I recently received some very good news. I can now bid on Spanish posts for my next assignment. I signed up for a self-study Spanish in anticipation of improving my Spanish so I could bid on Spanish-speaking posts for my next job assignment. I planned to self-study for three months and then test in Spanish in order to improve my language score. Fortunately, the criteria for qualifying for a language-required post recently changed, and my current Spanish score now makes me eligible for a short Spanish language course after I leave Korea. Consequently, I can now bid on Spanish-required posts. Although I know Chinese and can pursue assignments at Chinese-speaking posts, I need to have a backup plan in case I don’t qualify for a Chinese-speaking assignment. Learning Spanish opens up a number of new job possibilities.
Es ist Zeit, Deutsch noch einmal zu lernen. ("It’s time to learn German again.") My German score falls a bit short of qualifying for a short course, so I will now switch my focus to improving my German. The chance of being assigned to a German-required post after Seoul is slim, because German-speaking posts in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland are all in high demand. However, exam scores are good for five years, and improving my German will allow me to pursue jobs at German posts in the distant future. If I am successful in improving my German, then I’ll focus on improving my French. French is spoken in more locations than is German. Frankly though, many of the French-speaking job possibilities outside Paris are not too appealing because my French-speaking posts are often marked by violence and political instability. I would really like to improve my increasingly rusty and meager Korean, but the nature of my work requires that I focus on the future more than the present. I will bid on my next assignment in early 2006, so I have one year to improve all of my foreign languages in order to bid the wide range of posts possible. Because I will likely not return to Korea anytime soon, I am moderately interested in improving my Korean. Once I leave Korea, my Korean will undoubtedly fade into memory. In the future I need to be very fluent in at least two foreign languages. I plan to focus on achieving fluency in Chinese and Spanish because both languages are much more widely spoken than Korean. Korean is also a very, very difficult language to master. In my opinion, Chinese is much easier to speak than Korean, and both languages are classified at the same level of difficulty.
In other news, today I had lunch with coworkers at Phở Hōa, a Vietnamese noodle soup restaurant in downtown Seoul. (Phở, pronounced "fuh," is the Vietnamese term for noodle soup.) I love eating at Phở Hōa. It’s a specialty chain based in Sacramento, California with franchises throughout the U.S. and Asia. My wife and I often ate at Phở Hōa when we lived in Seattle. We couldn’t find any restaurants while living in the Washington, D.C. area, so when my coworkers suggested it I enthusiastically said yes. I ordered the same dish I always ordered in Seattle, phở noodle soup with beef flank and brisket. It tasted just like I remembered it. The soup was definitely a welcome change from Korean, Chinese, and American food I eat all the time.
I realize I frequently write about food. There’s a few reasons why I do. For one, I love food. I am always on the "see food" diet–I see food, and I eat it. Secondly, food is a very important part of one’s culture, and no cultural discussion would be complete without talking about ethnic cuisine (even American–Kentucky Fried Chicken qualifies as ethnic American food in my book). Thirdly, many social gatherings take place over meals. Meals provide a great setting for socializing and getting to know others. Lastly, food is a relatively innocuous topic to discuss. Instead of focusing on controversial topics such as politics, it’s much easier to talk about food without stirring controversy. You can almost never go wrong with food–unless you insult the cook, of course!