Thursday, 7 January 2010

Abducted by the Landlord

A few days ago I came home to find our landlord (probably in his late 60's) shoveling out the apartment parking lot with his wife. As with most of our run-ins, he spoke in very rapid Korean for a good 2 minutes. He can't speak a word of English, not even "hello." My approach is always to nod and say 네 ("nay" which is like saying "yes" or an affirmation) until I caught the words 오리 ("ouri" meaning "we") and 가치 ("ga-chi" which means together). Oh no. I tried to catch where, when, or what he was trying to tell me. He motioned to his mouth, which I took to be eating, then he smiled, nodded, and waved me upstairs. I fled upstairs with the assumption that sometime we bay get together for dinner.


Scott was home before me and had a similar experience. About 15 minutes later our landlord knocks on our door and launches into the same speech as before. after 5 minutes we realized he had no intention of leaving. He made a driving motion with his hands, and waved us out the door.

We aren't completely hopeless at Korean, but when it comes at us so rapidly in a random scenario we have very little to latch on to. Between the two of us, these are the words (the English translation) that we had figured out:

English language speaking
room 201
two students
private academy (hagwon)
high school
mother (room 201 mother)
Gilju Elementary school
Gilju Elementary school teacher (I gathered he was referring to me there)
we will go to Andong hospital together
my car

We did get into his car, not knowing what else to do. I felt like a detective fed random clues without a big picture. All we knew definitively was that we were going to Andong hospital, but we didn't know why. I had a few theories, based on the current evidence:

A. The mother of two high school students were formerly students at Gilju Elementary school.

B. Someone who speaks English moved into room 201, but they were now in the hospital and needed someone to talk to.

C. Since we've been sick all week, the tennents of room 201 feel we need to go to the hospital. Perhaps they found out because one of their students said their English teacher (me) at the Gilju camp was sneezing and having trouble speaking.

D. Let's see how far we can take to foreign tenants before they start freaking out.

After a few failed phone calls to get assistance, I finally got ahold of Taebun and handed the phone over to our landlord just as we pulled up in front of the pharmacy next to the big Andong Hospital. Ahah! We missed the words "nearby" the hospital and "pharmacy" in the midst of his fast talking.

The landlord talked to Taebun for awhile then handed the phone back, and even Taebun is confused. He says "remember I told you about the two high school students living in room 201?" No. He must have forgotten that one. What are two high school kids doing living alone in our building anyway? "The ones that want to speak English with you." He left that out too. "I don't really know, but I think this is an arranged meeting to start English lessons. Their mother works at this pharmacy." Oh dear. "You know, talking is fine, but you can't take any money." That I did know, because any outside work or tutoring is a violation of our contract. So that makes this whole situation a bit difficult.

When the landlord was mentioning the Gilju Elementary teacher, he was referring to Taebun and not me, because apparently he thought this whole thing was pre-planned and discussed. But when the mother of the two high school students sits down with us and tells us that she is the one who wants English tutoring, and 3 days a week, I realized that this isn't just a Korean to English translation mix-up, this is also a lack of Korean communication.

All the while at the pharmacy when this was being worked out with the mother, our landlord sat silently in a chair, arms crossed, leaning back and looking down at us from his upturned head; much akin to a mafia don. He did, after all, take us to a small location far from home to meet with a drug dealer (pharmacist). It all started to feel like shady English dealing under the table.

So we were stuck in the arranged meeting, which already assumed our acceptance and was for the sole purpose of arranging the dates and times. It was clear we couldn't go home until a bargain was made and phone numbers were exchanged. We told her we couldn't accept any of her money, but if she wanted to meet up with us once or twice a week to practice English conversation over a cup of coffee then that would be OK. We can be her English friends, not her English tutors. At least we postponed it until after we get back from America in March, so we'll see how it goes.


  1. oy- that sounds crazy stressful!

  2. How interesting...the mysteries of Korea continue. But the adventure of it all makes it worth while. Can't wait for the rest of the story.

  3. 우리
    같이 :p

    nice blog

  4. AHAHAHAHAHA!! just learned to say "YES" to everything he says? Isn't that a "no no" or does that only apply in Mexico?

  5. hey did you teach at Gilju elementary school? I just arrived and I have been placed there through EPIC and would love to pick your brain abou tthe school before i start on moday. Please could you let me know where i could contact you?