Sometimes I view my job here in Korea as a form of glorified cheerleading.
Me: How can you ask for a favor?
Freshmen: *cough* *pretend to look for a pencil* *glare balefully at the world*
Me: Look in the book—you can do it! “Would you mind…”
Freshmen: Would you mind . . . . mumblemumblemumble . . .
Me: Would you mind what?
Bill: Would you mind . . .open . . . window. . . mumbleshamefacedmumble
Me: Great, Bill! That’s it! Keep it up!
Bill: Would you mind window mumblemumbleducksheadmumble open me?
Me: Not really—but good job! John?
Me: Almost! Would you mind opening . . . *point to the window*
John: win . . . dow?
Me: the window, but yes! Great job! Go team!!!!! *double thumbs up, smile, nod encouragingly*
I’ve found myself naturally adopting this cheerleading mentality with every Korean who talks to me. I nod. I smile. I throw thumbs up left right and center. Everyone needs more encouragement, right?
Remember my soccer buddy who is made of awesome and all things sweet? He came back the other day and took me to soccer, which was excellent fun. I wowed the little boys, got some exercise and a ride home from a guy called Young Boom.
Soccer buddy (in Korean): Do you have an English nickname?
YoungBoom: Ahhhhhh TIGER!!! YA!
Soccer buddy (to me): “Boom” means “tiger.”
Me: I’m not calling him Tiger.
Soccer buddy: Okay, bye!
BoomTiger: Do you like . . . ummmm . . . cheekin?
Me: Um, yeah! Chickin’s good. *thumbs up*
I abhor chicken. It is greasy and makes my stomach feel like it’s hosting an unhappy but high on ecstasy amoeba party.
BoomTiger: Team. Cheekin. Eat?
Me: Um, no. I have to go home and study. Don't worry! I can take the subway.
BoomTiger: No! No! I drive. I medical. Me.
Me: I see. Cool. *thumbs up, smile*
Me: Sure! *anything-to-make-the-awkwardness-go-away smile*
It will take at least twenty minutes to get home. I ask questions—short, not scary questions—I chatter. I try to be a friendly, appreciative passenger. BoomTiger doesn’t know much English, but he asks questions, too.
BoomTiger: You like pizza? Chickin? Pasta?
BoomTiger: I drive car. You like?
BoomTiger: You like alcohol?
BoomTiger: You like music?
BoomTiger: Do you know ghjdiicsak? Music?
BoomTiger: Are you hungry? Food by Kosin eat?
I tried. I really did. I tried to stay encouraging. But when he said “Michael Jackson” and proceeded to belt a sampling of some incomprehensible rendition, wobbling his head back and forth like a mating peacock, I shifted irreversibly into “polite.” Finally, as I was wondering what might possess someone to be quite so confident in their inabilities, he finished his warbling.
BoomTiger: Shim shim? Do you know shim shim?
My phone dictionary displayed gratitude, heartfelt thanks.
Me: Yes. I shim shim. Thank you for the ride home.
BoomTiger: You. Phone.
Me: Hmm. Phone. Yes?
BoomTiger: Shim shim. Call!
I decided to check my phone again where I see the secondary meaning of shim shim. Bored. Meanwhile, BoomTiger has figured this out as well by calling a friend to ask him for the translation. I nodded and smiled, applauding the kind of efforts I rarely see even in my most dedicated students. Good job, BoomTiger! You tried really hard! Keep it up! Work on your verbs! I was already nodding and smiling when BoomTiger said, triumphantly:
BoomTiger: You bored. Call. Me!
Oh please no.
BoomTiger: Bored, yes. You? Me. Call!
Me: Oh, yes, bored, but--phone?
BoomTiger: You call. We food place. Eat. Alcohol. Okay?
Oh, be still my fluttering heart.
What went wrong? What could possibly make a boy think that, after sitting in the same car for ten minutes struggling to communicate the simplest banalities (even if she didn't already do that for a job), a girl would want to voluntarily sign up to do it again? Did I miss something? On the bright side, I've now got "medical insurance."
BoomTiger: You sick? Me call! I medical.