Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dear Korea,

You Suck.

I’m often asked how I like living in Korea. I generally answer that it’s okay, and then list off some perks of living here. For some reason I don’t like telling the truth about this country, probably because I don’t think all Korean people are that bad, they just do things in a way that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Here is my real opinion of Korea:

1.) Korean people have no idea what time management or efficiency is. They think that spending 10 hours at work, doing nothing, is better than 5 hours, being productive. Their work ethic is raved about around the world, but anyone who has ever worked here knows this is complete bullshit. They spend a whole lot of time doing nothing at work. I don’t want to do nothing at work! I want to teach and go home! I don’t care if I have 7 classes or 1 class per day, after those classes I want to go home.

2.) Due to #1, Koreans miss out on many of the joys of life. Like seeing their children grow up, relaxing, spending time with friends and family, traveling or just doing what they want. They are constantly stressed out and exhausted.

3.) I feel terrible for the children in this country. They are expected to go to school 6 days a week, then off to the hogwon for afterschool classes, often being away from home from 7am until 9pm. ELEMENTRAY SCHOOL STUDENTS! Dan literally has students who go to 10 different hogwons during the week. Don’t even get me started on the high school students who LIVE at their school and sleep 5 hours a night. This type of schooling deprives them of any chance they might have at developing the social skills and creative thought needed to excel in today’s marketplace. Korean’s think they are securing a place for their children in the world, but instead they are preventing them from developing into well rounded human beings who have critical thinking skills.

4.) Everything in this country is about image. In my classroom I have a new computer, huge flat screen TV, and a state of the art projector. My desks and chairs are all new, as well as the windows, doors and blinds. When they did this $30,000 remodel on my room, I asked for basic flashcards, paper and pencils for the students. I was turned down. My students do not have an English curriculum that makes any sense. I have students that have been studying English for 6 years and do not know the alphabet. If my students do not have the basic tools needed for learning, why the fuck would I need all this technology?

5.) They cannot do basic things. Especially when building anything is concerned. In my last apartment the corners of my bedroom were not square. This was a brand new apartment. On the front of the building a huge piece of granite just fell off into the parking lot. WTF??? In my current apartment they attempted to “fix” the toilet and sink by attaching them to the tile with cement. Not grout, cement. Cement is not a sealant! It all just washed away and now my bathroom floor is just covered in little cement particles. Water pours out from under the sink onto the floor. This type of thing is not usual at all. They might be okay at making electronics, but I would NEVER hire a Korean to build anything I wanted built correctly.

6.) They lie. This is called “saving face.” In western culture it is LYING, pure and simple. If they fuck something up, instead of just saying they are sorry and fixing it, they push the responsibility onto someone else (preferably a foreigner) and try to cover up their mistake. This drives me INSANE. Please just be straight with me! The language barrier is bad enough without the lying!

7.) The nationalist pride is insane. Early on in life Korean children are taught that Koreans basically invented the wheel, the only food proper to eat, the best language, that they are by far the smartest people, strongest people and simply the most perfect country on the face of the planet. Heaven forbid their athlete is disqualified from an Olympic event; this has to be the fault of someone else. Ugh, this shit gets old real quick, especially considering I’ve been to 10 countries and I’d rate about 8 of them above Korea in every way possible.

8.) Confucianism is bullshit. Sorry, it just is. Believing that someone is smarter than another because they are older is stupid. And men are above women in society? Give me a break. I understand some people do gain experience and wisdom with age, and we should learn from that. But some people don’t learn or change, and frankly I’m not going to bow down to them just because they are older than me!

9.) Koreans sometimes lack an understanding of basic science. Kimchi cures AIDS and cancer? WTF? They think fermented cabbage with red pepper paste can cure just about anything. In reality, it can cause stomach cancer and ulcers if eaten too often. Then you have “fan death.” A significant portion of Koreans believe that if you fall asleep with the fan on and the door of your bedroom closed you will die. Seriously. The fan will somehow suck all the oxygen out of the air and you will die. I don’t even know how to respond to Koreans when they bring this shit up.

10) The driving practices in this country are rude and downright dangerous. Koreans in general, have no respect or regard for pedestrians. In my new neighborhood, the streets are pretty narrow and clearly not wide enough for cars to park on both sides with space for people to drive between them. Additionally, there are no sidewalks. So every day I am honked at while I walk to the bus stop because I am taking up their precious space in the street. THERE IS NOWHERE ELSE TO WALK! All of this would be solved if they just made the streets one-way, and only let people park on one side.

I truly believe every single Korean should be forced to go to driving school. I am a big fan of driving like you have somewhere to be. In the states I get pissed because people drive under the speed limit. But here, either they drive way too fast or way too slow! They are on the phone, texting, watching their television (yes TV in the car, on the dash, specifically so the driver can watch it) or their navigation system. Completely distracted and driving too fast. Running red lights, not yielding to pedestrians, I could go on and on. I have been genuinely afraid many times.

11) There are more things that drive me insane about this country such as K-Pop passing as music, Koreans thinking they know English but they don’t, their racist views on black people (and pretty much anyone not Korean), their inability to decide anything in a punctual manner and changing things for no reason at the last minute. The incredible ignorance about differences in people, including learning disabilities and mental illness is difficult to deal with. I work with children who are clearly autistic or have Down syndrome, and it is not acknowledged at all.

So why, you might ask yourself, would I want to continue living here? Well, like any place, there are good things and bad things about Korea. Also, some of this is shit I’d have to deal with, on some level, back home anyway. When I get back to teaching, after a solid month of sitting at my desk doing nothing, I might remember why I enjoy living here. Then I’ll write about it!


Friday, February 19, 2010

Waygooks on the Run

Dan and I have been successfully sober for 51 days now… and we have been attempting to fulfill the other goals I have set for our experiences, such as traveling around Korea and whatnot. But until today we have been failing miserably at one very important goal: to get in shape. So this morning, well this afternoon, we set off to complete our first sober run. We have been running together before, but it consisted of running around the streets of downtown Gwangju at top speed trying to a.) get the next bar very quickly and b.) trying to scare some Koreans.

Today was a beautiful day for a run. About 45 degrees and sunny. We ended up running a little, walking a lot, stretching and generally fucking around, but all in all we felt vaguely nauseous afterward and everyone knows that is a sign of a great run. We are hoping to continue with this vigorous exercise regimen tomorrow, but we are having some homies over tonight so we’ll see…

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sober LASIK in Korea

I don't know what other kind of LASIK there is, maybe there's a kind of LASIK on mescaline or a variety of LASIK in Southeast Asia where opiates are used (that would have been SWEET). But no, in Korea it's plain old sober LASIK with nary a valium to calm the nerves that must creep upon anyone when they're about to get a thin slice of corneal and epithelial tissue flapped for a laser to etch. Good thing we got some Valium in Vietnam.

The operation was treated with a casualness rarely afforded medical procedures. Payment was not tendered until after the operation itself and the next day as the entire cost of the procedure could not be deducted from my bank account on one day. Included were eye drops, three follow up appointments (one of which I skipped yesterday), two pre-op appointments, and as much coffee (real coffee) I could drink. In the US it's harder to get into see an ENT specialist.

As soon as it started it was over. The discomfort crept in around the edges of the topical anesthetic, but my vision was nearing perfect, and the pain ended after about 6 hours. Right now it's 20/20. It's difficult for me to focus near or far, I figure that will get better as I adjust to life ankyang opssoyo. The haloing effect is definitely with me, but we'll see if that gets better or worse with time. One week to the day, almost the hour, in it's a pretty good decision. 1.7 million won to visual freedom.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I Got Seoul

This weekend Dan and I headed to the capital city of SK to play tourist and visit Jake and Andy. This was the second time I met these guys, the first being a raucously drunken night spent with 17 year old military boys and skipping around Hongdae. I’d have to say, I actually enjoyed this trip more (possibly because I remember it better).

After meeting up, Jake suggested some good wholesome fun... the shooting gallery! Hell yeah. Dan and I shot glock 17’s, and I beat him by ten points. Then we moved along to the lovely Gyeongbokgung Palace. Unfortunately it was already closed. I guess it doesn’t really matter if we drink or not, we still can’t get shit done before late afternoon! Afterwards we found an adorable little bookstore where Jake bought a book for 1,000won, and then we were off to Itaewon to eat. The Paraguayan restaurant we were looking forward to eating in went out of business so we had to settle on Chinese/ Thai. The waiter was incredibly hot in that kind of hipster/ male model/ half Korean half English kinda way. Of course, we made the whole situation awkward by asking where he was from and other personal questions, but whateva. I wasn’t the one wearing a polka dotted bowtie and waiting tables in Itaewon, although that sounds like a good time! Jake managed to order what consisted of shrimp covered in mayonnaise. But he’s from England so he enjoys that sort of thing. Andy’s food was way too spicy, but he’s from Scotland so he's more used to the mild, subtle nuances of deep fried Mars bars. Afterward we tried to find a place to play pool, but everywhere was booked so Dan and I left the boys to their drinking and headed to a hotel. Jake is moving to Beijing to be some kind of REAL professor. Or just an English monkey getting paid a lot less, at least he won't have to work as much. Time will tell how that works out. We will miss his sunny face and way with words.

The next day we found a HUGE bookstore and went back to the palace. It was pretty cool, frozen moats surrounding ancient/ recently rebuilt forts and palaces, and the monotony of Korean architecture. Once you've seen one temple you've seen everything old in Korea. Then we went to an all American diner. Dan really misses diner food, so it was just what the doctor ordered. Afterward we both felt that too full, nauseous feeling and it felt just like home (okay, maybe three kinds of meat was NOT what the doctor ordered). Look at what this lack of alcohol is doing to our digestive systems!

We took the KTX back to Gwangju. Dan’s first ride on the fast train and it was great! Then we got back to our place and had the despondency that always arrives late Sunday night. My school hasn’t helped me out with anything lately so we don’t have internet or a washing machine. I guess they think I’ve been here long enough now that I should be able to take care of these things on my own. Hopefully this week we’ll get hooked up. Peace! A

PS. Dan would like to note that he may not have been a 10:00 am partier, but he's also the kind of person who drinks like he's on a bike rolling downhill without any brakes; it's just a shorter hill, so anywhere between 3 and 5 am is ideal. He can't stand to see the party end early either, but what he really cares about is having his girlfriend go home with him at the end of the night.

P.P.S. Almost forgot, we went to Seoul Tower to check out the cityscape, and took a lovely walk along Cheonggyecheon stream.

P.P.P.S. Do people use P.S. in blogs??

Monday, February 8, 2010

Just an Addendum

Everything Dan wrote in “Why why why” is completely correct, but I think it sounds more serious than it really is! In reality, I drank once or twice a week while living in Korea, far more than I ever have before (well excluding high school, but who counts high school?). I was not into partying in college and I did not have the typical college experience in anyway (WAY too responsible…and stoned). Moving to Korea actually gave me my first taste of heavy, persistent drinking, and damn was it sweet! Then I realized there might be a downside to drinking myself into oblivion every weekend. Part of the downside is that I never want the party to stop. For some reason my boyfriends always want to go home before 10am. Conflict ensues. The other part is that I don’t care about anyone else when I drink. I just want to have a good time, and I do, regardless of anyone else’s feelings. That’s not nice. And I’m usually a nice person. Go figure.

Anyway, I’ve decided that with my family’s history of alcoholism and a general feeling that I am wasting my time, money and youthful good looks drinking, it was time to call it quits. I’ve had my share of post-intoxication ambiguous guilty feelings, stupid indiscretions and stories not suitable for children. So I’m done! But don’t worry, it’s not because my liver is failing, I’m facing criminal charges and everyone in my life severed all ties with me after that last intervention, like Dan would have you believe! :) A

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Why, why, why?

Since we skipped our morning running alarm two days in a row now, I must perform penance with a long promised blog post.

Since meeting three months ago, Amanda and I have moved into a new apartment together, went to Vietnam for a week, and quit drinking alcohol. The first two initiatives are the result of serendipity and the nature of a whirlwind courtship between two people with underdeveloped emotional walls. The third initiative was taken, not as much by us but by our relationship. Our relationship needed us to quit drinking because if we didn’t it wasn’t going to survive.
It’s a pretty big step when you forsake what has been the only social activity you’ve known for the last six years. If you had asked me three months ago, “How many nights a week would you like to drink three or more beers?”, I would have answered, “Four.” To be fair, my answer would still be four, I’m just not going to follow through. I was dependent on alcohol for any and all social activity. Playing guitar with friends? That’s five beers. Going out to eat? A pint and a bottle of soju. A night out? Depends on when it ends, but tomorrow it’s not going to be pretty. Is that a problem? Not necessarily. Youth absolves one from his responsibility to his body and reason for a time, but as we cross the quarter-life threshold that time appears on the horizon. Cultivating a healthy relationship with alcohol to combat abuse and foster reasonable usage habits is an intelligent endeavor at this point in life. I’m also treating living without alcohol as a social experiment; I must rediscover what people do without alcohol on a day to day basis, and a test of my own will-power. So far I haven’t broken my promise, but the force of the temptation has proven two things, how flimsy my will is and how strong the pull of alcohol is.

I consider my reasons for teetotaling somewhat superficial. I may have an unhealthy approach to drinking, but it hasn’t substantially negatively affected my life. I can drink without getting plastered, although I usually want to keep drinking if I can. I can go long periods without alcohol if I have to. Alcohol does not change my pattern of behavior; I don’t become another person when I drink, I become me but more fun and extroverted. I don’t consider myself addicted. Amanda’s reasons for forsaking the booze are somewhat more substantial. I won’t go into it, but Amanda’s life has been objectively more difficult than mine. Stability was not the name of the game in Oregon as it was in Pennsylvania. There’s family history, a personal past we won’t go into here, a complete inability to self-moderate, and a tendency to slip into an almost unrecognizable personality when inebriated that contribute to Amanda’s decision to do without alcohol. While I view our sobriety as a matter of curiosity and experimentalism, she views it as a matter of necessity. She took the lead in recognizing the pattern of behavior that needs to stop, and while I can see parallels in my own life, I don’t have the experiences and family history that would independently cause me to decide to quit alcohol. I am grateful, in that sense, to be spared what is inevitably to come, and I am also grateful to be able to help someone I deeply care about change her life in the way she knows she has to.

After our last drunken night, surviving another booze-fueled fight, we woke up suddenly only hours after our heads hit the pillow and walked like zombies up the main road to the KimBapNara where we recognized that in order for our relationship to survive, our dependence on alcohol needed to die. Teary, she told me over kimchi that she wanted to stop, and despite my misgivings (the irresistible pull of alcohol, and the fact that I hadn’t recognized my own problems fully), I said I would stop too. Even in its infancy we recognized that what we had between us was too important to lose to the same habits that had strained the strands of our previous relationships, it was time to change for ourselves, and for what we found in each other. I haven’t been sober for this long in 8 years; I’m not ecstatic about it, but I’m better for it.