I was mobbed by the fourth graders; or more accurately, I walked into the mob and was absorbed as one of them.
From the school exit I could see a larger than normal group hanging around the ddeokbokki stand comprised of mostly fourth graders and one sixth grade bystander.
The mob surrounded me to say they were meeting to go to coin karaoke and we had a lot of nonsensical conversation thereafter; our conversations take place somewhere between the amount of Korean I know which is not much, and the amount of English they know which is even less. But we manage.
Joongki, a sass monger, recounted the time in class I made eye contact with him and dramatically made the “I’ll kill you” throat cutting symbol. Rowdy boy showed off his bike and actually used “how much is it” from class this week. Well hey, at least something sticks!
There was also a rowdy glasses boy who earlier this week said “it’s not fair I have to compete against [American-Korean student]. She’s a foreigner!” But then his face got really red and I suspect that he has a cruuuuuush. He encouraged me to drink his cup of “coffee” which was the broth from fishcake (ddeokbokki lady has expanded into waffles, too). I smelled it dramatically to indulge him and the boys looking on but concluded “that’s not coffee.” There was a brief scuffle and in a serious matrix move Clever Girl narrowly avoided being doused with fish juice.
After I asked him to buy me real coffee so we linked arms to march towards the local cafe a few paces before his friends dragged him back.
I met my Thai friend Nana straight after work to eat at the trendy shipping container yard where we settled on an Indonesian restaurant.
The waiter first gave us an English menu then second guessed himself when he heard us speaking Korean with each other.
“Oh wow you speak really well” he said, mostly to himself in surprise. Later Nana and I had a heated discussion trying to find the phrase for “truth” (“how about…not-lie?”) so we checked with the waiter who checked with the cook and they both gave us an answer.
I chatted with the two men before leaving since we were the only people there (“where is everyone?” “When it’s cold people stay home” “that’s boring”).
One asked in English “where are you from?” But I answered in Korean which I’m sure made it easier for everyone. He added “You came six months ago? Wow you speak well.”
“No, I have a long way to go.”
I explained to their great delight why Nana and I speak Korean together, because it’s definitely not common to see a white foreigner and Asian foreigner speaking Korean amongst each other (or speaking Korean at all— the bar for westerners speaking Korean is basically on the ground).
The men changed their Korean to be a bit simpler when they saw I didn’t understand. Thank you sirs. It was so nice to have a good conversation and I’m endlessly grateful for Korean strangers’ unending patience. It certainly makes for a great learning environment.