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Having a Ball

August 7, 2011

Whilst walking into school one morning a few weeks ago, I found myself in the company of the school principal. It was toward the end of the term and almost the summer holiday period so, in the interests of easily accessible small talk that suited his meagre level of English and my appalling level of Korean, he asked me if I had any vacation plans. I explained, truthfully, that a good friend of mine was coming to Korea to visit and myself and my wife would be showing him around Seoul and taking him to Busan, amongst other groovy activities. To further emphasize my excitement and anticipation, I elaborated on my relationship with my friend and said that we had been friends since we were young children. “Ah”, replied Gyojang (Principal) Kim, “Bu-ral chingu“.

I ran this phrase through my head as best I could and realized that separately, the Korean words bu-ral and chingu translate as ‘testicles’ and ‘friend’, respectively. Now, as I’ve long since discovered that being an agreeable sycophant is a highly desirable quality in a foreign teacher in Korea, I was already nodding my head, smiling and saying “yes” to this bizarre phrase as it began to take shape in my head. Eventually, a slight frown must have formed on my face, however, because Mr Kim offered up a partial translation in an uncertain and inquisitive tone. “Testes?, testes?”, he asked. “Uh, yeah”, was all I could reply.

I brought this weird encounter to my wife later that day and as soon as I got to the phrase “bu-ral chingu” she nodded and said, “ball friend, yeah”. A Korean term for a guy having a friend since they were very young is testicle friend. Well, I dubya-tee-effed, dear reader, truly I did, although my wife was fortunately able to expand on it. In poorer times (and not so long ago, Korea was fucking dirt poor) young children were often dressed only in t-shirts whilst they ran around playing, hence their testicles were exposed to one another. The phrase alludes to a time when you knew someone young enough to have literally hung out with them, balls to the breeze.

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