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Friday, August 19, 2011

Hooray for minor linguistic successes!

Clearly, I spent a great amount of time on my the'Merican sojourn not speaking Korean. I did manage to show off in front of friends and family members a few times (in Korean supermarkets and bars), but for the most part my summer language training regimen consisted of listening to Kim Kwang-seok*, writing about** ten postcards, and an occasional Facebook chat. So, naturally, I have been curious as to the amount of drop-off my Korean level has suffered.

Thus, I kept my ears peeled on the flight to Narita. There happened to be a pair of Korean teenagers sitting behind me, and I understood most everything they were saying. So well, in fact, that I picked up a new word! They were talking about time changes and jet lags and all of a sudden said the words for "date," "change," and "line" back to back to back. I realized: I totally just learned how to say "International Date Line." 날짜 변경선.

My mind is a freak, sometimes.

A pudgy little Korean kid is currently watching me (here in the Tokyo airport) as I write this, surreptitiously sneaking glances at my screen.*** I just turned to him and said in Korean "Wanna look?" Totally stupefied. He ran off and sent his older brother, who is also just a little kid and who sits down next to me without saying anything. I explain to him that I'm writing a blog. I am pretty sure that he can't read that I just wrote that they're pudgy. We talk for a minute or two. They're 8 and 12, in the first and fifth grades. From Gumi, a city an hour west of Daegu. Cute kids. The older one asks me: Can you speak Korean? I try to communicate that I have been speaking with him in Korean for the past five minutes, but I guess I'm not quite good enough at it to be a successful smartass. They asked my seat number and said that they used to be in that row, but then switched seats so they sit together with their parents. Their mom just came by. Apparently she'd been on a walk looking for ice cream, but couldn't find any. Maybe she'll come back with a snack?

Upcoming post: American Air has the least satisfying vegetarian meals imaginable.

*Author of such fantastically uplifting tunes as "Love that hurts too much isn't really love," "Oh misery," "the first time I saw her cry," "a story about an old couple in their sixties," "a letter to the overcast fall sky" and "I loved you, but..."

**Clearly, I mean writing approximately ten posctards, and not writing on the subject of ten postcards.

***Clearly, it is he and not I that is glancing surreptitiously. I am obviously staring obviously at it. What a mess of a pair of sentences. [I fear I may never get Wittgenstein's Mistress out of my head.]

Hello Pencils, Hello Books

Well well. I am writing to you from the airport in LA. My trip is over. I can’t believe how much I managed to cram into this summer:

7 States (and one district)

13 cities (counting LA’s Korea town)

12 close friends (including two phone calls)

Several new ones

2 grandparents

3 parents

8ish friends of parents

5 Aunts

4 Uncles

2 parent’s cousins

9 cousins, 8 cousin-in-laws

15 cousins’ kids

25+ used book / thrift shops

10+ farmer’s markets

11 books (read)

6 buffets (devastated)

5 pounds

3 card games learned

4 cribbage opponents

3 dishes propagated

1 mountain scaled

1 day at the beach

5 plane rides

2 train rides

3 bike rides

4 public transportation uses

2 hitchhikes

1 couchsurf

1 identity theft incident

8 hour spent on the phone resolving it

1 bank account terminated

0 dollars not refunded

1 pair of shorts

Countless (and constant) meals, snacks, feasts, outings, innings, walks, talks, sits, chats, discussions, common interests discovered, BS sessions, debates, catchings-up, reminiscences, what-ifses, and plans.

And, as much as it weirds me out to say it, I felt almost the whole time that a strange series of Karmic alignments was taking place. Friends from far away visiting the same town I’d already be in; other guests departing just before I’d arrive; holes in schedules opening up; vegan restaurants around the corner; farmers’ markets on weekday afternoons; books turning up, and places turning up in them; deja vu concerning beets; and too many others to list. It doesn’t seem possible to explain – someone would have to know every relevant intangible about my path and my hopes in order to decide whether any one event would qualify as extraordinarily improbable or not. Not to mention that a long enough string of slightly improbable events is itself extraordinarily impossible. I am pretty sure that I've stopped making sense.

(Apropos of which, I highly recommend the book "Wittgenstein's Mistress," which David Foster Wallace called the best work of experimental fiction of the 20th century. Having read them all, I concur.)

Back to what it was that I was talking about: It seems to me that the possibilities are: 1] these events are indeed karmic; or 2] the events are not karmic, but I’m more inclined than I used to be to interpret them as such (and to ignore ones that don’t fit the pattern); or, most interestingly, 3] somehow I’ve become better at making things feel meaningful.

Anyway, it feels a bit redundant to be going on about this, given that if you are reading this right now, you are likely one of the people referenced above and don’t need to read up on exactly what you and I did on the trip. But, I assure you, whoever you are and whatever we got up to, it was excellent and I thank you for it.

I would say I’ll be back to do it again next summer, but chances are I’ll be heading to Pyeongyang! Yeah! See you in another couple years. Unless, that is, you’re in the market for some good old South Korean hospitality...

I've also noticed that my blog posts have been few and far between this year, despite/because of/most-likely-due-to how much more intellectually and socially active I've been. I've got a lot I'd like to do this semester - get back into studying Korean, do a little more exercise, work harder on the other enviro blog - but blogging here more is also definitely near the top of the list, thanks mostly to lots of kind words and encouragement from friends and family and friends of friends and friends of family %c.

I will go ahead and suppose that that just about wraps it up.

PS There's a giant mystery rodent marauding about the California countryside.

Finally, congratulations, Andy and Chrissy!