Things are starting to get a little more Korean. On Friday, I met up with May (the Korean lady) and, in doing so, took my first step towards building a circle of Korean friends. We had a nice time and she has invited me to go out with her work colleagues this coming Thursday. This is a very positive development and, in preparation, I have been trying to solidify my grasp on the Korean I have studied up till now. Those verbs have nearly been memorised, though that list could do with being expanded and I need more practice in conjugating those bad boys.
Korean verb conjugation is at one and the same time very simple and torturous. As with Turkish, it is simply a matter of adding a series of suffixes to an infinitive base, each of these suffixes adding an extra layer of semantic content. However, this seemingly simple system is complicated by the fact that certain verb bases are irregular and mutate when suffixes are added to them, the suffixes often morph so as to assimilate the syllables they’re suffixed to and the correct use of these suffixes depends on considerations that might not be entirely natural to an English speaker. By this, I mean considerations such as the perceived likelihood of what you’re saying, the strength of the intention behind what you’re saying, the difference in relative social status between you and the person you’re speaking to, and the general social rank of the person you’re talking about. Getting any of these things wrongs will most likely cause you to sound haughty and arrogant, which are not traits that are generally tolerated in Korean culture.
Following a conversation with my language buddy, Jihee, I have learnt that instant noodles are the pits of Korean food, and that my plan to live off them for the next few weeks is a bit skanky. Consequently, I’ve now acquired some real food in the form of 4Kg of raw rice and 1Kg of uncut gimchi (which had me screaming in desperate, impotent rage as I attempted to extract the oversized leaves from their own tangled mass with a fork, which did little more than shred the cabbage to spicy ribbons that would not be moved from where they lay). I used these ingredients to cook my first genuinely Korean dish: gimchi fried rice! Despite the huge, uncut leaves of gimchi and the havoc that acquiring them has left in my kitchen, I would say that the dish was a success and a promising first foray into Korean cuisine.
If all that wasn’t Korean enough, I did something very Korean today: I went up a mountain! (Photos will follow in the next day or so). This was my friend, Chloe’s, idea, and I must admit, I felt better for getting out of the urban environment for a bit. Hiking is quite a popular past-time in Korea, which is understandable given the sheer number of mountains that surround every Korean town. More to the point, upon reaching the summit of any mountain, the hiker is greeted by the sight of hundreds more mountains silently challenging them to scale them. Also, the views are quite spectacular. It was interesting to be able to see such a large chunk of Gumi at the same time, though it is impossible to see all of it due to the way the valleys wind and the mist (smog?) reduces general visibility. It was also nice to get to know Chloe a bit better, who is a pretty cool person and a good walking buddy. I think we may tackle the nearby Guma-san mountain quite soon, which is twice the height of the mountain we scaled today but is reputedly astoundingly beautiful. Can’t hurt.
My conversations with Chloe today have led me to consider indulging in other interests while I’m here. Chloe takes a number of classes in Gumi, including yoga and ceramics, and I see no reason why I couldn’t take up a new hobby or two once the money’s coming in. In particular, I’m considering calligraphy and Gumdo (Korean fencing). My obsessions with the written word and swordplay will be familiar to anyone who knows me, and it would seem to be a good idea to use those as tools for integration. I was given some very good advice recently by my constant inspiration, Koreaphile you-tuber, expatkerri (http://www.youtube.com/user/expatkerri). She told me that the key to coping with life in Korea was to just do what you would do at home, by which I believe she meant that you have to take the things that give you solace and satisfaction and do them in the Korean way. I believe the point is that you don’t have to become a completely different person so much as the same person in translation (or accented, if you like). That is not to say that I am not changing, because of course, I am. However, I’m starting to see the process of adaptation and the process of personal growth as linked but separate processes. I think that this idea is going to have important consequences for me.
So, everything’s becoming a little bit more a la Corée, and I’m as pleased as punch about it. More from me after Thursday night, when I will be a lone Englishman amongst Koreans.