Wednesday, May 2, 2012

21 Questions

Yesterday, I had quite an unusual experience on the bus ride home. I waited at the bus stop with my headphones on. The sun was being blocked by the clouds today, but there was still a white-gray brightness that made me squint as I looked at the horizon for an approaching bus. When it finally pulled up (on time, I should mention!), I got on and noticed that the bus driver of the day was the really talkative one who tried asking me lots of questions a few days ago. He (of course) recognized me, and I said a quick hello to him, not sliding my headphones off. It's not that I didn't want to talk to him (or any other Korean who decides to strike up a conversation with me); however, my Korean is still limited, and there's only so many things I can say or answer before I start wishing I was an "omniglot".

I pay, say my greetings, and turn away from the bus driver. My eyes connect with the only other person on the bus. An older lady smiles at me and throws her arm out, gesturing to the seat across the aisle from her. I wonder why she should want to choose my seat for me. Still, I oblige and head over to that seat. Looking down at it, I notice that one of the seat cushions is ripped. Oh well. I sit on the undamaged one.

Keep in mind that my headphones are still covering my ears. As I stare at the seat in front of me, then fidgit with my ipod, I realize this lady is speaking to me. I lower the headphones and the rest of the story begins....

She wants to if I speak Korean. I tell her I speak very little, and try emphasizing the fact with my hands. She smiles and nods, but still has more questions. She wants to know where I'm from. America, miguk, I tell her. She continues smiling and seems encouraged by my responses. Oh, but then she pauses for a bit so I slide my headphones on. Moments later, she's facing me and talking again. I pull the headphones down again. I've missed her question, but the bus driver seems to have been listening the entire time. He tells her something about me working at the school as an English teacher. She confirms this with me, and I nod. She says some things I don't catch and then says thank you. I assume she's thanking me for teaching English. Now she wants to know where I live. The bus driver has an answer for this, too. He tells her what stop I get off at.  How nice of him, I think with mixed feelings. I tell her the school that I live near and she nods knowingly. The next 5 minutes are filled with more difficult conversation. I think she's asking me about how long I'm staying in Korea... or how long I have stayed here. I try remembering the last Korean lesson I listened to, where it described how to say months. Sadly, I can't remember, and as she's repeating various words from her earlier sentence, I am struggling to think about the correct response. She's talking about numbers. I end up asking her to wait a moment while I look something up, and I pull out my e-book with the lesson.

Even though I asked her to wait, she decides to ask me a different question. Who do I live with? ... I think she was asking this. About five sentences later, she says words I recognize. Mother? Oh, no, my mother's not here. Oh, father then? No. Grandparents? No, they're not here. Sister, brother? Nope. 업써요. She looks shocked. Just you? I imagine this her asking this as she holds up her thumb to signify the number one. Yes, I nod, and she heaves a deep sigh and mumbles things in Korean. Then she turns to me, smiling again and asks me about food. Do I like Korean food? Yes. I try to name some foods. I start with kimchi. I tell her I like it, but then decide to add that it's really spicy. I fan my mouth and say the word kimchi again. She says, oh kimchi is hot? Yes, but.... ...And then she goes to explain (probably) some way that that you can eat the kimchi to make it less spicy. Her gestures and demonstration have me imagining rolling it up with something... maybe rice... and eating it that way. I nod vigorously. At this point, we've come to the bus stop where all the middle school girls get on.

These middle school girls usually refuse to sit by or talk to me(for various unknown reasons), but today as they make their way to the seats just behind me and the talkative lady, they seem to notice our ongoing conversation. This lady is getting answers out of me, and that makes them curious. Then, the lady asks me a question I absolutely can't figure out. There are numbers involved and the word kimchi, and many more gestures that have nothing to do with either of those previous clues. I'm stumped, and tell her I don't understand. Finally, she turns to one of the girls sitting behind her and talks to her for a bit. She's probably asking the girl to speak to me in English. I know those girls know SOME English. If I'm teaching elementary school kids... The girl starts talking... "uhh.." but then looks to her friends for help. Someone else sitting behind me takes over. "Do you take this bus every day... same time?"

Oooooh! Yes, I say in Korean. The girls gasp and can't seem to believe that I've understood their English, or that I've responded in Korean. They start whispering fast among themselves. The lady, encouraged by this success, asks them to translate some more. The first girl tells me that the lady wants to bring me some kimchi, wants to know where I live, or if she will see me again on this bus at this time. I've already told this lady where I live... sort of, but now she wants my exact address? That would require me to reach in my backpack and search through my notebook. I'm still not even sure it's the correct address. I haven't received any post cards at that address yet. I'm thinking this all over in my head, when one of the girls as the lady where she lives. The lady is telling her this when I look up and notice that my destination is approaching. I get her attention and try my best to tell her that this is my stop. After a moment, she nods. I wait, because I haven't given her my address, but she tells me to go ahead. I tell her goodbye, nod to the bus driver, and get off the bus.

On the walk home, I wonder if I'll see her on the bus tomorrow. I wonder if she'll ask me for my address again. Assuming I don't miss the bus, and assuming she brings the kimchi, and assuming she isn't annoyed by my inability to answer all her questions in perfect Korean, I may get an adopted Korean aunt. I also wonder if those middle school girls will be brave enough to talk to me in the future.

'Til next time,

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