Introducing: Lost in Translation: Noodles

As the months have passed at Seosan Elementary, the older lady in my shared office (Mrs. Pak is her name), has become more adventurous in demonstrating her English skills. (Recall it wasn’t even until about three or four weeks ago I knew she spoke English at all). She is still very shy about it and will only say things you know she has either really thought through or has run by my English-speaking Korean coteacher. But I find it totally endearing and kind that she tries to talk to me at all because a.) she doesn’t have to and b.) you can tell it pains her to try to create a full English sentence.

It is under these circumstances that I got caught in a bizarre lunch conversation yesterday. Toward the end of the meal it became apparent she and my stand-in coteacher (Mr. Coteach, who speaks very very little English himself) we’re trying to figure out how to communicate “something” to me. You could tell because they were hunched down together, sneaking furtive glances at me, and muttering in a language that was clearly not Korean, but not quite English either. It sounded like maybe they were trying to say “noodle”. I looked at the ceiling, pretended like I didn’t know what was going on and waited until they were ready to take a stab at it. Mr. Coteach leaned over and made the first attempt.

Mr. Coteach <pointing at Mrs. Pak>: She…father…eenhtbbetah…noodles.

Me <looking at him, then at her, then back at him>:…what’s that now? Her father…what?

Mr. Coteach: Noodles?

Me: Yes? Noodles? What about noodles?

Mr. Coteach <trying again>: Eh…her father…invent noodles.

[Hm. Okay, so that sentence is mostly correct grammar-wise, but now I’m confused by its content. I frown at them both.]

Mrs. Pak <grinning excitedly>: My father invent the noodles!

Me: Hahaha……..what?

Mrs. Pak: My father…invent noodles!

Me <cocking my head like a confused dog>:…really?? Like…noodles?…that you eat? <pointing at the empty tray in front of me>

Mrs. Pak and Mr. Coteach <giggling awkwardly>: Yes! Noodles!

Me: “Invented” them?

Them: Yes. Ramyeon!

Me <contorting my face to look impressed>: Ramyeon yes…Wow. Okay…um…wow!

Except that’s not at all what I was thinking. My thoughts were more along the lines of: Did she say that her dad invented noodles? Like…flour+water=dough=noodles? What does that mean? Maybe she means her ancestors invented noodles? But that had to be thousands of years ago, how would one be able to trace that so confidently? Perhaps she means a specific kind of noodle? Ramen? Isn’t Ramen Japanese?

As usual, SO. MANY. QUESTIONS. But I could not ask these questions. First, they probably would not have been able to understand me or my incredulity. And second, I feel extremely rude for doubting the veracity of what she said, as it is both a potential affront to a proud family heritage and a definite affront to her already hesitant English.

So instead I played along. I said, “Wow!” with a big shit eating grin on my face.

And then I congratulated myself for being one imaginary degree from the man who invented noodles.


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