You know that oxymoronic feeling you get when it seems like you have just arrived somewhere, yet been there forever?
Eleven days ago, I left YYZ behind and found myself - a mere 16 hours later - jet-lagged and alone in my small Korean apartment. It felt like such an ordinary transition when juxtaposed with how extraordinary the change was going to be for my life. Could you really just apply for a Visa, snap up a giveaway job in another country, and then follow the instructions on the boarding pass? Somehow, it felt like turning the world on its head would take more effort, but I suppose that's exactly where most people get it all wrong. Hitting a home run, it seems, has more to do with stepping into the batter's box than the swing.
Culture shock is a weird sensation to describe. It's like stepping into the middle of a complicated movie and trying to sort out the plot without asking anyone around you. You can pick out clues here and there, like "that is probably the price of that food-looking dish" or "I could maybe pee there." The rest, you are left to figure out, and you'd better learn quick or you might not make it through tomorrow. It takes a while to determine whether the whole experience should be exciting, terrifying, or hilarious. I tend to favour the latter, because how can you do anything but laugh when you find out the hard way that you have improperly used a bidet? Or shown up to a spa ill-prepared to share it with hundreds of completely nude Korean men? You simply swallow your pride, smile, and dive in head first. (To the situation, of course. Never dive head first into a bidet or a hot tub full of naked men. God, you would only make that mistake once, or at the very most three times.)
There are a number of adjustments that a Canadian must make when they arrive in Asia to work, but first let me remind you that I am not just any Canadian. I live, breathe, and exist the quintessential Canuck life: Kraft Dinner is my favourite meal. Hockey is my religion. I privately celebrate the birthdays of Tim Horton, Ron MacLean, and Terry Fox. I am a left-leaning, Canadian Politics graduate who is euphoric when I am able to blend intelligent debate with purely hedonistic activities. I went to Winnipeg and didn't mind it. To quote my good friend Michelle, "Korea is about to be hit by the whitest man on the face of the earth." Touche. Any belief I had that my Greater Toronto upbringing and infrequent trips to Pacific Mall were enough to prepare me for the level of homogeneity I would experience was sadly misled. I am a spectacle. I'm Shaq. Kazaam.
The biggest surprise doesn't come when you walk down the street, but rather, when you walk inside of a school full of Korean children. It's pretty surreal the first time that a mob of literally dozens of teenagers swarm you in a hallway reaching for you, screaming, and shouting "you are handsome!" I was flattered at first, feeling like some kind of Beatles incarnate, until an ethics teacher I was having dinner with informed me this week that my "face is the face of Matt Damon." Then it clicked (once I was done laughing, of course). When the only white people you see also happen to land on People's '50 Most Sexiest Men' list every year, you instinctively believe that all white men are Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, or any cast member of Ocean's 11 that isn't Don Cheadle. Children just have a different way of expressing it.
In my first week of class, I decided to curb this excitement by using my first week of English classes as an opportunity for the students to ask me any questions they had about my life in Canada. I teach 13 and 14 year olds, but for whatever reason I neglected to forsee the types of questions they would ask, nor did I imagine how hilarious I would find their use of the language. I provide a few examples for you to peruse:
- Hello. My name is John Junson. I have two questions. Did you went basketball-court to see NBA match? I like NBA. And, can I get your number?
- 1. How much is Toronto? 2. How much is Ottawa? 3. How much is Montreal? 4. If I buy a Canada where you are?
- I am hungry, you too?
- How many teeth do you have?
- Tell me about your weight.
- Are you married? Do you like terrible fish?
- Do you think that you are handsome? Your parents is handsome?
- You look like Beckham (soccer player). You know? This is secret - you are more hansome than before teacher.
- My name is JangJisu who love Wondergirls.
- How many hairs do you have? Do you have baby?
- Do You have a girlfriend? What kind of girl do you like? Can you love the student? Teacher very handsome.
- What do you like style girl? Where do you live? You can love we? Do you remember my name??? We love you.
- How are you? I love you.
- I have a sister. Will you marry my sister? P.S. My sister likes pretty doll and she is three years old.
- How old are you? Do you love me? I'm ugly?
- Are you gentle?
Believe it or not, those were just examples taken from my first day in class. The lesson lasted five, and every one of these questions came out in various different ways over the course of that time. After eleven days I am enjoying myself but admittedly still adjusting to this new life abroad, so stay tuned for more interesting, hilarious, or downright bizarre accounts of my job in Korea, presented in all forms of multimedia. Should be a wild ride.