The captain set his finished lunch tray next to mine, lacking a single rice grain, and indicated my less clean tray. I said “He wants me to finish my rice,” and my coteacher nodded, seeming a little embarrassed. The captain began to pontificate about how that is the difference between America and Korea. This waste versus nonwaste of rice. I replied, via my coteacher, that I had seen many Koreans throw away rice. And then, although I’m sure some essense of the argument was lost, I argued that America was the same way following our Depression as Korea has been. Food scarcity is here a more living memory while ours languishes in an old folks home, suffers bed sores. Give human nature some time and you too shall forget the value of a grain of rice. Obviously, I didn’t use any of these metaphors.
For the first time in my eight months here, I was offended by something someone said to me about America. Something that is not even untrue. But I resented, strongly, being told to collect and eat the last ten grains that had eluded my chopsticks, when the woman next to me threw out her entire serving of pork because she didn’t like it, and then getting a speech all the way to the gymoshil about the toil of the farmer. Like a spoiled child.
He’d come to the gyomoshil in the morning and insisted I sit across from him and snack and have a chat. He asked what I did on the weekend, and I tried to tell him Saturday was a holiday, but he doesn’t know the word holiday. He said a string of things in Korean I didn’t understand then repeated one apparently important word that I don’t know. I said I didn’t understand, so he said another word. As he’s speaking, pieces of puffed, lightly sugared barley (read: Smacks cereal) launch into the air between us, falling thankfully short. I have never once pretended that I speak Korean, and when I repeated that I don’t know, he said something about “Korean language” blah blah “this word you don’t know and this word you don’t know,” with a kind of shock. I wanted to say “I studied Korean for five weeks. Seven months ago. You have a PhD and have studied English for years but don’t know the word holiday.”
America is an obscenely wasteful country and I don’t necessarily think my principle should speak English. What steams me is his air of superiority that is based on a double standard to which he is blind. And the fact that he speaks to me as though I am simple because I can only speak to him in simple sentences.