March 4, 2000
When you are in a foreign country and you want to learn the language, you have to do things. I just do little things, though. Yesterday, I had nothing to do at the office, so I walked around, looking for a post office or mailbox, to mail my letters. I saw a convenience store behind a classroom building, just perched there behind it, on the hill, along with another small building that looked like apartments. And it had outdoor tables. I went in and just looked around at what they were selling–stationery, tea, chips, snacks, soups, noodles, banana milk, some office supplies. I said to the woman working there, “Eol ma ye yo?” (How much is it?), and she could understand just eol ma (how much). And I picked up a box that seemed to be tea, so I asked her in Korean, “Cha?” “Ne.” (Yes.) It was.
Just very small things.
Shopping at the grocery store, on the other hand, is a trip, one that I do not like. I can’t understand the food! Everything looks different. They don’t even have normal coffee. Sorry. I mean the kind I am used to.
I was waiting to have some apples weighed at the store, when a woman walked up and introduced herself as a Chinese professor at the university. She helped me, told me the woman wanted me to add one more apple, so I did. She asked where we were from. Miguk (the United States) and Chungkuk (China).
The Chinese professor was friendly and nice. She told me, then, where to pay. I knew that, though. I just didn’t know what most of the vegetables were, how to ask for meat, where to find parmesan, how to get coffee for brewing–not instant, and what lots and lots of things were.
Oh well. I can’t get everything I’d like, but I’ve got food, a roof over my head, and electricity. I’m going to live another week–and I did get delicious ginger tea, and Diet Coke! (It’s lighter than ours, but good.)
March 5, 2000
Culture shock is a kind of not finding the usual grooves to slip into, so you feel kind of unclear, ambiguous, floating, hazy.
You really can’t walk into a grocery store expecting to find everything on your list. You can bring a list, but don’t be set on it. You will find some of the things, and some things that are similar, but not exactly the same. In Korea, you can find bread easily. But sometimes it will have corn in it. I don’t care for that. Koreans seem to put corn in strange things. They love it on pizza.
Some things you won’t find. Some things will look totally different or have a higher (or lower) price than you are used to. Many things will be new to you, totally foreign. But it’s all right. You don’t have to understand everything now. You don’t even have to have everything you think you need, not really. Just make sure you have some things to eat and drink when you leave the store. And for sure, something you really like, something special for yourself, to cheer you up, even if it costs a little.
I was in a rut. And now my rut is gone! I have no ruts to walk in.
Almost every time I ask what time or how much, I can’t understand the answer. So it’s mostly an exercise. I have to remember that, an exercise, a learning experience.