words--house and left)"

I wave my arm in the direction of my apartment. "There. Banyawol."

She then proceeded to make each of her friends come up and say hello, nice to meet you, and shake my hand (the hand shaking thing is a story for another day--since it is not a customary greeting in Korea and most don't have a clue how to do it, but like to try with foreigners).

This story may not impress you, but it is the first semi-successful conversation I've had in Korean with a total stranger from whom I was not purchasing something. My listening, if not my speaking, is improving quickly.

Sa Beom Nim had me break boards today in class. He has these plastic bricks for practicing this skill. I broke 5 and then 8. It didn't hurt (I thought it might), but I was using a fist, not a chop. He then showed off a little and broke the whole stack and then showed me some of the granite bricks he broke. Scary.

I did my first pomsae very well today the last time I tried it (like remembered all the transitions and stuff). I'm starting to feel like when I get my yellow belt, I really will have earned it (definitely wasn't feeling that way last week). This is a good thing.


  1. You've come a long way in such a short time.

    It's nice that you happened upon friendly and understanding Koreans. They seem so trusting and friendly overall from what you've posted.

    I like reading about your progress and discoveries!

  2. Actually, shaking hands is a standard greeting in Korea. However, it is seldom used by women. To show deference to the other person, it is important to use a weak grip. Using a firm grip or doing the death grip is disrespestful, especially if you are clearly younger or of "lower rank" than the other person. It is also important to not let your left hand hang loosely at your side. You should place it under your right wrist or elbow. Though their handshaking tradition is quite different from ours, it definitely is part of modern Korean culture.

  3. Sweetie, Thanks a ton!

    Gwen, You're such an awesome resource for random Korean cultural knowledge--I'm very impressed! It's good to know about the cultural norms. But then what's up with the hand shaking for like 15 minutes? I've met more than one ajosshi who won't let go. In America, it's like "one, two, three, release," but I've gotten caught in several hand shakes that go on for at least a full 30 seconds here.



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