I'm just feeling very frustrated about my progress with Korean. I feel like no matter what I do, I can't seem to remember essential vocabulary. And I say the same things, over and over, to clerks in convenience stores or to the manager at the guesthouse, and I'm never understood.
Gazes of incomprehension.
And people say things I should understand, and I just stare, with the thought, I should be understanding this, but I can't. I dream in Korean, sometimes, but it's always that specific type of Korean that I can't understand at all… it's just dreaming in confusing babble. So dreaming in a language isn't a guarantee of progress, after all.
At moments like this, my resolve to stay and try to learn this language wavers dangerously, and I think, oh, hell, I'll just go back to the US and do something else. I feel intimidated by the job search, depressed by my lack of progress in the language, unimpressed with my lack of diligence in the tasks that I set for myself. I'm feeling too old, insufficiently competent.
OK… so here I am, venting my despondency in this very open forum. Maybe, it's just springtime blues? Well… "아자아자!"
Yesterday I was invited by the owner of the guesthouse where I’m staying to accompany him to his older sister’s 환갑 (hwan-gap). This is a special ceremony/event that accompanies one’s 60th birthday party, which is considered quite significant. It really wasn’t that different from a 돌 (dol = child’s first birthday party, one of which I attended last year), nor was it different from a wedding or catered business party, for that matter. But it was interesting to once again be an observer at another Korean social function – not really a fly-on-the-wall, as I’m too conspicuous for that, but I don’t think anyone’s behavior is that different because I’m there, either.
I felt proud of the fact that it seemed my Korean was improving, in small ways. Still, sometimes I hate to write about feelings of improvement, not just for fear of “jinxing” my progress, but also because it makes it sound like I’m out there in the world having actual conversations, when in fact, I’m still stuttering along with occasional good sentences, a few chunks and phrases now and then, but mostly just incomprehending smiling, and barely understanding the things said around me.
Later that day, I joined an “English class” that the owner here coordinates for occasional Sundays, where some neighborhood children (the building’s owner’s son [building owner is distinct from guesthouse owner], for example) showed up and I pestered them about their likes and dislikes in English. One boy, Jun, was quite good, especially at his ability to listen to what I said and synthesize it in succinct Korean for his less-comprehending peers.
After that, Mr Choi (the guesthouse owner), took me to a traditional Chinese tea-maker’s establishment (I have no idea what better term to use for this guy’s profession). The man was some acquaintance of his who lives and runs his business a few blocks away from the guesthouse. This was a fascinating experience, and the people – the tea-makerand his wife – were quite kind. They struck me as a sort of wonderful syncretism of the very traditional Korean, mixed in with some loopy western counter-culture. They had a computer playing mp3 tracks of western music, and a wine-cabinet on one wall with all these European wines, but he was sitting at a traditional-looking tea table and doing all these elaborate things making tea, talking about 30-year fermentations and the fact that evidently (based on my face?) I needed something for my kidneys. And there was a lot of beautiful traditional pottery and furniture around.