I was walking in the bamboo forest this evening when I had an encounter that has become entirely normal for me. Picture this if you will:
I am walking peacefully, enjoying the many beauties of the bamboo forest (and wondering how the woman in front of me has managed to get so far in heels so high) when I am spotted by a small family. 99% of the time it is the parents who spot me first.
“Look! Look [insert Korean name of your choice]! It’s a foreigner!” the parental figure exclaims, pointing excitedly. “Wave at the foreigner!”
Dutifully the child waves then tries to return to squashing ant hills. I smile and keep walking.
“She looks like a nice foreigner. Why don’t you say hello?”
“Hello!” I reply, waving.
“OK, now say bye bye to the foreigner!” the parents will urge their offspring.
“Bye bye!” I reply and walk away quickly.
Behind me I can hear the family congratulating each other for successfully interacting with a foreigner. I obviously don’t let on that I can understand them. Why ruin their fun? 😀
Tonight for some reason, this routine encounter made me think about the differences between Canadian and Korean parenting. First of all, I can’t imagine anyone I know teaching their children to point and stare at a foreigner! To begin with, I’m not sure how you could tell who the foreigners were in Canada and secondly, it’s just not very PC is it?
Secondly, isn’t “Don’t Talk to Strangers!” one of the Golden Rules? Not here! Children are encouraged and even forced into interacting with nearly every foreigner they come across. It’s a bit bizarre. Don’t they have child-snatching baddies in Korea?
Yesterday, I participated in a Saturday English program organized by the Ulsan Ministry of Education. The money they spend on English Education in Ulsan is astounding. There were 8 different stations (or “missions” as we were to call them) with at least 2 native English speakers and a Korean at each one. We were all paid extra to be there.
The program is called Ulsan Can Do It!
The children were given a workbook with a page of questions for each “mission.” When the mission was completed, they got a stamp.
All of the missions were in and around the Lotte department store in downtown Ulsan. There was the movie mission (What kind of movies do you like?), the restaurant mission, the “Help, I’m lost!” mission etc.
My mission was the bookstore. Fantastic, thought I. I love books! Silly, silly Carrie…
It was organized chaos. The students came in droves. Most of the time, there was a line-up of students waiting their turn. Once again, the Korean parents amazed me. Most parents were more than willing to send me off into the depths of the very busy bookstore with their children. They would wave cheerfully and settle down with their cell phone, or head to the nearby coffee shop. “Run along and play with the total stranger, dear!”
The questions for my mission were:
I particularly liked the last one. Did they run out of room or was it so weird it defied translation?
After a few preliminary niceties (How are you? What’s your name? etc) I would gently broach the subject of books.
Carrie: What kind of books do you like to read?
Carrie: What. Kind. Of. Books. Do. You. Like. To. Read? (I didn’t want to resort to pointing at the Korean translation in their workbook.)
Carrie: Do you like books? (gesturing to the thousands of books around us as we walked through the bookstore.)
Carrie: You. Like. Book what?
Child: Oh! I like book is comic.
And so it went. All day. Whatever they pay me won’t be enough to repair the damage done to my sanity. 😀