Translation: It is a blue hippo.
I love it when my mission to review the week’s lesson before class mutates into an adventure. Yesterday’s adventure commenced when I woke up and found out that I’m once again an uncle (삼촌). Which natutally awakens the “Oh my God, I have to buy presents!” bug that is always looming just beneath my skin. So off to Hanok Village I went!
(Actually, I would’ve gone to Hanok Village anyway because I buy some corn on the cob there weekly (옥수수), sit on the mountain and practice Korean. In that sense, this was just another ordinary week.)
Then I saw the 하마 pictured above. If anything ever SCREAMED baby’s first present, it was this guy. But the vendor did not have a price sign posted like all the other vendors. A mystery! Also a perfect opportunity to use my infant-level Korean! The past few book units had prepared me for this moment.
“안녕하세여.” I chose to start with the respectful “Hello” instead of the more traditonal “저기요 아줌마” because I’ve had a number of teachers tell me that calling someone an 아줌마 can be disrespectful; despite the fact that it’s used in all the textbooks. I guess no one likes to be called a “middle-aged lady.”
It doesn’t matter though, because the ice was broken and I was speaking!
“이것은 얼마 입니까?” Translation: How much is this? Pointing to the blue 하마.
“이하마는 만오원.” [This part’s a rough translation from memory. I’m positive she said it correctly.] Translation?:This hippo is 15,000 won.
A bit more than any of the other vendors, but it is a blue hippo. And slightly bigger than all the other stuffed animals. The price really isn’t the problem here (even though I do get the sinking feeling she tacked on a few extra won just because I’m a foreigner who’s struggling with the language. Well played 아줌마, well played).
The issue here is my mindset. I still think in terms of dollars. 1,000 won (천원) is roughly equivalent to $1. But when I hear prices, I still expect them to be using multiples of 10 (as we do in the US) rather than the Korean base system of 1,000. So when I heard “만오원” I was immediately thrown for a loop because it was the base 10 number I was expecting. I was expecting to hear 일, 이, 삼, 사, etc. (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.), not 10,000!
Meaning it took me a lot longer than I’m proud of to be able to figure out what 만원 is and agree to it. And dutiful readers will note that I just wrote “만원” and not the previously recorded “만오원.” This isn’t an error though, because in real life I completely missed the “오” (~$5) tacked on after 만 too.
Leading to the hilarity of trying to buy a $15 blue hippo with $10. And see? I just did it again! REWIND – that should’ve been “[l]eading to the hilarity of trying to buy a ₩15,000 blue hippo with ₩10,000. ”
But I’m thinking once I get over this (numerical) hurdle all the other (shopping) pieces should fall into place. And I’m still counting this as a victory, as the vendor didn’t break into English nor did she pull out a calculator to type the price (the common way that non-English speaking Korean vendors do it).
This will stand as my first fully Korean conversation, even if it was (painfully) rudimentary and the ending was botched. Whatever, I still ended up with the blue hippo.