I HAD my trepidations when I left Cebu for New Jersey via Seoul. Ligaya Batoclan and I made use of the Asiana Airlines promo of a free package tour during our stopover. The city tour would start from 9:20 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m.

The idea of getting on and off a tour bus and walking certain distances was not really enticing for one suffering from severe osteoporosis. Ligaya and I were worried, but a tour is something pleasant, so why not?

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My first language problem started when my Korean escort (travel assistance guide) had to push two wheelchairs at the same time. The other escort for Ligaya had not appeared.

The distance from the landing site to Asiana service counter wasn’t conducive to walking. Maneuvering two wheelchairs at the same time is no mean feat. I got pushed into the elevator first, so my wheelchair bumped the inside wall of the elevator since our escort had to quickly push Ligaya in before the door closed.

I remarked, “Go easy, please, the next time we encounter another difficult stop. (The jolt I got from the bump was some jolt!)

His answer was, “Oh it is easy to keep elevator door close and open. Just press button. Yes, I will bring you to Asiana service counter [sic].”

In his desire to do his job well, he tried so hard to push the two wheelchairs at the same pace but in so doing, there were near misses at pillars and corners.

Upon reaching the immigration counters, my eyebrows went up. I saw that the space between the two counters of the immigration officers was just enough for a wheel chair to go through. As my escort prepared to shove me through, I very calmly said, although my heart was in my throat: “Please, catch me in time so I do not crash into a counter.” In fairness to my escort’s dexterity, he caught my wheelchair in the nick of time as he said, “No need to worry. Asiana planes, no crash [sic]!”

In another incident, our very young tour guide (she was so pretty and so young) answered my question. “What is the name of this museum?” with, “You will see many pictures of the wars between North Korea and South Korea here.”

It was then that I decided to pick up a brochure. There was a translation of the Korean characters and I was able to identify the place as Cheongaradae Sarangchae Exhibition and Museum.

The next incident regarding the language barrier happened at a Korean restaurant. None of the waiters knew how to speak English. Our tour guide had ordered food in advance for us, but I preferred something else and was willing to pay for it. She was busy in another room, attending to other tour members who agreed to sit on the floor. Ligaya and I opted to sit at a table in another room. Ordering was not bad because I would point at the menu and showed my dollars to pay.

After eating, we decided to have the remaining food removed from our table and brought to the kitchen. They thought we wanted to take it out. Believe me, it took several gestures including flapping my ears to indicate that I was going to the airport, hence no take out.

I had so many other fiascos regarding the language barrier and it took the very “English competent” air stewardesses and stewards of Asiana Airlines to renew my faith in the ability of man to master the English language.

The people of Korea are very pleasant and accommodating. I met a number of such people. Their medium of instruction is not English for reasons of their own.

We in turn complain a lot about the weaknesses of our education system. (And rightly so!) Praise God, however, that our medium of instruction is still the English language. To our leaders in the Department of Education, let this remain so. The ability to communicate is one of our many blessings.

To our English mentors in the Paascu-accredited (i.e. Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities) schools, you deserve our accolades. Our children’s mastery of the English language is really your gift to them. Thank you.