During January, I spent a lot time studying Korean. I took myself to a coffee shop that offers service cake with their drinks, and would study all afternoon.
What is service cake?
One thing I have failed to mention (I think) is the abundance of random stuff that you are given in Korea. When you buy bacon, it comes with a package of sliced ham attached, no charge. Anything, like the ham, that is attached at no charge is called "service".
Except, it usually comes out sounding like "serb-is-uh".
When you buy a plain yogurt 4-pack, you a get an extra single strawberry yogurt tapped to the box.
When you buy yarn, you can have a pair of needles.
But my favorite by far is serb-is-uh cake. Because of this perk, I spent more time then usual at cafe Vivienda, studying and studying, trying to ignore the sounds of teenagers quietly making out in the private booths around me. I enjoyed the sunny afternoons and the teddy bear art on top of my green tea latte, and didn't think about it beyond that point.
On Monday, when I went back to school, I was bombarded.
The usual noise that presses on my brain unheeded had suddenly turned to words. I kept looking around, watching people's mouths, listening to conversations in shock.
I can hear.
I can understand.
I won't pat myself too heavily on the back. The understanding is basic, at best. But, to wake up one day and suddenly hear speech felt like someone had adjusted a radio dial in my brain and finally hit a clear channel.
Of course then, I had to ask myself - what do with this knew knowledge. Do I tell anyone? Should I talk, try to join a conversation?
I was still puzzling this decision at lunchtime, when all the teachers went out to a restaurant to eat, treated by the principal because the cafeteria doesn't open the first day back. In the car with the other teachers, I sat stoically while they huddled around me and discussed how cold it was for about 10 minutes.
(Nothing was done to make it warmer, like say turning the heat on, but the discussion continued).
Suddenly, one of the teachers started talking about me.
"Oh, Mishi Teacher! She doesn't speak Korean! I want to talk to her! How do I say...?"
Let me stop my story for a minute.
Everytime I go out with the teachers, they ask me the same questions. "How are you feeling?" "Is it cold?" "Where did you go to University?" "Where are you from?" On and on, an endless reel of questions they already know the answers to. And of course, they can't just ask me. They don't speak English. They ask Ghey the question, she repeats it in English, they repeat it, shyly, practice is a few times hestitantly in a whispered manner, wait at least 45 seconds, and then ask me.
Yes, I'm standing right there when it happens, biting the urge to answer question 1 minute into this 5 minute procedure.
When I try to speak to them, in English, in Korean, in gesture, they stare at me, giggle, talk to each other, discuss how cute I am, anything but respond, until Ghey is pestered into translating a response, and then we start all over.
Then, we get to a new round of questions. "How old are you?" "Do you have a boyfriend yet?" "Why aren't you married?"
I have to surpress the urge to stab someone with a chopstick.
With my new understanding of the language, I could put a stop to all this nonsense.
I was suddenly, overwhelmingly tickled by the idea of imitation. Of giving blank stares, blank smiles, and upping the awkward factor of the conversation as much as possible.
So that's what I did.
With barely controlled laughter, I refused all overtures. I assumed a bemused expression and pretended to not even understand the basics of what they were saying. And because, as always, they underestimate what I know, we got stuck in loops of miscommunication that ended up with them not being able to talk to me.
It. Was. Hilarious.
Maybe in the future, when my skills jump up to a conversational level, I will grow up and speak to them in Korean, but for now it's much easier...and funnier...to just not.
Also, we didn't have to talk about my personal life.