March 16, 2010 | Korean
Field Trip: Flushing, Queens
Korean is everywhere in Flushing.
I have been spending a lot of time on Pimsleur (Level II) over the past few days, and my progress is painfully slow. I had to do lesson 1 four times, lesson 2 four times, and lesson 3 three times before I did well enough to move on. In each lesson, I keep getting prompted to say things I don’t know how to say, at least not fast enough. I sit there mutely, with vocabulary and grammar paralysis, and can’t cough up the answer before it is fed back to me. I think these lessons are just too hard.
For me, the biggest current challenge is probably words and phrases relating to time (i.e., “this morning,” “yesterday afternoon,” “tomorrow,” etc.), because they tend to show up at the end of the English sentences I am asked to translate into Korean, and at the beginning of the Korean versions.
For example, I might be given “I arrived yesterday morning” to translate from English to Korean, but the Korean would be “Yesterday morning I arrived.” About half the time I forget about the timing word or phrase until the end of my translation, at which point I suddenly notice I have neglected to include it, and I then have to go fetch it and rush back to the beginning of the sentence, and then start over, shortly after which the Pimsleur prompter interrupts my efforts with the correct answer, which I often don’t hear because I am mid-sentence.
I thought my brain was more flexible about word order than it is. How disappointing.
In the afternoon I took a break from Pimsleur to embark on an expedition to Flushing, Queens, where there is a large Korean population—and many Korean shops, businesses, and signs everywhere.
Once there I walked around the neighborhood, passing grocery stores, delis, beauty salons, a newspaper, language schools, law firms, gyms, and almost any other kind of business you could imagine. Some of them I even walked into. At one store, I spoke a tiny bit of Korean with a friendly young salesman, maybe around 20 years old. He was an employee of Magicastle, which sells a colorful, diverse, and appealingly arranged collection of Korean goods.
It was so sunny today that my eyes hurt. And so warm that a T-shirt would have been sufficient, so too bad about that big coat I was hauling around with me. The weather said it was spring.
When I first moved to New York, I used to pass through Flushing regularly, on my way to teach writing at Queensborough Community College in Bayside, Queens. I hardly ever go to Flushing now, but back then I would take the 7 train to Main Street, and then wait around the corner from the subway stop for the bus to Bayside. Today I came across the same line I used to wait in.
Physical memories are very powerful; I hadn’t been at that bus stop in probably 18 years, but as soon as I saw it, I remembered standing there, weighed down by books and papers, and sometimes my commuter impatience, too. I loved the teaching gig, but it was not a convenient trip.