The vibe I give off lately must be one of extreme approachability. Tons of people have felt comfortable striking up conversations with me all over Seoul. I have written about being approached before but the last few days the encounters have intensified, beyond the usual stare at the white guy with blue eyes.

Yesterday I entered the Mini-Stop to withdraw won from the ATM, which was used to stimulate the Hongdae economy later that night, the 4th of July. I step away from the machine, begin looking at the candy aisle and notice the group of junior high aged Korean girls sitting at the tables in the back, whispering to each other and tossing subtle glances in my direction. As I’m securing the won in my money clip, debating the preference for fruit or grape flavored mentos in my head, one of them walks over to me, begins checking her hair in the mirror… and drills me 20 with questions. “Hello. How are you? Nice to meet you (even though I never said my name). Are you Canadian or American? How long will you be here? What’s the money for?”… All followed by the same answer, simply, “Oh”, spoken with inflection in her voice demonstrating interest in my answers. I broke off the Q & A, selected the grape mentos and paid the clerk. As I left the Mini- Stop I got a wave and a vocal “Goodbye” from the entire group.

On the subway today I was approached by 2 different people. The first man stood next to me on the escalator during a line transfer. Turns out he is a professor at Seoul National University. He was very interested in learning about my teaching experience in Korea, and then after, explaining to me how it could be so much better by teaching at a public University, of which I think he explained there are only 4 in Seoul. The conversation continued through waiting for the next train, and then on to the train once it arrived. When he needed to exit the train before I did, he actually convinced me to get off the train with him, and sit and listen to him for another 5 minutes, waiting for the next train to continue my journey home. Very chatty man. Most of his effort was geared toward convincing me to get a master’s degree when I returned to the United States, and then return to Korea to teach at the University level. Among his many selling points… 2 months off for winter break and 3 months off for summer break each year.

The next dude was a Kangol sporting older man, waiting for the next train after another transfer. This time I get questions about my t-shirt, which read Gene Ween Band. I had to explain to him that the Gene Ween Band is an American band from Pennsylvania. No, I’m not from Pennsylvania, I am from Oregon. No, not Eugene, Oregon… Portland, Oregon. No, I did not go to the University of Oregon in Eugene… I went to the much better Oregon State University in Corvallis.

The strange part about this last encounter was his interest in what my t-shirt said. Korea is a place where people wear the strangest, most random English sayings blasted across the front of their t-shirts, so it’s easy to assume that the meaning of what they’re wearing is not considered important. To follow are a few examples of shirts I can recall seeing just this week:

“I don’t give a Chuck”, a shirt also featuring an illustration of a Chuck Taylor shoe, worn by a middle aged woman.

“Awkward mornings are better than boring evenings”, worn by a little boy.

“Smile. More. Smoke.” … Your guess is as good as mine, they don’t smoke pot here.

These odd English phrases would lead you to believe that they don’t have a firm understanding of the meaning of what they are wearing… Or do they? After speaking with Kangol guy today I’m a bit confused.

I think a lot of times the people here are just interested in using their English, and I guess I must be someone they are comfortable practicing on.

Learn Korean with


~ by ripcitytoseoul on July 5, 2009.

One Response to “Approachability”

  1. The much better Oregon State University? As an Oregon alumni, I strongly protest!

    But it’s nice to see that there will be someone else in Seoul from Oregon when I get there.

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