Saturday, March 6, 2010

Unexpected Friend

Written today: March 7, 2010

I had dinner last night with Seo and her family. When I arrived I was met by her two children. Her oldest is a boy named Jong Woo and his English name is Andy. Jong Woo is 9 years old. Her daughter’s English name is Sally but I never got to hear her Korean name. Sally is 4 years old. Right when I saw them I was nervous whether I had gone to the right apartment and of course all I could do was ask in English. I spoke slowly but Jong Woo responded quickly and said, “Yes this is the right house come on in.” He barely even had an accent he just sounded like a native English speaker and that surprised me. Soon Seo came around the corner and welcomed me into the house and introduced me to her grandmother-in-law who clearly did not know any English.

Dinner was not yet ready so I sat down and very quickly Jong Woo and Sally approached me and Jong Woo started talking to me. As we talked I found myself having the clearest conversation I had had since arriving in Korea and it was with a nine year old. He had all sorts of questions. He wanted to know about saliva and spit and what those words meant. I kind of laughed and found out he wanted to know because of Looney Tunes and Daffy Duck who spits a lot. He also asked about things like the possessive and genitive cases which really took me by surprise. I soon started asking him questions about Korean and he took me over to the table and began writing down words for me in English and then spelling them out phonetically using the English alphabet and then writing them in Korean. We went through all sorts of phrases and words and as I tried to keep up Sally kept laughing. She was nervous around me at first but soon began coming up to me to show me all sorts of things she had (toys, pencils, erasers, drawings she had made, etc).

It was then time for dinner. I sat down and Seo warned me again that I may not like the food. I started to dig in and found that I enjoyed everything she served especially the soup. I told Seo I liked it and she was glad but you could tell she still held some reservations like maybe I was just being polite. When I asked for more soup she was surprised and said, “Really! You like the soup that much?” I said yes. Apparently it was a very traditional Korean dish but even many Koreans did not like it. Her mother-in-law also laughed when I had more soup. The spiciest dish they served was made by the mother-in-law and seems to be the most common Korean food. So far it had been served with every meal. This was by far the spiciest version of it I had yet had but it was still good. They also had a beef dish and a type of pan fried noodles which were really good. Towards the end Jong Woo started bringing out books to show me some in English and some in Korean.

As Seo began to clear the table I asked if I could take some of the food home. Again surprised she said, “Of course.” Now I did not know how to properly prepare it because apparently it wasn’t as simply as throwing it in the microwave. Seo tried to explain it but I didn’t have oil yet in my house so I would need water and a large pan. I told her I didn’t know if I had a pan yet either. I had seen a small pot but I had not looked through everything in the kitchen. Seo then offered to simply cook the food longer so that I could put it in the microwave. I said thank you and told her how much that would help me.

While Seo and her mother-in-law cleaned up Jong Woo and Sally began playing with me. Jong Woo went into the other room and brought the movie Space Jam with Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes in it. I began to laugh a little. Jong Woo wanted to know why they called the movie Space Jam, what did Jam mean? I explained it to him and he immediately understood saying, “so Jam means the same things as Dunk.” “Yes,” I told him. We went into the other room with the TV and began to watch the movie for fun. As it started Jong Woo and Sally sang along with the song in the opening credits even though I don’t think they, especially Sally, knew exactly what they were singing. They put on subtitles but they put on English subtitles. Jong Woo said it helped him learn English better. As the movie went along both of them said lines right before the lines were said in the movie and Jong Woo asked a lot of questions. Most of his questions had to do with words or phrases which were used as jokes. The characters would say one thing while clearly the opposite was true. There was a scene where a man was driving Michael Jordan around in a junky old car and Michael said he could drive himself next time. The man said oh is my car too conspicuous? Michael delayed and said, “Yeah that’s it” I explained to Jong Woo what the word conspicuous meant and how the car was the opposite of conspicuous and he said, “Oh I get it,” and laughed a lot.

During this time Jong Woo’s father came home. He had been at a party that he had to attend so he was not at dinner. It became clear quickly that he did not speak English very well. Certainly not as well as Jong Woo or as well has Seo. I went back to the dining room table and chatted with Seo’s husband. I can’t remember his name right now. He said he was very glad I was able to come and that his son clearly liked me. He asked if I played tennis and I told him that I know how to play but I am not very good. He wants to play with me some time so that could be fun though I don’t have any sports clothing with me. They also asked if I like to go hiking and I told them I enjoy doing that. He also wanted to know all about where I lived in America. So I tried to explain it to him but it wasn’t quite working. I found out they had a kids’ book with a map of America and I began to point at places. He knew a lot of city names but didn’t really know where they were on the map. He asked if LA was near Washington DC or Boston and things like that. But the one place he knew instantly was Arizona because apparently the Arizona Diamondbacks have a pitcher on their team who is Korean. He was surprised I didn’t know who the player was I tried to explain that I don’t know baseball very well and that there are lots of players but you could tell he was disappointed.

As I got ready to leave Seo’s husband said he would drive me home. I told him he did not have too but it became clear quickly that no was not an option. I don’t think he was just being polite, rather I think he felt a type of obligation to me as his guest. I thanked them for dinner and went down to the car with Jong Woo and his dad. When he dropped me off I told Jong Woo that we should hang out some more. He got very excited and said, “Yeah, I could help you with you Korean and you could help me with my English.” I said that would be great. He then handed me a paper with all the Korean words I had learned that night written in English and Korean which showed me how to pronounce them. I said thank you and went inside. It was a great night. Who would have thought a nine year old boy would be the first person I felt truly connected to?


  1. In Tennessee, I had a Korean friend and colleague named Andy. We would be invited over for dinner and his wife cooked the most amazing meals - I'm a bit jealous of your new digs! I hope all goes well. Enjoy it.

  2. It's so good to get to read about what has been going on! Seo and her family sound like a wonderful family to be connected with! Can't wait to hear more.

  3. I am Andy. i read this all diary. thank you for get well soon card and to feel me truly connected. see you this weekend in jungsan park near your house.
    see you soon

  4. Andy thank you for reading my diary. I am glad you got my Get Well Card. Are you feeling better? I hope so. I am looking forward to seeing you in the park this weekend. Talk to you later my friend.

  5. Hello. I'm SUE. Now Jong woo is sleeping. He wanted to read your reply and send a e-mail, but he already fell into sleep.
    And I wonder about that today's going out with Jeorgy(I don't know his exact English nsme)in hospital and office.
    I expect your luck. See you tomorrow. Have good sleep~~