No, I Can’t Speak Korean So Please Stop Asking

I’m tired of people asking me if I’m fluent in Korean yet.

I get it, though. I’ve been living in Korea for almost 2 years and I spend most of my time around folks whose native language is Korean. I get why you’d assume that my Korean is on point.

It’s not because I didn’t make an effort to learn Korean. I taught myself how to read Korean before I came to Korea, which was fairly easy to do. Once I was here,  I faithfully went to Korean classes twice a week for about a year in an attempt to learn the language. So it’s not that I don’t know any Korean. In fact, I tend to understand a lot more than I can speak because I spent most of the time in my Korean class confused trying to understand what the hell was going on. (The class was taught in Korean so you know I was lost in the sauce for a while, but it definitely helped with my listening and comprehension skills.) I also have amazing co-teachers who always answer my questions about grammar, teach me different phrases, and are available for me to practice my Korean if I wish. But no, I’m not fluent.

Learning Korean is one thing and actually using it is another. And while learning in a classroom is cool and all, I’m someone who learns through practice. I want to be able to use what I’m learning in the real world. Otherwise, what’s the point?? But here’s the thing: every time I try to use Korean outside of the classroom, people almost always respond in English!! **except for older people, like 60+**

Once again, I get it. Koreans begin learning English in elementary school, but rarely get the chance to practice what they’ve learned outside of the classroom because everyone is speaking Korean. So when they see someone like me, who’s CLEARLY not Korean, they view it as an opportunity to get a little bit of English practice.

I’m not mad at it. It’s kind of the same thing that I’m doing. But it doesn’t help me practice my Korean and learn to use it authentically. I don’t want to learn a language so I can speak to myself, I want to talk to other people!! So after a while, I stopped trying as much. I’ll practice using my little phrases with my homie at the 7/11 who always asks me if I want a receipt in Korean.

There’s also the reactions that I get from Koreans when I use Korean. I usually encounter two extremes: either people overreact immensely at your use of Korean or they try to play you. And both reactions are kind of annoying. For example, it’s really awkward when someone claps, gasps in amazement, and tells me how good my Korean is just because I said hell0 in Korean. Huh?? It’s not difficult and doesn’t require effort. And it’s definitely not worthy of applause. On the other hand, I also don’t need you snickering and laughing if I say something in Korean and the pronunciation may be a little off. I’d never make fun of someone who’s going out of their way to try and communicate with me in English and I’m going to go above and beyond to try and understand them. So you getting your giggles in every time I say something is not going to make me want to keep talking.

All I’m saying is, send me the memo. If we’re laughing at grammatical errors now, LET ME KNOW so I can free up my schedule. I won’t have time for anything else if that’s the case.

And then there’s the issue of understanding too much. This was my biggest issue. You know that saying “Ignorance is bliss?” Well, there’s some truth to that.

When you don’t understand the language, you can go about your day kind of oblivious to what is being said around you. There’s no point, because you can’t understand  most of it anyway. But when you start learning more, you start understanding more. And with that understanding comes picking up on the slick shit that people are saying about you. I began to notice and understand when people were saying rude shit about the way that I look or my hair and it became hella annoying. It’s also a bit frustrating because you know that it’s pointless to even say anything about it because it won’t make a difference. You just have to “understand their unique situation.”*

*I was told to do this by someone because I should understand that Koreans are not used to foreigners. But rude is rude, no matter how you look at it.*

So I stopped putting in loads of effort to become fluent in Korean. I definitely encourage you to engage with the language in whatever way works for you. You might find that you truly enjoy it and don’t have to deal with these issues as much as I did. But I’ve found that life in Korea is a little easier FOR ME when I can’t understand everything that’s being said around me.

So please, stop asking me if I’m fluent. I’m not. And I’m cool with that.

 

P.S. I still have an uncanny knack for knowing when people are talking shit. It’s a gift and a curse LOL….

11 Pieces of Advice for Black Women Visiting Korea

Seoul, South Korea is known for many things. Samsung. K-pop. Kimchi. Super fast internet. Bomb-ass BBQ. Psy.

It is also well-known for its homogeneity and extreme expectations of beauty. Walking through the streets of Seoul, you will be surrounded by thin, fair-skinned Koreans, with straight, dyed hair. As someone who is melanin-rich, it’s safe to say that I definitely stand out in a crowd. Considering that I’m very far from the Korean standard (chocolate, thick, with big, natural hair), it only makes sense that I’d have some different experiences here in Korea.

Since I’ve gotten so many questions from Black women about things that they should expect during their trip (or move) to Seoul, I decided to make a quick list of some things you might experience while you’re here. So, here goes:

  • People are going to stare. A LOT. If you’re really lucky, you’ll even encounter the folks who stop, gasp, point, talk ish, and stare all at the same damn time.  At first, it’s extremely annoying and makes you feel uncomfortable as hell. But you’ll get used to it and/or find ways to deal with it. Sometimes I just stare right back. Yeah it’s awkward, but you’d be surprised how many people keep staring even though you’re looking right at them. Other times, I just imagine that they’re staring because I’m so beautiful and they can’t help themselves.

beyonce flawless on fleek hair flip slay

  • Random people may ask to take pictures with or of you. Don’t feel obliged to take one if you don’t want to. Usually, I’ll take one with them because it makes me feel like a celebrity. And, I usually pull my phone out as well so I can get a copy of the pic too. But if you’re not in the mood, politely decline and keep it moving.
  • If you’re natural or if you like to change your hair a lot, you will be asked about each hairstyle. People are genuinely curious, so use this as an opportunity to educate. It’s great that people are interested in your hair and want to know more about it. I remember spending almost an hour with my co-teacher watching natural hair videos on YouTube, and my students are always confused when I switch it up. I just tell them it’s the #blackgirlmagic.
  • Also, some people may ask to touch your hair, and some people may even be bold enough to touch it without asking. Do what makes you comfortable, and don’t be shy to say “no.” If people touch your hair without permission, you can touch theirs back and they’ll see how awkward it is. (*Note: this has the potential to backfire if that person actually likes getting their hair played with. It happened to me before, so I thought I should warn you).
  • Speaking of hair, if you have some favorite hair products, bring them so that you can do your hair once you get here. You may be able to buy some products online and get them delivered to you, but it’s always best to have your own just in case. The same goes for make-up.
  • If you decide to go out dancing, don’t be surprised if people come up and want to dance with you or ask you to teach them how to dance. Many people think that just because you’re Black, you can sing and dance, which we all know isn’t true.
  • If some random hits you with the “Wassup!” or “Yo, yo!,” hit them with your fiercest side-eye and keep it moving. We don’t talk like that. Come correct.
  • The N-word. No, no, no. Just no. They can’t say it. The end. If someone tries to say it around you, kindly shut that ish down.
  • Some of the older Koreans may look at you and automatically assume that you are African because many of them are under the assumption that all Black people are African. Even in 2016, there are people who are under the assumption that all white people are Americans and all black people are Africans. It’s great if you’re African, but if you’re not, let them know where you’re from. If you really want to be shady, you can ask them if they’re Japanese (because all Asians must be Japanese, right?).

nicki minaj annoyed eye roll music mad

  • Also, many Koreans think that all black people look alike.  I’ve had people tell me I look like Oprah. *Insert side-eye here* I’ve had a co-teacher tell me, “I know that many Westerners think that we[Koreans] all look alike. But it’s ok, because we think you look alike too.”

And the most important piece of advice:

  • Do you, boo!!! The truth is, you’re going to encounter ignorance no matter where you go. There are going to be people who love you and are excited to meet you and there are going to be people who don’t understand you or like you. Explore, learn more about the culture, but don’t let anything deter you from enjoying yourself. People are going to stare regardless, so you might as well wear your biggest twist-out, walk your fiercest walk, and be happy!

do you zendaya coleman be happy

 

 

 

 

Hong Kong Faves: Villages and Markets!!

When I found some cheap tickets to Hong Kong, I hopped on them without a moment’s hesitation. Well, I hesitated long enough to check my remaining vacation days, but you get the point.

And although I was only there for 4 days, I really loved the vibe of the city. There’s just so much to see and do, whether you’re in the Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) area, on Hong Kong Island, or take a day trip to one of the neighboring islands.

In addition to the delicious food and gorgeous skyline, here are some of my favorites from my long weekend in Hong Kong:

Lantau Island

Lantau Island is the largest of the Hong Kong Islands and is the home to many popular attractions. I took the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car from the train station to Ngong Ping Village in order to get some great views of the area. Although the cable car was a little expensive at 130 HKD one-way, the view was definitely worth it, and it was much quicker than taking a bus to the village.
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In Ngong Ping Village, we saw the Tian Tan Buddha (a.k.a. the Big Buddha), the Po Lin Monastary, and the Wisdom Path. If you go to see the Buddha, prepare yourself for the 268 steps to the top!

 

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Heyyy Buddha!!

 

 

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Wisdom Path

Then, my friend and I hopped on a bus and headed to Tai O Fishing Village, which is home to the Tanka people. We took a boat ride around the stilted houses that this village is well-known for and then looked through the Tai O Market. This market primarily sells seafood, and I had the chance to try some new foods here as well!

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Stilted houses in Tai O village

 

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Definitely not a fan of cuttlefish….and I’m fully aware that the little boy is judging me for it LOL

Aberdeen Fishing Village

This little village is about a 30 minute bus ride from Hong Kong Station. It’s full of different kinds of boats where some fishermen and their families still actually live and work.

As soon as my friend and I hit the strip, a little old lady came up to us and offered to take us around the village on her Sampan boat. Although there are stops along the strip to catch an “official” tour boat, these ladies are on their hustle and you can end up getting a longer ride around the village for cheaper.

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Markets

I love strolling through street markets, even though I’m not a huge shopper. There’s something about the energy of the market, and the ability to get some things for a steal. Bargaining is key or you’ll be spending a lot more than you should. I love the idea of saving money, so this is right up my alley!

During my time in HK, I went to the Ladies Market and the Temple Street Night Market. Both of these markets are around the TST area, and are great places to buy everything from purses to jewelry to sex toys. Yes, I’m serious.

*If I had more time, I would have also visited Stanley Market on HK Island, since I’ve heard great things about it.*

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Stall after stall filled with all kinds of goods!

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Macau

Ok, I know that Macau isn’t technically in Hong Kong, but it is just a short ferry ride away so it counts.

I ended up liking Macau a lot more than I thought I would. I’d planned to go for a half day, and ended up spending the entire day there exploring. Despite the rain, I loved exploring the adorable streets and buildings!!

I headed to Old Taipa Village, and took some time exploring the area. Such an adorable place!!
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Then I headed back to Macau Island to see the Ruins of St. Paul’s and the Monte Fort (Mount Fortress).  Unfortunately, it began to get a little late so I couldn’t see as many things as I would like. There’s always next time!

 

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Ruins of St. Paul’s

 

These were just a few of my favorite places in/around Hong Kong. Of course, I did the Peak Tram to Victoria’s Peak, but it was so foggy that I couldn’t see anything!! Who knows, maybe if I saw the amazing view I would have been inclined to add it to my list!

Have you ever been to Hong Kong? What are some of your Hong Kong favorites?