Posts Tagged ‘communication barriers’

i’ve had this post open and writing for about 3 weeks now. but in an honest-to-blog diary-esque sorta way, i’m all okpo factored out.

(side note: if this post does indeed turn into some sort of raging wordy rant, i’ve taken the necessary precautions and littered my words with pictures of kids, flowers, and baked goods. because these are the things that make everyone feel better. well, except maybe if you’re charlie sheen.)

(additional side note: i actually don’t really even understand my above reference to charlie sheen. i’m just attempting to convince you all that i still understand every single pop culture reference ever happening everywhere in the world. shit man, quit being so hard on me!)

i’ve heard of these bumps happening for any (and probably all) ESL teachers as it comes to the point in their contract where they are exhausted with the daily over-pronunciation of their own words and the consequential simplified downfall of their grasp of the English language (if you pay any attention to detail, notice that i capitalized the “e” in english. if only to stray away from my usual writing style to prove to myself that i still understand english. wait, i mean English. damn.)

i don’t feel like writing about okpo anymore, much less south korea in general. although the novelty of some korean nuances remain, the whole rhetoric of my day-to-day has left me certifiably, in the dumps.

in any event, it doesn’t help that this whole blog attempt has not exactly reached the intended readers.  the most popular search terms that lead people to this site include: “strips clubs in okpo,” “okpo massage parlour,” and “how to get a girl in okpo.” and now those leads are just going to spike exponentially since they are explicitly written in this post. fuck. i’m failing all over the place here.

now by no means is this some sort of indefinite hiatus.

we’re just on a break for now, okay? you can see other people (or read other blogs….whatever really makes this analogy sound wittier).

as for me?

i just really need to figure out why charlie sheen even matters.


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korean students have a tendency to be incredibly observant…. and wildly judgemental.

a stain on my shirt or a hole in my leggings is pretty much grounds for an entire class worth of distractions. if i slip up and don’t quickly divert their attention to some cleverly inventive game of hangman, the class has the tendency to become more like a vh1 roasting special than an english immersion lesson on the differences between “to take” and “to give.”

on a number of occasions, students will crowd around me like one of those french-canadian quintuplets and gawk at me as they start to create a lengthy list of my imperfections.

“teachaaa. face dot.” 

“teachaaaa. hair. why?”

“teachaaaa. teachaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. funny hands.”

they tell me that my pupils are too small, my nose is too big, or that my hair is the colour of poo. (freud would probably hypothesize that koreans identify with the anal phase of dong-shaped pastries and etiquette bells in all roadside washrooms… because apparently, when you are in rural countryside korea and using a squatting toilet to do your business while you dodge an overflowing trashbin of used toilet paper, the LAST  thing you would want is for someone to hear you doing your business in a squatting toilet in rural countryside korea while you dodge an overflowing trashbin of used toilet paper.)

ANYWAYS, these kids are relentless.

the only thing that i should be an expert in, my english skills, are even the subject of constant mockery.  

“hahaha. teachaaa said ‘clock.’ hahaha teachaaaa. so crazy!”

it’s no wonder i am extremely self-conscious and try to advert all eye contact or any interaction at all during classtime. i even find myself getting slightly anxious as i walk the hallways to class. knowing full well that a grueling judges panel of third graders awaits me on the other side. they don’t know the difference between ‘twelve’ and ‘twenty’ but they are practically experts on why my choice of t-shirt just doesn’t make the cut.

and in the end, i am only perpetuating these tyra banks-like criticisms. because as it goes, there is a direct positive correlation between their judgemental observations and their ever-improving english level.

as their english skills advance… the insults get worse.

last week, some kid in one of those gifted accelerated program, wrote a letter to thank the teachers for doing such a bang-up job of cramming a year’s worth of english vocab into the span of three days. as we all crowded around the letter to anticipate another ego-stroke, it was clear ms. banks (the prepubescent korean version, of course) felt the need to uphold her duties as unyielding critic. 

after complimenting the pretty korean teachers and the entertaining foreigners, she ended the letter by explaining that she was so shocked and “surprise to hear that even the canadian teachers had good accents.”


unlike other posts, i don’t have a witty summarizing line to end this rant.

i feel phonetically deflated.

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between passing out on christmas eve while still wearing my toque and mittens and waking up on christmas morning in a hot mess of sweaty hands and a matted scalp, i developed some sort of serious business with my right eye.

it looked like i had stuck a q-tip under my eyelid, went digging for a bit, and then thought it would be a good idea to just you know, sleep on it.

pictures overstep personal boundaries. but the drawing is realistic enough.

now when it comes to any sort of ailment… i’m a self-proclaimed internet diagnoser. there’s probably even some correlation between the invention of google and my frequency in visiting the doctor. 

doctors make me feel careless. i just know they judge me when i tell them how i think i might have broken my elbow while running with a hot pizza. but empathetic google does not lower its glasses to me. instead, dr. google is always reassuring me that things will be okay. and if they aren’t… i just use different search terms. 

on top of that, google’s batting about a 90% accuracy rate with me right now (save for the time they told me i had bed bugs. that diagnosis ended with me hysterically piling everything i owned into three large garbage bags. but because i didn’t know what to do next,  i just kinda lived out of those bags for the next two weeks. it was a nice and compact style of living and in the end, my prescription was just a change in laundry detergent.)

so through a steady on stream of tears from my right eye, i got to work on my condition. google told me i had a scratched cornea. but also advised me that it could be something worse. and then all of sudden OUT OF NOWHERE google rears its judgemental head and starts lecturing me on the fact that i only have two eyes and i need to seek the immediate advice of a medical professional (um, i am google. it’s called “you”). and that if things don’t change in the next 24 hours, my eyeball could slide into the back of my head and my body would digest it forever. (it’s hard to say if the last part of the prognosis was accurate. did i mention my vision was increasingly blurry?)

since google’s scare tactics were successful, i decided to visit a korean pharmacist. (my moderate-to-severe level pain just didn’t quite warrant an actual doctor’s visit).

now in case you didn’t know, okpo is a city dedicated to the kinds of foreigners that love things like strip clubs and getting sick…a lot. those black-tinted “foreigner clubs” and “pouruners welcome” signs (translation: foreigners welcome) crowd the streets of okpo. (i haven’t decided if the pharmacists employed at pouruners are the witty play-on-words type or just boastfully proud of their lackluster customer service).

worried about my soon-to-be-pirate status, i entered the first pharmacy i could find (unfortunately, pour-run is closed on sundays). in preparation for the communication barriers that would occur at this pseudo doctor’s visit, i had pulled out all the stops and created a three-step charade game to share my google diagnosis findings.

 first word…

now i’m not exactly sure what i expected but i s’pose that i just assumed the pharmacist would take a mini flashlight to my cornea and search for the missing q-tip in my eyeball abyss.

but instead, he took one quick glance at my eye and simply tossed me a bottle of swan touch and confidently sat back down to continue his pixie cup of “milk-coffee.” the instructions only read japanese but the packaging did boast: the sleek design and curve is sure to be successful.

pharmy chuckled when i wanted to finish out the game of charades with words two and three. i just wasn’t convinced that this man knew my eye better than me (or google. same thing). sure the package said it would be successful, but pharmy didn’t seem at all concerned that my eyeball could slide into the back of my head if i blinked for too long (again, the details on this symptom are a bit shady).

did pharmy just outsmart google?

it’s true…two days later my eyeball was as white as a ghost.

from now on, dr. google is taking a back seat to my main man pharmy and his sharp-shooter pourun service.

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“teacha! cunning! teacha! cunning!”
these were the only words i could make out amidst a myriad of young korean boys yelling overtop of one another. at this point, the perpetrator of cunning was still at large. 
now you should know, my korean vocabulary is limited. embarrassingly limited. i have been here for four months and a snapshot of my korean looks a little like this: i know the words for “battery,” “right” (but not left), “smoke,” “yes,” “bobby pin,” “passport picture,” and “really.” i can’t seem to remember words that would be you know, important in day-to-day interactions. words like “no” or “please” just seem waaaay too difficult for me. or phrases that would be mildly useful like “i’m sorry” or “i’m an ignorant foreigner with difficulties learning a new language past elementary-level francais (that’s french…..for french)” are apparently, just too much for me to handle.
oh yes, and i know “cunning.” i have learned “cunning” partly because it sounds english (even with a completely different definition) but also because it is a word that has been “frenemy” of mine in my academic past.    
when translated, “cunning” means “cheating.”
and so it was. with my limited korean vocabulary, i tried to decipher the situation that caused a group of middle-school boys to practically lunge across the tables at their opponents. as i wrestled these boys back into their seats, one gorilla of a prepubescent boy became the perpetrator of cunning. fingers all pointed towards him (korean kiddies are quick to sell out their buds) as he began to whine to me in korean. unfortunately for him, he was not talking about batteries or passport pictures. so consequently, i had no idea what in the world he was trying to negotiate. (granted if he wanted to discuss the pros and cons of wearing bobby pins in passport pictures over a smoke outside a battery store…i still would probably have no idea what he was trying to say).  
now in most classes, you can certainly hope that there is at least one student with manageable english. this student is your lifeline. as soon as he or she is identified, you must present yourself as an ally. always allow an extra second (or 30) for him to translate to his peers the bizarre game you think will help them learn the roles on an airplane. and always let him volunteer first to roll out his cookie dough in cooking class. you will thank yourself later when you don’t have 15 boys covered in flour and picking sprinkles out from under their abnormally long fingernails.
so now i have a gorilla accused of cunning and am searching wildly for my lifeline. praying to the esl gods above that he wasn’t actually placed in a more advanced class. as the noise died down…my lifeline appeared.
probably noticing that i was slightly intimidated by gorilla’s size (and outrageous amount of body hair for a 14-year-old), lifeline stepped in and offered me the kind of advice you would see on the cover of a glossy new hardcover diary from chapters or better yet, read in a fortune cookie from sun sun’s.
“teacha, don’t be mild.”
it took a second to process. all the while, gorilla is still pacing and leering over all of his accusers (most likely looking for gnats to pick out of their cute korean hair). 
lifeline had a point. sure he probably meant something completely different and was mainly referring to gorilla’s neanderthal-like behaviours but as i see it, lifeline wanted me to put gorilla in his place. be stern with him, not mild. teach him all the reasons why cunning will cause you grief in the future. lecture gorilla on the idea that even if you think the prof won’t notice if you copy and paste a stellar paragraph from an obscure journal article into your closing summary, that in reality, the prof will notice. and you will get busted. 

 however, i didn’t think about any of this (besides, my days of cunning are behind me). all i could think of about was that line.

“don’t be mild.”

discerning and yet, slightly encouraging. 
it’s now a daily reminder on my computer screen (in addition to the come-and-gone beijing departure). 

and tonight i had an extra-helping of chili paste on my salad.

see lifeline? i’m taking your advice seriously.

( i suppose plagarism is a far cry from cheating but it shares some of those guilty pit-feeling-in-your-stomach kinds of associations. plus, i have yet to learn the korean word for “plagarize.” but not to worry, it doesn’t seem that useful of a word so i’ll probably pick it up by the end of today).

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