Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Naneun Kaenadain Ibnida

Then, as per most of my life, I ran like clockwork.

My daily routine was scheduled such that anyone would know where I would be at particular times of the day. That's not to say that my daily movements were carved in stone, but if there were no plans made, I would be at the same spot at the same time.

This was my life for much of my first year, teaching English in Chŏnju, South Korea.

DW and I lived a 10-minute walk from our hagwon (language institute). To get to work, I walked the narrow laneway toward the Chinbuk Woosung Apartments, where I cut through the complex of 20 high-rise apartments (in which I had two private students). On the other side, I'd cross a wide plaza that seemed to double as a parking lot and walked a narrow street, filled with auto repair and body shops.

At the end of this short street, several lanes split in many directions, and on the far side of the split stood the six-story Youngchin Building, which was known to all as the Taepyung Yang Sooyung Jang building—the Pacific Pool building, known for its public swimming pool.

Funny: I never swam there.

I taught at the language school from 7:30 to 10 in the morning and from 4:00 to 7:00 in the afternoon and evenings. As soon as my morning classes were done, I would head to the neighbourhood near Chŏnbuk National University, where there was an Internet café I used to catch up on e-mail. I would have lunch at one of the inexpensive restaurants, teach some private students, and then return to the flat for a nap.

On my way back to the hagwon, before I reached the apartment complex, I would pass a small building that housed a piano school. I was surprised, on a recent Google Maps street-view "walk," that the school was still there (as late as September, 2015).

Photo courtesy Google. The road to the right led to my flat.
Being on schedule, I would always see two young boys sitting outside the piano school. The first time that I encountered them, one of the boys pointed to me and said to his friend, "Mee-gook saram."


"Annyo," I would reply, much to his surprise, "Kaenada-saram ibnida." No, I'm Canadian. Without missing a beat, I continued on my way.

The next day, the two boys were once again sitting outside the piano school. "Mee-gook saram, mee-gook saram," the same boy said, a big grin on his face, finger pointing at me.

"Annyo," I repeated, "mee-gook saram inibnida. Kaenada-saram ibnida." No, I'm not American. I'm Canadian. I wagged a finger at him and kept walking.

Day three: I could see the boys as I approached the corner. The boys were waiting, watching me approach, anticipating my arrival. The only talker of the two was ready to go. "Annyong, mee-gook saram!" Hello, American.

It was my turn to point my finger. "Ilbon-saram."

The boy gasped, taken aback as though I had just slapped him across his young face. His friend also gasped in surprise but then pointed at his friend and laughed.

Though I wasn't particularly insulted by being called an American, I knew that the boy thought he was being bold, thought his words were slightly hurtful. But my response was, to a Korean, one of the biggest insults I could have dealt.


The boy dropped his head and in an almost inaudible volume, muttered, "Kaenada-saram."

I smiled and continued on my way.

For the next day, I came prepared once again, but not with the word for Japanese. The boy had the same idea. He called me an Australian. I called him French. The next day, he called me German: I called him Spanish.

I've forgotten the vocabulary now, but within a week, I had memorized a handful of nationalities.

Eventually, we just said "hello" to one another.

It's something I'll have to remember when I return to Chŏnju, in May, as I'm surely called an American by a Korean as I walk down the street. I can use the informal phrase that I had learned more than 20 years ago or I can speak more formally.

"Naneun Kaenadain ibnida." I am Canadian.

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