Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"I saw you on the street"

There are many things that Korean people do and say that we find odd and don't understand. Of course. And I have got used to and learned to just accept many of these things: If I hadn't I'd have gone mad by now!
Anyway, I have decided that "I saw you on the street" is one of my pet hates in the category 'odd things Korean people do or say'.

"I saw you on the street" is a phenmenon which I experience most with my students, sometimes with other people. It is directly linked to the fact that we are such celebrities/oddities/highlights in Sangju. Even though we've been here over 6 months now, almost everyone must have seen us at least once, and there are now well over twenty foreigners in town, bumping into us in the street or in the shops or even just seeing us is still a highliht for most.
And my students feel like they need to tell me this. They are darlings, I love them, and everytime someone has the guts to come and speak to me I try my best to look as friendly and approachable as possible. But what can you say when someone says to you "I saw you on the street yesteday/at the weekend/last week..."? "That's nice." "Oh, I didn't see you!" "Oh" "Oh, where?" "Oh, really?". Gosh, I really dislike having to come up with responses to this statement. I realise that I am a bit of a 'tourist attraction' in town, and I really don't mind that too much, so I really wouldn't mind at all if they told their mother, grandmother, friends, sisters, counsins, brothers etc that they saw me on the street (which I'm sure they do! - I can just imagine it!) but PLEASE DON'T TELL ME! I don't know what too say.

This pet-hate was re-awakened the day before yesterday when Jules and I went for coffee at our favourite coffee shop in Sangju. It's called 'Kopi Gage' (=Coffee Shop) and is run by an interestiung couple. They seem to have a lot of interest in western-style jazz, poetry etc and their coffee shop has a lovely atmosphere with lovely old coffee ginders, hessian sacks on the ceiling, paintings, old black & white photos and LP records on the walls. In fact, 'Kopi Gage' can often feel like an escape from the Korean-ness of Sangju (when one needs a break, which is inevitable at times) and I have the impression that the owners are not quite your standard Korean - maybe evven more 'worldly' (not an adjective one can ascribe to most locals).

Anyway, sadly, the owner let me down. As we were leaving, he said someting to his wife/girlfriend and she translated for him "I saw you on the street near the Bukcheon Monument" aaaaahhhh! Here I am in my 'haven' and the man himself puts his foot in it. AAAAHHH! "Oh that's nice"+ smile (of course!) was the best I could come up with before I escaped. Oh my gosh. 'Ayigo!' as the Koreans would say (which is remarkably similar to the Zulu 'Hayibo!' and means the same)

Anyway, Jules seems to not quite understand why I am so frustrated by all this "I saw you on the street'" business but I hink his boys aren't as vocal as my girls so he doesn't get it that much. Please do me a favour and think about how you would respond if people came up to you numerous times in a week and told you "I saw you on the street!". Thank you!

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