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A deliciously angry moment

In 2013, I was fortunate to attend the International College for Officers (ICO) – eight weeks in London with about 25 officers from around the world. It was a wonderful time that served both as a period of spiritual renewal as well as offering some valuable hints on leadership in ministry.

Some sessions are marked as ‘translation sessions’ where rather than sending a translator to accompany one non-English speaker, it makes more sense to have a group of people who speak the same language if you are going to provide a translator.

I was in a Korean ‘translation session’ and we had four Korean officers (and three Korean-American officers) and two Korean officers who acted as translators. So, all up, nine officers with Korean heritage.

While the translators and Korean-American officers spoke fluent English, the four Korean officers spoke no English at all. We all got to know each other well, so the language barrier wasn’t too much of an issue.

One day, I was sitting with two of the men, Yong-Don and Pil-Yong, at a lunch break. It led to one of the more memorable times in my life when they would talk to me in Korean (and I wouldn’t understand a word they were saying but would nod along), and I would speak to them in English (and they would similarly nod and smile). It was a wonderful, happy and slightly surreal time.

I was enjoying the food and wanted to tell them this, so I asked one of the Korean American officers, Stephanie, “How do you say in Korean that the food is yummy?”, and she replied, “masisseoyo” (‘mass-ee-soy-you’).

I turned to them and said, “masisseoyo” ... and they laughed. I thought maybe I’d got it wrong, so I pointed at the food and said, “masisseoyo”. They laughed harder, almost rolling on the floor.

I called Stephanie back and said, “What word did you give me?” thinking she had set me up. She said, “Say the word to me”, so I did … all three of them laughed!

She explained, “You’re saying the right word, but you’re saying it angry. No one says food is delicious while they sound angry!”

Sometimes when you speak a foreign language, you can fall for the trap of speaking in English but trying to do so with an accent, thinking that will help you. Like when you’re in France, and instead of saying, “I would love a cup of tea”, you tell the waitress, “A werd lerv ay coop of tay.”

I said to Stephanie that I had ‘learnt’ to speak an Asian language by watching samurai and kung fu movies as a child, so the only way I could speak Asian was to do so in an angry samurai voice: “Mmmm, this food is maaaaaa-si-SSEOYU!”

No wonder they laughed. An Australian in England speaking TV-Asian to Koreans. We all laughed. God probably laughed too.

– Major Mal Davies and his wife Major Tracey are the Corps Officers at Adelaide City Salvos


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