11 Sep

over the hill

Who taught: Rachel, Emily and Liz

Over the hill

over the hill party

I am not sure it is a good thing or not but people still think I am young.

In two months, I will be 38 years old. Lucky me because I would be 40 next year if I were in Korea. I think I mentioned this in one of my previous posts. Basically, Korea is one of the countries that use a very different system to count age.

My friends and I have a regular bible study on Thursdays. Last week, we talked about our ages and I mentioned that I would be 40 next year if I were in Korea. And, Rachel said, “We should have over the hill party then.”

Isn’t it very clear what it means? The expression is based on the assumption that 40 is the climax of our life. And, after 40, what’s waiting for us is the downhill.

Here is my thoughts! In one sense, that’s kind of sad because I do not have many days to reach the climax of my life but I am not sure what I have accomplished so far. Looking back, I have spent most of my time, studying. I have two master’s degrees and almost every day, I still study, reading books, listening to other people’s lectures and coding, to teach better. Oh… I am happily married and do have great friends. Well, I still have a long way to go financially but at least own a small house. Well, that sounds not bad, right?

On the other hand, it’s good because all I need to do from now on is going the downhill and we all know that is easy compared to climbing up.

I would have my over the hill party in about two years and will remind you of this expression. But, you could think about this expression on your own 40th birthday. In case yours is today, happy birthday to you and enjoy your over the hill birthday party! Remember! It’s all downhill from now and enjoy.

12 Dec


Who taught: Jeff and Liz

No Littering (source: http://www.signvibe.com/)

As you drive on a highway in the U.S., you will see many different road signs. Maybe I should write a new post about other road signs later to follow up my old post. But, today, I would like to focus on one sign, “No Littering!”

Five and half years ago when I first got to the U.S., I saw this familiar road sign, No Littering, on my way to Washington, D.C. Why was it familiar? 15 years ago when I was in Canada to study English, I saw this sign for the first time. It means “Do not throw any trash!” You should be able to infer its definition which is “to strew with scattered objects or rubbish.” One good example of littering is throwing cigarette butts out of your car while you are driving.

From that moment till very recently, I had thought that ‘litter’ means this throwing things but nothing else. How naive!

Of course, it also means something else. Man.. I really wish one word just means one thing. That would be easier for me even though it also means that I probably need to memorize more words.

About two weeks ago, I visited Jeff and Liz’s house to see their new puppy, Dexter. Dexter is a yellow lab and he is so adorable. While they were talking about the process of his adoption, they used a very familiar word, litter. As soon as they said that word, I had to stop them. “Wait! Did you just say litter? And it means not throwing trashes?” Liz said, “Oh no! It means a small animal like a puppy.” To make sure that it is the same word that I had known, I asked again, “So, is it the same word from No Littering sign but a different meaning?” Jeff said, “Yes, it is the same word.”

Sigh! This is one of those moments that break my belief that I am getting better in English. It makes me feel that I got a long way to go.

Litter does mean a small animal but only used to describe one of those baby animals that were born with many siblings like puppies or kittens (In other words, a number of young brought forth by a multiparous animal at one birth).

After the visit, I asked myself these questions.

What if I were not in the U.S.? Would I be able to have a chance to know this different meaning of the word, litter? 

What if I were not invited by Jeff and Liz? What if I did not ask Dexter’s adoption story? 

This experience had me think a lot. Learning can happen everywhere. I gotta pay attention to all the things happening around me.

Next time if your friends say something that you do not understand, ask them what it means! It is not a shame to ask questions. It is a shame to not to ask and lose a chance to learn.


21 Mar

chip in

Who taught: Rachel, Emily, Liz and Nadire

Chips (source: http://www.donotyet.com/)

Spring is here! Yesterday was warm and beautiful in Pittsburgh. How about where you are? Hope you enjoy a lot today!

Today’s story is Nadire’s. If I remember correctly, she is from Turkey and has been in the U.S. for only a month. She lives with Rachel, Emily and Liz. A few days ago, they decided to have a small party at home. As Emily prepared the party, Nadire asked Emily, “Hey, Emily! Is there anything I need to do or bring?” “No, not really! Maybe if you can chip in with a bottle of wine, that would be great but do not worry about it too much,” said Emily. It is a very typical answer, right? Nothing special or hard for you, my American friends. A few hours later, Rachel saw bunch of chips and asked Emliy, “What are these chips? I do not think we bought them.”

I guess you probably realize it now. That is right. When Nadire heard Emily saying, “chip in,” she thought Emily want her to buy chips for the party. FYI, “chip in” means “contribute money or labor.” I think it is from the usage of chips for gambling. At least, that is my feeling about its etymology but I might be wrong.

Anyway, this is very possible. Nadire! If you get to read this post, do not worry about it too much. I have been here in the U.S. for about 5 years and I still have the same issue you just experienced. It will take time and you need patience. And also, most of all, you need to ask a lot of questions. In my case, whenever I am with my American friends, I do ask a lot of questions to them about expressions they use. Rachel and Emily said they now realize that native English speakers use a lot of expressions that might be hard for non-native English speakers to understand.

Admitting that you are a non-native English speaker and asking a lot of questions is the most important step to take to be able to learn new expressions. A lot of times, non-native English speakers are afraid of what native English speakers would think if they ask questions about expressions. They would think I am stupid. I think that thought itself is more stupid. If someone who is non-native Korean speaker would try to learn Korean, asking many questions, I would really do my best to explain expressions to them.

So, be always open to learn and ask questions to learn new expressions and probably use them later. I now get to use some of the expressions I learned from my friends. I feel very thrilled when I use them to my friends who taught them to me. I am sure they are proud of me too. Learning new things is so much fun. Keep up your good work, Nadire!

26 Jan

big cheese

Who taught: Drew, Jon, Emily and Rachel

The big cheese (source : http://www.ohgeez.com/)

Last Saturday, Jessy and I went to see Pittsburgh Civic Orchestra’s concert. My friend Liz is the assistant concertmaster of the orchestra. It was awesome. We were able to see some young musicians. They are all teenagers but performed like professionals. We were able to see their passion in music. One of the most beautiful things in the world is, in my opinion, seeing someone doing something with passion and happiness. Having said that, I would love to quote part of the President Barack Obama’s speech yesterday at the State of the Union.

One mother of two, a woman named Kathy Proctor, had worked in the furniture industry since she was 18 years old. And she told me she’s earning her degree in biotechnology now, at 55 years old, not just because the furniture jobs are gone, but because she wants to inspire her children to pursue their dreams too. As Kathy said, “I hope it tells them to never give up.”

Very inspiring, isn’t it? At 55 years old, she decided to learn a new thing to pursue her dream. Hope I keep my passion at 55 or even older. Oh… and I also hope you do too.

Going back to the story being with my friends… Before the concert, we all went an Italian restaurant to have dinner together. During dinner, we talked about Emily’s story about her not properly being covered by health insurance. She has been waiting for a while to be covered by the company health insurance but did not happen yet. Hearing this, Drew said, “Who is the big cheese at your work? You should talk about it.” Well, based on the context, I was able to understand what they were talking about but the expression itself would not give any hint to me. The meaning of the expression is “most influential or important person in a group.”

I was so curious about the origin of the expression that I had to look it up. I found a few different theories but there is one very believable or probable. The Persian or Hindi word “chiz” means a thing. So, big cheese or big chiz is what? That’s right. It is a “big thing.” Now, are you a big cheese at your work? 🙂

I have a question. Can I say the big cheese in America is Barack Obama?

26 Jul

sunday dinner at Browns Hill Bible Chapel

Who taught : Emily, Rachel and Liz

Cake for Leah and Zac's farewell dinner made by Mandie

When I knew that I am coming to the U.S., my father asked one of his friends who is a missionary from the U.S. to find out the church for me to go. He recommended Browns Hill Bible Chapel to my father and me. Since then, Jessy and I are going to the chapel and it has been such a blessing for us. If you are interested in coming, please tell me. We should go together.

A few weeks later from our first visit to the chapel, Debby asked Jessy and me after the church service, “Hey, do you guys want to have dinner together?” I responded, “OK! What time do you want to meet? Maybe around 5:30 pm?” She said, “No, it is now!” “But you said dinner,” I asked again. She then realized and explained to us, “Oh.. we use dinner for Sunday lunch.” I was quite surprised. I have always thought dinner is a meal we eat in the evening. Do you guys really use dinner, meaning lunch or something?

And, yesterday, we had a special Sunday dinner after the service at church to say good bye to our friends, Leah and Zac. They are moving to Spain because of Zac’s new job. They will be staying there for about 5 years and COME BACK to PGH. Right, Zac? They have to because we all miss them so much and I am pretty sure they will miss us too.

Right before the dinner, I was talking to some friends and Emily and Liz were talking to other friends. But we were pretty close. And for some reason, I felt that Emily and Liz were talking about me. When I looked at them, they were like, “Nothing! How did you know we are talking about you.” I said, “I do not know! I just felt it.”

Then, we sat down together to have dinner and Rachel was right next to me. So, I said to Rachel, “Hey, Rachel. You know what happened? Emily and Liz made fun of me.” And Emily said, “No, we did not! We were just teasing you.” At that time, I was kind of confused and thought about the previous post about “Popular VS Famous.” Again, make fun of someone and tease someone have the same meaning in English-Korean dictionary. Thus, it is hard to find out the proper usage of them in a proper context.

So, here is what I learned. Tease is pretty much same act as making fun of but it does not really involve a bad intention.

Am I right? I am still kind of confused. This kind of subtle difference in expressions is so hard to catch.