One of the best moments of “Love is Drop by Drop” was in the 43rd episode where Woo Huyk had stickers made for Bang Wool’s coffee cup that said: “I am rooting (cheering) for you”.
Bang Wool probably never had anyone in her life who was cheering for her, except her father and Dong Joon, and by this time in the show, they were both deceased. It’s critically important when things get tough to know you have someone on your side, who understands what you are going through, and can be a source of encouragement.
While LIDD was airing, I found that many of my long time dental patients were in major need of encouragement. Most of the time it was about their dental work–they needed treatment that was going to span years and would require numerous visits to our office and to local specialists to get everything done they would require. (An example of this would be having a broken tooth extracted, orthodontics to straighten the rest of the teeth, then having bone grafts or sinus surgery to make it possible to place one or more implants, then having the implants placed, and having the crowns fabricated on top of the implants. Oh, and there’s usually a few regular crowns and fillings that happen along the way, and the periodic cleanings that are always necessary!) My older son is currently going through a similar process. He calls it the 512 step dental program!
It’s easy to get discouraged when you need to spend so much money and time on your teeth. Sometimes my patients tell me they feel like they see the staff at our dental office more than they see their friends! I found myself encouraging my patients to hang in there–it would all be worth it at the end. I can speak to this after two dental implants of my own in the last three years, and absolutely nothing about the process for me was simple or easy, due to several factors out of my control. But now things are on the upswing (I hope and pray!) and I can truthfully say, “If I got through this, then you can too.” Since I get to see my patients every 3-4 months during a process that takes 2-3 years, I am in a position to be the one who sees the baby steps of progress and can find out from my patient if anything is going wrong, or if they are feeling discouraged. They may not want to complain to the dentist, but they sure feel free to complain to me! And that’s a good thing in my book.
Just to show you how much I gravitate toward K-dramas where encouragement is everything, “The Best Hit” and “Fight for My Way” quickly found their way into my heart. Since I know almost none of my patients watch K-dramas, I can liberally ‘borrow’ things from the shows like the ‘two thumbs up’ gesture, or the phrase “I am cheering for you”. Even when I am not seeing the patient that day, they might be having some work done with the dentist and I will stop in their room and say, “I know you can’t talk right now, but I am cheering for you! Good luck today!” and give them two thumbs up and a smile. It’s just a small thing and takes maybe 10 seconds. But I think it means something if the patient knows someone is on their side, even in a nerve-racking place like a dental office!
I also try to encourage my patients who tell me about their troubles with recalcitrant teenagers/young adults who seem bent on trying to push the self-destruct button in their lives. I’ve been there too, and I can sympathize with how difficult it is to watch a young person with plenty of potential try to destroy their life with bad decisions again and again. When my daughter was a teen, I had plenty of encouragement from my older patients who told me hair-raising stories of the crazy things their kids did back in the day, and they still turned out okay. Life today is so difficult. I try to stay aware of opportunities to encourage people, whether at work or anywhere else. You never know how much an encouraging word might mean to someone having a hard time in their life.
The turning point of my K-drama viewing experience was the day I realized that “Secret Love Affair” was being subbed by both Dramafever and Viki–and that the subs were different enough to give a completely distinct feel to a scene. Prior to that, I had blindly trusted the subbers. I mean, why wouldn’t I? Suddenly, using the right word in a drama became critically important. I urge you to read this fantastic blogpost and interview with Korean-English subbers on Outside Seoul. This concept was further entrenched in my brain while I watched “Heard it Through the Grapevine”. I looked at some scenes three different times with three different versions of subs, often comparing them in my recaps. The differences in the subs were staggering, often making the difference between truly understanding a scene or being lost in a haze and not entirely sure of what just happened.
During my 6 month obsession with “Love is Drop by Drop”, I began to get increasingly frustrated. I suspected I was missing important bits and pieces of dialogue and background because I could hear words that weren’t subbed, or there seemed to be important information that was ignored. I cursed at myself over and over because I didn’t know anywhere enough of the Korean language to be able to figure it out. I needed help. By early March of this year, I started looking around for Korean Language classes in my area.
My first attempt looked great on paper but didn’t pan out in reality. The Korean Cultural Center in DTLA has classes every Tuesday night for the ridiculously low price of $80 for 10-2 hr classes, and that included free parking (!) and a light dinner of kimbap and japchae each week! OMG! Authentic food is included? Sign me up! (And it’s not like there isn’t anywhere to catch a late dinner in DTLA Ktown!) However, it was an hour from my work–if traffic was not too bad and there were no accidents on the freeways, and I got off work on time. Having all that happen at the same time is on the likelihood scale of being hit by lightning! I tried the commute the week before the class was to start, but the stress of driving in evening DTLA traffic was more than I could cope with. My Waze app deftly navigated me through some scary neighborhoods on narrow streets with tons of pedestrians, large buses, and bicyclists to get me there in 58 minutes. Knowing the propensity of LA drivers to run red lights, change lanes without signaling at random moments and drive like the Grim Reaper is chasing them, I felt like I had survived an ordeal before I even arrived at the class location. Driving in the OC is nothing like driving in LA. I had to figure something else out.
Even though there are many great internet programs to teach Korean to English speakers, I knew I would need some “face time” with another human being to get my many questions answered and to work on correctly pronouncing the words. I put my name on a waiting list for a class in Irvine (aka the City I Love to Hate) that was to start in the summer, and I started going around to after school tutoring establishments in my local Garden Grove Koreatown area to see if someone there would be willing to teach this old ahjumma Korean. I got a lot of weird looks, a lot of “No’s” and “Is this for travel?”. I’m not a good liar, so of course, I said, “It’s so I can enjoy watching Korean dramas more than I do now!” That typically resulted in stifled giggles and eye-rolls of the staff members. **sigh** The one place that said yes was going to charge me more per session than I felt comfortable paying. I got discouraged, but then I remembered that my piano lessons went through a bumpy stretch too.
In late April, I got a little booklet in the mail advertising local small businesses. There was a private language school in Costa Mesa (about 15 min. south of my house) that said they offered Korean lessons. I had seen their school before on Yelp when I was looking for classes, but because they were a private school I thought their prices would be too high, and I forgot about it.
I gave the school a call…only to find out the number was disconnected! WTH! This advertisement was just printed! Thank goodness I looked it up on the internet….the number was different and I found out later the booklet was printed in error, much to the chagrin of the staff. I called and asked about Korean classes. They said they didn’t have a group class right now (the one in my price bracket), but could I come down for a free trial class and evaluation? I agreed, and they had a day and time that worked with my schedule. After I got off the phone I thought, “Evaluation? Oh, no! What if they think I’m too crazy, or (worse) too dumb to learn Korean at my age?! Is there a pre-test before classes can start? What should I even study?” I worked for a week to brush up on the Hangul alphabet, but I felt woefully unprepared when I arrived for the ‘evaluation’. I’m not what I was at 16. I’m pretty sure that the combination of age and multiple concussions have made me a lot slower when it comes to learning new things. I can still do it, but the length of time and the effort I have to put in is exponentially more than when I was a teen.
Portal Languages is located in an eclectic two story strip mall in Costa Mesa. This funky corner includes an old-time record store that sells and buys LP’s (and plays music through the center’s speakers system from the 70’s and ’80’s, including the ones I picked for certain scenes in LIDD) a Birkenstock shoe store, a Subway (lol), a sushi place, and a bunch of other restaurants–including Bonchon, a Korean-based fusion food chain known for their fried chicken wings. I have yet to try it out, although it seems like midday might be the right time to go as it’s less busy. The reviews are decent but not overwhelmingly positive. (The restaurants in DTLA and Las Vegas have already closed down. Hmmmm.) It slays me that most folks around here will eat Korean food as long as the words “Taco” or “Burrito” are tacked on to the food description. **snort**
I take the stairs up to the school and meet Daniella, the cheerful administrative person I spoke to on the phone. Then I get to meet my teacher whose name is Jonson, but I am old-school and will refer to him here as Lee Seonsaengnim. (LS) At first, I thought Jonson was his “Americanized” name, but nope–that is his real name.
I’m super nervous but LS does a great job of putting me at ease. He asks me why I am here, and I decide to be honest with him. I talk about how much I enjoy watching and writing about Kdramas and how frustrated I am with the subbing. I even give him examples from LIDD, as I bring up the scene where I couldn’t tell if Chae Rin was addressing Woo Hyuk as Oppa or Sang Chul as Oppa–or maybe it was both! I am somewhat bummed that he says he doesn’t watch Kdramas (I think he thinks they are dopey) and he hasn’t been up to the theater to see “Veteran” or “Fabricated City” yet, although he did like “Train to Busan”. He doesn’t use a book–but he does borrow from the Talk To Me In Korean (TTMIK) website, and the Korean Class 101 website. His theory is that you learn what motivates you, so he wants me to bring in examples of dialogue from Kdramas each week as study material. He seems impressed that I know a few words, and that I have at least a minimal amount of understanding about the Hangul letters. Best of all, he doesn’t even laugh at me when he finds out my little Yorkie dog is named Chingu. (“friend” in Korean)
Side note: My daughter found the frightened 7 lb dog roaming the streets near a freeway two weeks before my mom committed suicide back in 2014. She had no ID tag or chip. After the vet told me it was obvious she’d been in a backyard breeding program, I wasn’t in the frame of mind to return her to those sort of people. **Grrrr** Needless to say, Chingu was a great friend and comfort to me during that sad time in my life, and she has become much less anxious and skittish than when she first arrived at my house. With daily medication and a soft diet (Chingu has bad teeth too, lol!) she is now a healthy 9 lbs. She will even take a treat from my hand–that simple activity took nearly two years for her to achieve. Thankfully, she gets along with my cats!
LS tells me about another student of his who is currently learning Korean because his girlfriend is Korean, and he wants to go to Korea and meet her parents and make a good impression. Uh, oh! I flash back to the couple I knew in college where the guy learned Vietnamese to impress his girlfriend’s parents, and how badly that whole deal turned out. Before I can put the brakes on my mouth, I ask if this guy is white…and when LS nods yes, I blurt out, “He’s gonna die for sure. Her parents will flip. They’ll hate him.” LS kinda chuckles and nods in agreement. Immediately I think–Now why did I say that? **headdesk** Even if it’s true, I should’ve kept my big mouth shut. I’m certain I sounded just like the sardonic Han Solo in this clip from “Return of the Jedi”:
Instead of chastising me for being a knucklehead, LS says that this guy is highly motivated and at the very least her traditional parents should be impressed that he tried to learn Korean and respect them. (They might even allow him to live!) That’s a very positive way to frame things.
A secondary topic we work on–how to order at a restaurant. This includes things like asking for the bill, or if you need more water, or whether you want something mild or spicy. Yes, the servers at every K-town restaurant I’ve been to around here speak English. But my goal is to feel comfortable even if they don’t…and to be able to read and order from a menu that may not be fully (or even partially) translated into English. For me, learning the phrase, “I don’t drink alcoholic beverages” is also a must. I’d never survive the drinking culture in SK.
Another great point Seonsaengnim makes: Don’t negative self-talk yourself out of learning anything! If you say to yourself, “This is too difficult. I’ll never learn this. I’m too old/dumb/bad at learning”–then you set yourself up to fail. Instead, LS says that it’s a matter of exposure to remember words and phrases. Everyone needs a certain level of exposure to remember the word. Some people need more exposure than others. More exposure=more learning. Straight up memorization makes students frustrated. So does this mean the more dramas I watch, the faster I will learn Korean? The answer in a nutshell: Yes! LS really likes the dual subtitles that I told him Viki.com has now (only for some dramas) because I can pause the feed, repeat a word or phrase, and consider the way the character is using the word. He says all of that will help me remember words and he’s right. I find myself picking up words much more quickly. However, it takes me twice as long to watch a show as I take notes and repeat words and phrases. Pronunciation is much more difficult for me than I expected. LS makes recordings of dialogue for me (the same as TTMIK uses, but he does it slower) and I really have to work on repeating phrases over and over to get the flow and the sound right. To give you an idea of how slow my progress is, I have spent about 6 weeks on the above dialogue, understanding all the words, and being able to pronounce them confidently. When I finally get everything right, wow….it feels great, boosts my confidence and motivates me to continue. LS says that studies have shown learning either a new language or a musical instrument keep a person from having dementia and Alzheimer’s issues. I gotta give that “Two Thumbs Up”!
Meanwhile, I get to also find out some interesting info…I thought LS was much younger than I was, but we have to be relatively close in age as his daughter is in college at UCLA, my alma mater! He has an older brother that is a wildly successful CEO of some company in Korea. And how about this for another crazy coincidence….his wife is a concert pianist! OMG! I then found out LS is also currently learning how to speak German. Good thing I was sitting down! I mean, what are the odds of me finding a Korean teacher who has a working knowledge of a concert pianist’s life? He did ask me what motivated me to take up piano 3 years ago at age 50, and I admitted it was a K-drama that got me started, but I quickly changed the subject. I was afraid to open that emotional Pandora’s box. After class was over, I drove over to a nearby park and sat in my car for a while. I reflected on the SLA fanfics I wrote, and how while I was writing them, I imagined the feelings Seon Jae must have had learning German while he was in school. I thought perhaps after three years I was done with that fanfic I wrote becoming a shadowing of my life, but maybe not quite yet. From music theory class to starting the blog, going to a piano master class at UCI, and now learning a new language…I never envisioned three years ago that I’d be doing the things I am doing today. My life is so full–and it’s wonderful! I think I missed learning. I always liked school, and for 27 years I was away from that and/or in survival mode. Now I have room to breathe, and even if my job gets in the way (lol) I have at least some free time to do the things I want to do.
LS frames many ideas and concepts with examples from music which I totally comprehend, and suddenly I am much less intimidated by this endeavor I’ve started. One thing LS is especially good at–yep, you guessed it–encouragement. Similar to my piano lessons, where I know I will never be at the level of a concert pianist, I may not ever become completely fluent in Korean either–although LS thinks that 3-4 years of solid effort on my part would allow me to watch a Kdrama without subs and understand more than 90% of the content. How amazing would that be? **mind blown** Just thinking about that encourages me. I might never make it to the top of the heap, but that does not take away from the enjoyment of the journey. After 2 months of Korean lessons, I find that my enjoyment of K-dramas has increased exponentially. Going to both Piano class and Korean class for me is like going to a gym with a personal trainer who works you out mercilessly. I’m mentally exhausted but it’s a great feeling at the end. (Yeah, I should start on that working out thing too….Ha!)
Here are links to a few YT videos he had me watch to get started:
And here are a couple of videos that I found on my own that I really liked:
Awesome 50-minute compilation video that I think answers a lot of questions drama viewers might have. This is from Korean Class 101. I recommend watching a few segments, then taking a break and come back later for more.
20-minute compilation video with many basic phrases in 3-minute segments with a strong emphasis on pronunciation and formality levels.