군인

Translation: Soldier.

My homework from two weeks ago (or my last “real” class) was to get more comfortable listening to spoken Korean. Which, at least according to myself and one of the guys I work with, is real hard considering how fast native Koreans speak. Listening to the audio tracks of my Korean textbooks gives the impression that they’re all motormouths who never pause to think of what word to say next. It’s all just seems like an unending stream of CVC syllables.

Except when you hear 한국어 spoken in the wild. Today I found that spoken Korean, while it can pick up the pace when needed (for instance, when emphasizing a point) often doesn’t have that mechanically fast, scripted feel to it.

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As with most of my stories, this one too begins in a bathroom… Korean public restrooms are a thing of wonder. They’re generally always (pretty) clean (maybe a bad smell or two; it IS a bathroom after all), but nothing so bad that you’ll turn around and refuse to use it. Add onto that the fact that they’re open 24/7 and, with Korea’s low crime rate, extremely safe to use at all hours of the day or night, moves them straight into “modern marvel” territory.

Needless to say, I love the ones along with bike route. When your daily, average bike ride is 3+ hours, it’s good to know where all the rest stops are. Bonus points if they’re not part of an actual store. Today’s adventure concerns the one sitting next to Jeonju’s zoo (전주동몰원.

As you can see from the picture above, I stopped to refill my water bottle and take a piss. Nothing really unusual there. Until mid-piss when the man using the urinal next to me turns his head and asks where I’m from. I do my best to remember the proper line, “나는 미국 에서요” but end up with the generic “미국.” For you non-Korean speakers, essentially how I answered was “America” instead of grammatically correct “I am an American.” One makes me sound like a four year-old with a limited grasp on the language, the other makes me sound like someone who’s trying to learn said language. My apologies old man!

After the piss break, as I was strapping my bike helmet back on, the old man called me over and asked if I had some time to join him and his friends in sitting around, smoking, and (I assume) talking shit. (That’s what my friends and I do when we hang out.) It’s Saturday, so what the hell.

What I found out as I was sitting there was that Koreans talking with their friends talk like normal human beings. Not the superfast linguists the audio CDs that come with language books would have you believe. They pause, think about words, all the things we do when we talk. You’d just never know it from their digital representations. I ended up only recognizing around 1 out of every 20 words, which isn’t the best percent (5%), but hopefully it helped acclimate my ears to hearing spoken Korean.

Me being me, I naturally argued with one of the guys. He was talking about how he lived in DC for 6 months, and was remarking on how we have everything in America. Lots of fruits, vegetables, water, meat, anything you could want. (This conversation obviously took place around lunchtime.) And it was all cheap!

Which is where I disagreed. While fruits and vegetables are certainly cheaper in the US (because they don’t have to be imported), meat, well meat that’s not beef, certainly seems cheaper here. I can get four decent-sized chicken breasts for under $5, which is a deal that’s very hard to find in the US.

Unfortunately he pulled out the trump card and mentioned how you can get a fully cooked chicken for $6 at Wal-Mart. Which is where I had to cede defeat. “Wal-Mart’s a special case. Everything they sell is super cheap.” (I don’t think explaining the true costs behind Wal-Mart’s “savings” could’ve been translated easily.)

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I picked up the word “Soldier” out of the exchange, and as you can see that my first attempt at writing it phonetically didn’t work out so well. (The blue text.) Neither did my attempt to read the Korean man’s handwriting. But, in the end, we made it through, and I’m one word richer.

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