Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Vocab lessons...

It is really cold here. I don't think I can say it enough. My brief time back at home came with a nearly daily warning of "you know it's really really really cold in Korea, right?" from either one (and sometimes both) of my parents. It got to the point where I thought that maybe they were secretly telling me not to come back. But they weren't kidding. I've been doing a lot of mental math lately, converting things between good old F and C, since NEGATIVE 20 degrees just sounds really scary. (That's C, and yes, I know you east coasters all think I'm a wimp, but have mercy, I grew up in a place where the winter low was 40F.) At any rate, let's just say I'm adjusting. Like today, when I quickly realized I should NOT call the landlady and tell her my fridge is broken, it just FEELS warm inside because it IS warmer than outside...

I was a little worried that I would regress back to my pre-Yonsei speaking ability, having spoken mostly English over the holidays. But things have come back pretty quickly and I'm recognizing more words on TV thanks to the fact that they've coincidentally popped up in class. It's like when you buy a blue Honda Civic and then suddenly you start noticing all the other blue Honda Civics in your town. Actually, I think every other person in San Francisco DOES own a blue Honda Civic (and then some...there's my brother's in Atlanta, and Gwynna's in Seattle, and the list goes on and on) but still, it's exciting. Anyways, now I can say things like "I enrolled in the German club when I was in high school. There was no membership fee." Or "According to research reports, hiking is a popular hobby in Korea." Next week I'll learn how to say "I am your neighbor who recently moved in. Please, try some of this rice cake I prepared." I'm not sure how well that will go over though, because everybody in my building is Japanese - some don't speak Korean (lots of smiling and nodding) and the one girl I talked to seemed utterly confused. I'm not sure if it was because she couldn't believe that I like to cook every day, or if she didn't understand exactly what I was saying.

I also learned the word for "cartilage" (연골) which has been helpful because it's very awkward telling people you wrote your dissertation on "that stuff that is not INSIDE the bones in your back but is on top of and underneath those bones." Last semester I tried to tell my teacher I studied the intervertebral disc using the word that popped up in my electronic dictionary (추간판) but she circled the word in red and said "what is this? I don't know what this is!" So it made me wonder if she actually didn't know what it was, or if my dictionary is just totally wrong. My dictionary DOES have a sense of humor, since it regularly throws out phrases like "vagabond journey" or "filial piety"...but I wonder. Is it silly of me to assume people know what an intervertebral disc is?? Granted, my sample population is incredibly skewed, seeing as two of my friends have had herniated discs, I spent the last 7 years in the company of fellow bioengineering nerds, and taught several semesters of anatomy to nursing students, who HAD to learn what an intervertebral disc is. But I'm curious if it is one of these scenarios:

a) Many Koreans just don't know the word for "intervertebral disc"
b) Many people, not just Koreans, don't know the word for "intervertebral disc"
c) I just assume most people know what an intervertebral disc is because when I describe my research, they all say "Oh! Great! Mine are all broken, fix them soon!"
c) I just assume most people know what an intervertebral disc is because of the smiling and nodding (which now, I realize, in no way implies understanding/comprehension, being guilty of this habit myself)

I have half a mind to take out an ad like those ones in the back of magazines where it asks "Can you draw this?" and shows a picture of a pig wearing a hat. Except mine would look like this:

Do you know what the white thing is called? It's the thing between the bones in your back.

This is what happens when it is so cold you'd rather sit inside and let your thoughts run away instead of going outside where your face will likely freeze off. Help me!

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