Sunday, June 21, 2009

"It's the little differences."

Rock scissors paper, better known as 가위바위보 ("gawi bawi bo"), is popular here, as I mentioned. My students have played it enough that I've run into multiple variations and little bits of Korean flair you don't see in the states.

First of all, there's an accompanying song that sometimes you can sing before you "shoot," more complicated than the usual "rock paper scissors shoot!" you do in the US. I can't find the words or a video online, unfortunately, but maybe someday I'll be able to record someone singing it. I asked a Korean about it yesterday and she said the song basically translates to "if you don't play a gawi bawi boh hand, you're a loser." I guess it's a way to make sure that no one cheats.

Also, sometimes they do what I call the Gawi Bawi Bodouken, where they pull their hands in a gesture kind of similar to the classic Hadouken move in Street Fighter before they throw their hand. Other times they clasp their hands together and twist them around (like you do for "trust falls," is the best way I can explain it) before they shoot. You're supposed to decide which hand to throw based on the shape your palms make when you look through. The way your right index finger gets scrunched against your left thumb, it can sometimes make a tiny little hole: sometimes shaped like a triangle, sometimes shaped like a square, etc. Different shapes correspond to different gawi bawi bo hands.

Sometimes they up the ante with Muk Chi Ba, a higher level version with multiple "rounds" in just one game. They don't play this in class, though, since gawi bawi bo is used for decisive purposes and not for its own sake. Or they play old-fashioned gawi bawi bo, but then winner slaps the loser on the forearm with two, three, or four fingers. I play this with them from time to time and they can nail you pretty hard. Done properly, such a slap will leave a red mark on your arm for a while. I still haven't quite mastered the art of finger-slapping yet, so I usually goof it up.

Never before have I really appreciated the line from Pulp Fiction quoted in the title. I love Quentin Tarantino, but it's hard to tell when he's being deep and serious and profound and when he's just spouting off a little bit of bullshit to get to the next bit of awesome dialogue. (Or the next idea he's borrowed from someone else, like David Carradine's speech about Superman in Kill Bill 2.) Vince Vega's line about "the little differences" always seemed like one of those pat things Tarantino characters say to sound cool before they go and do something badass. But now—and I don't know if Tarantino was even being serious when he wrote it, but nonetheless—I get it.

When you land in a foreign country, you expect the big differences: different language, different values, different histories, etc. Sometimes they're overwhelming—trying to sound out anything but the names of stores in Hangul makes me feel utterly, utterly stupid, for example; it kills me to not be able to read as well as I do in a Latin or even Cyrillic alphabet—but most of the time you can cope.

But little things—things like "rock, scissors, paper"—you sort of assume will be the same. Of course they're not, but you carry that expectation. It's those little things that form the basis of your day-to-day existence prior to expatriating. Upset those and it jars your thinking in strange ways. No one ever warns you, though, because it's so little that it slips under the radar. What does it matter that Koreans have different rituals regarding "rock-scissors-paper," after all? Well, nothing really. But at the same time—everything.

1 comment:

  1. See here for a little observation I made about I think the same thing. And then you can validate or invalidate the suspected difference in Korean envelope-sealing practices.