Thursday, April 19, 2012

Furthest Reaches - Friends and Foreigners, Hagwons and Hangul

As I quickly approach the two month mark of my adventures in Korea, I finally feel settled in. I understand what is expected of me at work and how to go about doing it. My tiny apartment is no longer a strange room, but a welcoming home after a long day. And with a growing ease at communication, ability to get groceries and the bare necessities, I have finally begun to venture out into this new country of mine.
Pyeongnae, the city in which I live, is a nice little city. But it is lacking in some basic entertainments. Which is perfectly fine. The week is filled with work, food and daily chores. But as the week ends and the weekend is upon me, I bask in the joy of new adventures and undiscovered places. Living simply during the week also allows for a bit more extravagance on these weekly trips. Be they into Seoul or off to a near by mountain for an afternoon hike.
It's not to say there aren't things to do near by, as any city should have, it does contain the required movie theatres, bowling alleys, singing rooms and a plethora of restaurants. But when Saturday rolls around, I am ready with camera in hand to hop on that train.
It has certainly helped to make friends here. A coworker of mine, a local, has become quite a friend to me and Megan. He has been more help than I could ever imagine. From teaching us Korean phrases to help us get by, taking us furniture shopping (borrowing his mother's car), or even just taking us to the bank to figure out how to set up accounts and pay bills (a much easier task when you can actually speak the language). Before this year is out, whether I stay or go, I will certainly be indebted to him.
Foreigners can survive quite easily here without knowing the language. It doesn't push you to learn it as quickly as in other places where speaking to another person is a matter of survival. And to be honest foreigners are treated rather well. We are often a novelty and something to be stared at, but we are treated well none-the-less.
In Korea there exists this concept called "service". Often it involves a patron of some establishment wishing to please you in what means they can. This is more often than not seen in free items. Whether you go into a restaurant and get twice what you ordered for no additional charge, free soup, or in Megan's case even a free pair of stockings from a boutique. At a bar near my work, this hilarious and wonderfully pleasant old man loves to give me free beers. He will sit and chat with us, using some of the better English I have heard from older generations. He will provide the best beer he has in his bar, sometimes even the stuff he doesn't usually sell to customers (as they want the inexpensive stuff). Though this often leads to imbibing a bit too much, when it comes time to pay the bill, the table filled with empty bottles is mysteriously absent from the check. I think the most wonderful thing about all of this is that they do not do it to get more money (there is no tipping here), they merely want you to be satisfied with your experience there. Now this isn't solely a foreigner thing, as loyal Korean customers or those of higher class are often rewarded in the same way. But it isn't something you usually expect in the treatment of strangers, especially ones who can't communicate with you, or at times inadvertently come off as rude. I have always thought that living a life in servitude of others is an admirable trait, not something to overcome. So I have been amazingly impressed with the people here.
For a country so different from the past two I have lived in, it is surprisingly easy to be comfortable here.

1 comment:

Christi Powers said...

Though it may be a cultural bend, it is still a personal choice to live graciously and generously. Grace always costs. Being willing to value another enough to pay that cost is about a person's heart. You too have a servant's heart. I have long admired that about you. I know this experience will deepen this gracious attribute in you.

Post a Comment