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A Cool Cabbie, Once Again

I remember the days when, while first really studying Korean, I would take taxis with anticipation in my heart. You see, there is something that nobody tells you when you first arrive in Korea, about the act of learning Korean. Most people just want to learn survival Korean, as they don’t intend to stay long, so they have no idea. Others turn so bitter that they think the whole prospect is insane; or they are too lazy to make any headway; or they are, as I was for a while, burnt out in terms of studying Korean, and have forgotten what the taxi ride can be.

But tonight, it was just like in the old days. After an evening with Lime, having a wonderful 닭도리탕 (a kind of spicy chicken stew) and some hot chocolate (she had coffee), it was time for us to make our respective ways home. I’m still not back into cycling, so I caught a cab home after seeing her off.

Lately, I’ve been using my M3 a lot when in transit. I’m listening to things I’ve not yet gotten to from the oodles of downloads I’ve burned onto CDs over the last year or so, music as well as the well-done radio production by the BBC of the SF trilogy Foundation, by Isaac Asimov. (The radio play makes what I consider a bundle of execrably badly-written novels into a listenable narrative.)

But tonight, when I got in the cab, for some reason I didn’t pop my headphones in right away, and the cab driver struck up a conversation with me in the standard way—by complimenting me on my Korean. He was, in fact, so struck by it that he repeated the supposedly impressive bit back to me:

한신 코아 뒤에는 신동 아 아파트! 뒤에는! 와! 한국말 잘 합니다!

In essence, he was impressed because I could tell him “The Shindonga building that is behind the Hanshin Koa Building.”

Anyway, nothing in the conversation that followed would be news to readers here. He asked about my hometown and I told him about it, and asked about his hometown—he’s from coastal Buan, near here. We talked about our parents and where they were from, and he was amazed that I was born in Africa but not black, until I got it across that my grandfather was from the UK, and my mother was a Quebecois nurse. We talked about ignorant country people and how there are such types in every country (I used the Korean idiom of “a frog in a well” to express the idea), and he was amused to hear about my black friend in high school was was born in England, and how nobody could imagine him being from England and me being from Africa, even as remotely as I was.

Like I said, the conversation didn’t go anywhere too amazing. But what was amazing to me was the good feeling I had talking with this guy for the ten minute drive to my home. He went far out of his way to make me feel welcome, cracking jokes and speaking with very polite Korean (jeon-dae-mal) until he got it clearly that I felt he was older than me and could speak in a more relaxed fashion. By the time we arrived at my home, he was exhorting me to “spend a long time in Korea and enjoy Korea!”, and to stress his point he said, repeatedly, “오래오래!오래오래오래! Looooooooong time!” and smiling in the most friendly and generous way.

It’s been a while since I’ve had that experience, where someone sees you trying to make an effort with the language and responds so overwhelmingly that it makes you want to try even more. Sure, there are the punks on the street whom I’d just tell off if I knew better Korean. There are the students who’d get an earful, and the rude fellows who butt in line, and so on. But there are also genuinely good people, plenty of them, with whom connecting might actually be easier, and more rewarding, with just a little more effort.

It was a good cab ride, and I feel like it’s been too long since the last one, which may be more than just a little my fault.

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