Interpreting Funny Cultural Miscommunications

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Wanderlust and Work Starting again at 50+

Some interesting miscommunications

Continuing our series from Mandy Facer on her adventures in South Korea

Cycling in the countryside in the early morning was always peaceful and scenic. It also enabled me to see the many hardworking women in the fields. I have never seen so many bent women and such hard, gnarled, rough working hands.

My friend Elke also decided she too would like a bicycle.  We went to the shop where I’d bought mine. Being from Mujang, Elke with her blonde hair, suddenly felt it being yanked. An ajima – older Korean lady – was just checking to see if her hair was real! However, I digress. In the shop after much “discussion” we decided to use a last lifeline and phone a friend, only to be told that the bicycles ‘retire’ here in Korea, so are not necessarily for sale then – lost in translation!

Another great smile, was passing “Butter English Academy” and going by map to the amazing “Gochang  Fartress.”

Gochang Fortress South KOrea
Gochang Fortress

Gochang Map

Built in the early days of the Joseon Dynasty to protect the town against Japanese invaders, the Gochang Fortress has carried on a range of traditions including stepping on the ground of the fortress.It was based on our ancestor’s wisdom that walking around the fortress makes the ground stronger and can be used in emergency situations. It has been said that you can heal your leg illness for one round of walking around the fortress, live healthy and long for two rounds and go to the heaven for three rounds. Every year many people participate in the folklore game. (see Wiki Gochang County) It is an amazing fortress that is completely steeped in traditions and ancient customs that are celebrated annually and where they would dress in their beautiful hanboks. It also has some of the most spectacular walks and azaleas.

Good for your health food

The phrase “good for your health” in Korea still makes me brace myself for what I might be subjected too. From ginseng sweets, garlic or mushroom juice to silkworm lava served like popcorn. Displays of pig’s heads and cooked baby ducklings kissing also did not seem to my western mind to be good advertising. As far as obesity goes though there must be some truth in the phrase. I do not remember seeing any really obese people.

Korean cooked & presented ducks
Kissing ducks
Pigs head meal
Pigs heads
silkworm larva
Silkworm larva

Of course there were some delicious meals as well, from Sangibsa, where you are given a grill, pork rashers and you grill them yourself, adding various extras to your piece of pork, then wrap it up in lettuce or sesame seed leaves. Bibimpap, mixed rice meat and spicy sauce and assorted vegetables and gimbap which was my “healthy hotdog” quick food. It was cheap and was comprised of rice and usually carrot and ham, and was wrapped in seaweed in a log shape chopped in pieces.

Some other experiences at school

The principal came in one day and spoke to me in Korean over the sound of crackling coming from the microwave. A fishy smell permeated the room. Said principal was loudly chewing and smacking his lips with obvious enjoyment. (It is not considered rude here) I was then invited to have something that looked like an orange coloured leather which I dutifully tried to take a bite of. Great guffaws of laughter as you are meant to peel little strips off, dried squid, something like South African biltong.

If you go out as a school group the most important person usually pays and rules the roost. So, when he is ready to go he stands up and the party invariably ends. The other custom is that each time you speak to somebody important they fill your glass with whatever alcoholic beverage is being offered and then you pour for them. However whatever happens under the influence does not appear to be spoken about or held against a person. So these types of custom usually result in some very interesting nights out.

An example of this is the “previously quiet Buddhist man.” In the staff room I sat opposite this man. He was extremely quiet and we never conversed at all. However,  after a few soju’s he became an octopus. Any female of any description was treated as a very delectable rock to fix himself onto! In younger years I had practiced karate on and off for about 14 years, and after 3 attempts did get my shodan (black belt) from my Japanese sensei. One of the things you learn is to balance legs apart in a lower position. This held me in good stead, as previously quiet Buddhist man jumped up, wrapped his legs around my waist and was dancing with his top half at right angles to me. The next day he reverted to quiet Buddhist man. Extraordinary!

Actually on one outing I found a bottle of Chilean Cav Sab, which I nursed. You have to realise that everything I buy went in a back pack, needed to be carried to a bus stop and at the other end about 15 minutes to my home. Anyway, I digress, I enjoyed two glasses one night, only to find I had a purple tongue and lipstick. It did taste good though.

Another South African friend Chris has his birthday a day before mine. So my first Korean birthday was joining a group of multicultural friends, drinking treasured real red wine, and then the brave or stupid amongst us went on to doribang, karaoke. Amazing how our singing improved after a few shared jugs of beer. To end the night off, I stayed over in Gochang on Elke’s floor.

The next day nursing a slight headache, backpack on and back to Mujang.  It was the first but not the last time I had a reality check at how amazing it was to be doing this at 50+.



Wikimedia Commons

File:Korea Hanbok Experience 06 (8028302612).jpg






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