Tuesday, December 30, 2008
I have always disliked the tourism logo for Korea--Sparkling Korea. I suppose it's better than something to do with kimchi; but I have seen it as a harnessing of Korea's obsession with all things cute. And as you can see from the image to the left, the government apparently thinks Russian models are better suited to sell the trademark than regular Koreans. There is a rank consumerism in urban Korea that I will write about some other time.
To the point: Sparkling Korea is actually not some cutie creation.
Now I find out that it comes from Koryo--where the modern term "Korea" originates--and Koryo comes from Wang Kon, who viewed himself as the successor to Koguryo. You can see that Koryo is a shortened form of Koguryo. Koryo means "high mountains and sparkling waters." Seoul is anything but sparkling, let me tell you. But there is undeniable beauty outside the city. And Koreans love their land and all of its nature. So, now I get It.
Short history lesson about Koryon and Wang Kon: this all happened in the late ninth century when Wang Kon helped Kyonhwon, the estranged founder of Later Paekche, take back Later Koguryo from his first son who had usurped power when Kyonhwon attempted to have his fourth son succeed him. This kind of made the first born angry.
Wang Kon was the son of Kungye who founded Later Koguryo at Kaesong, in central Korea. (Wan Kon believed that he was the proper successor to what was left of the Koguryo legacy, so he was more than happy to help estranged father take on estranged son while at the same time helping finish off the third, ailing kingdom, Silla.) I do believe it is Wang Kon who fought relentlessly against Later Paekche and who got Silla to surrender. To make a really long story too short: Wang Kon unified Korea. His Koryo dynasty ruled for almost half a millenium. He is viewed by Koreans as being one of the great, magnanimous rulers from the past.
rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am loving this book and I am only finishing the first chapter, Virtues.
So many books on Korea speak about the country and its culture as if the Koreans were Chinese or only known through their coping with the Korean war or struggles with Japan.
I have been looking for a book about Korea and about Koreans. And Bruce Cummings attempts to do this.
The first chapter handles the history prior to the modern era. Korea had its own history and culture, something quite unique: a history I have been interested in for some time.
So far so good.
View all my reviews.
rating: 5 of 5 stars
I love this book. I am reading it again. A chapter a night. The sincerity and passion and earnest curiousity of the narrative is only slightly undercut by an intelligence that sometimes overcomes the rigid reading of Biblical texts that litter his writing.
In other words, Augustine works (right from the beginning of Chapter I) at manipulating the Biblical text to fit the constraints of his religious doctrine. He transforms both the Biblical texts and the doctrine creating a personal rubric for his spirituality.
Also, he makes me giggle.
View all my reviews.
Friday, December 5, 2008
I have been busier, as a teacher, in three months, than I was in any given year at home. It makes it incredibly difficult to head home after work to blog. Never mind blogging, I am writing a dissertation, too.
I have some catch-up posting to do. And will.
Each day, I post to my facebook page everything I look at online. Much of that will end up here and on my other blogs.
Friday, November 28, 2008
I haven't worn contacts since I was very young. Both Glasses and Contacts are cheap here. I bought Rayban glasses, paid for an eye exam, and two lenses with all the bells and whistles for 190,000won. This is about 150$, on a good day. My contacts cost about 120$. The contacts I bought are the most expensive kind available: I wanted contacts that would be easier on my eyes.
I am headed to northern Seoul tonight to watch a few movies with a friend on his giant screen. He has a cool HD projector set-up and actually lives in an apartment the size of an average studio in the US. My place, in comparison, is about 420 square feet.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Sunday, however, looks fun.
At 4pm, Yogiga, there will be a noise show.
Bulgasari - experimental noise night. featuring: Sato Yukie, Lee Han-ju, Hong Shine, Michael Oakley.
I looked up Bulgasari and the web site hasn't been updated in a while. But it looks pretty promising. I will go if I can find Gallery Yogiga.
Then, at 8pm, FF, Jens Leckman
Jens Lekman, with Pink Elephant, We Need Surgery and The Fist
Time: 8:00pm. Admission: 25,000 won.
Sounds great, but 25,000 won is a rip-off. Leckman is great. But even Sonic Youth doesn't cost 25bucks in the states. Can't see some singer-songwriter making it worthwhile. Esp, since I'd have to catch a cab home from Hongdae (about 13,000 won) afterwards.
Let's face it. The underground music scene in Seoul suffers because there is no solidarity between clubs and club owners and show promotion is an absolute joke. I'd love to help, but all my shit is in storage in the US. And I have no time to do anything with my work schedule.
The opportunity for a killer music scene exists, but...
Like NOISE. Let's get together and check out Bulgasari. Should be pretentious fun. At least my brain will get a work out.
Oh. I think Samchung is playing Saturday night. HOT. That's what to do on Saturday. The Spot has a show. More than 10 bands--metal to hardcore--15,000 won. Should be loud, sweaty fun. But I am digging playing striker for Hae Woori too much to ditch for music. I smelled goal last week. I will score this week.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Friday, November 14, 2008
But I will reiterate what an eye-opening experience it is to see educated Americans acting like extras in a Girls Gone Wild video. If you come to Korea and you want to see white folks--the British, the Australians, and the Americans, and some folks from Canada and New Zealand as well as other places--acting like extreme consumerists and/or prostitutes, then you should hang in Itaewon. Oh, and you get the added benefit of spending quality time with the military and the sex industry that thrives around American bases.
Itaewon is a shithole.
Anyway, with the Americans: Maybe it's more Nerds Gone Wild. Whatever it is, it's obscene. And these young women would not behave this way at home. (Unless, they are University of Colorado students.) Or maybe it's just always the behavior I expect from men I know but not women I know. Or maybe it's the alcohol, as I stated in my previous post.
I prolly shouldn't be using "whore". Not loosely anyway.
Monday, October 27, 2008
I don't know what bothers me most about part-time foreigners' persistent whining about Koreans: their whining about Korean intolerance (apologies to EP who has righteous reason to be pissed) or their mass-mind mentality.
A quick search through Google will result in many blog stories, journal rants, and public forum posts about how Korean hate for foreigners erupts in the public sphere. Never mind the countless mentions of intolerance on Facebook and Myspace and the stories I have the misfortune to hear whenever I sit with more than two North Americans at a time.
I am not implying that I agree with some Koreans' intolerant, rude, and sometimes criminal behavior towards foreigners. There are locals who will take advantage of me if I let them. I am explicitly pointing out to many of the thick tourists posing as teachers that this Intolerance is not a Korean trait, it is a Human trait. In other words, the majority of Koreans are quite warm, welcoming, and helpful. Foresaking the many for the few. It is at best careless, at worst willful.
The typical complaint I have read and heard is shared in a shocked tone by a speaker who simply cannot believe that Koreans are so mean, so crooked, so callous, or so racist. I don't mind someone complaining out of frustration. You know: blowing steam. I do mind hypocritical, petty whining based on some incredibly selfish assumptions.
First, I have had to come to terms with the alienation and solitude that everyday life offers in a country where I do not speak the language and most people do not speak mine. Some days are emotional trials, for sure. However, Koreans owe me nothing. I am not owed anything. I repeat this to myself as a daily mantra. I have to remind myself that I have become quite accustomed to a level of everyday, spectacular consumerist culture in North America, so accustomed that I find it almost instinctive to insist that some of my desires and most of my needs are met simply because I walk into public and begin to participate in various exchanges with other folks around me. I cannot get by in Korea by living a lazy life. I must work hard, remain focused, exercise, attend to my health, and aggressively participate in the public sphere. For example, I must work hard everyday to acquire a new language. (Yes, there are Americans here who bitch about having to learn Korean and about Koreans not wanting to learn English.)
***many foreigners roam the streets of Seoul in packs insuring that most Koreans will never attempt to make that social contact we all so desperately crave, Friendship. I can't speak for Canadians, but I know that the manner in which Americans socialize is strange to Koreans. When we roam in groups, we are louder and more boisterous than most Koreans. In addition, we are simply more obscene. Hit the OED. What I mean by obscene is that we tend to share with everybody what is on our mind. We like to be noticed. We stare at people. We overtly flirt. We talk a lot. And when we roam in groups, we tend to ignore the rest of the world and expect that they leave us alone. This is simply not the way things are done here.
I have been lonely here my first seven weeks. My lifestyle has dramatically transformed. But my emotional trauma is not fairly transferred to Koreans. Moreover, the complaints about hatred and discrimination strike me as completely inappropriate. Even on the worst day I have had in Seoul, I have yet had to confront the institutional racism that a Mexican or Central American immigrant laborer faces on his or her best day in North America. I will not equivocate on this point. The cries of bigotry are quite absurd. (Once again, some Koreans are racists. Calling Koreans racist, though, is like an American middle class white dewd bitching about affirmative action and reverse discrimination: it is stupid, self-centered, ill-informed; basically, an attempt to re-establish the comfortable order found in the white power structure.)
Let me make it clear. I have been in Seoul only seven weeks. I already have a home, cable tv, broadband Internet access, a cell-phone, a health plan, a pension plan, my alien registration card, a renewed VISA with multi-use privileges, a bank account, direct deposit, and membership in a soccer club; in addition, the locals have begun calling me by name, students and teachers look out for my health, the school's administration insures I am taken care of, and my landlord is responsive to my complaints. In the United States, no immigrant receives the treatment I have received in Korea with such sincere rapidity. The majority of the immigrant labor force in North America, never mind the US, covertly labors everyday for scraps and is entirely ignored by the majority of native citizens.
- I find many North Americans here, especially my fellow U.S. citizens, to be whiners--spoiled, self-centered shits. For as educated as many of my fellow teachers claim to be, they are incredibly naive and, as a result, incredibly insensitive to the very rational, logical dispositions of others. (Of course, many native speaking teachers in Korea are under 25 and have no experience of the world outside of Mom, Dad, High School, and University life. I think they choose to come to Korea because of the pay rather than the culture. Hence, the roaming in packs: intoxicated, loud, immature, clique-ish, imps. They never will care about Korean culture. They are on vacation.)
- I find much of the whining about Koreans to be based in the social superiority that is quietly cultivated in the white power structure that is still a part of everyday life in North America. I don't think much of this superiority is intended; I think it is learned. On the other hand, the naivete I see in it makes it that much more pitiful and infuriating. I believe it is our duty to make the corrupt power structures visible, to betray the white order at all costs, and bring about some equality by any means necessary. Anyway, no matter what your beliefs are, this is true: Only an individual who willfully ignores the pain and suffering of others... . Oh, wait a minute. I know how to put it: they all have taken the capitalist pill called ATLAS SHRUGGED. If you know what I mean, say amen.
So, I understand why people hate Americans. I don't hate. But I am let down. Sad, for sure. I am certainly embarrassed. For as many whining turds that come to Korea to drink and piss away a couple of years before choosing a career at home, there are many travelers here hanging out like I am taking it all in and happy to have a paycheck while doing it. Kind people who are here to learn and work and grow. I hope to continue to find likeminded folks. I think I will.
Oh, and no. I really could care less about the election.
Monday, October 20, 2008
This week we are working on basics: parts of speech.
I went with my students to the Contemporary Art Museum last Thursday. They participated in a writing and painting exercise/contest. I was able to spend time with them outside of school. I took many photos. I am posting them in my next entry.
The students seem to be getting comfortable with me. I am a happy teacher. I very tired, but happy teacher.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
My first month in Seoul has been too fast and frustrating yet worth every moment. I am very busy with school work this week.
This weekend I am going to Grand Mint Festival. Friday-Sunday: 60+ bands. Yo la Tengo is the main event Saturday night. I am going with my new friend Jan. He's from Belgium. I met him last weekend. Great guy. We're also going to see Korea take on the UAE in a World Cup qualifier match at World Cup Stadium.
I will have photos and more by Monday evening. The next 5 days look pretty exciting; unfortunately, I won't be anywhere near a computer.
Monday, October 13, 2008
If anybody has any ideas, get in touch.
More substantial blogging tonight.
Back to teaching.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
I try to leave my flat by 7:30 so I have time to buy coffee. I walk to and from work everyday. The roundtrip is a little over two miles. I am in school by 7:50. At my desk: I check email, facebook, my blog; I brush my teeth. (Routines are so banal.) Around 8:20 I prep for my classes. Only on Wednesdays do I have an early class. Most days I begin teaching at 9:20.
I eat at the cafeteria with my Korean colleagues at 12:10; I teach until 4; I eat dinner most days with students; I usually leave school around 5:30.
Next week I will begin teaching a series of night classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5-7. I have called the 3, 5-week courses Everyday Expressions I, II, and III. From homeroom surveys, I think I'll begin with something like 35 students. I imagine 15 or so will consistently attend. I am excited about these classes. Not only will I make additional income, I will get a chance to become better acquainted with some of the students here. With 800 students, I can't learn names never mind personalities, hopes, needs--all the stuff teachers like to now about their students.
In January, during Winter Vacation, I will teach a 60-hour English Camp. That will be both a challenge and a joy. No extra pay with this as I am contracted to work during Winter break. I am a trained Lecturer for the College classroom, which is much different than a High School English teacher. So I am learning, too. I hope the students will like my course. I will teach Culture, Conversation, Reading, and Writing: 4 hours of class time with lunch dividing the day.
I seriously strained both my quadriceps playing soccer and am only permitted to exercise with my club until I am healed. I will post photos: the pitches here are dirt. A sandy hardpack that is unforgiving on feet, ankles, and legs. Thankfully, my knees are fine. I usually play a pick-up game around 6pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Across the street from Samsung High School is an elementary school. On the grounds of that school is a beautiful pitch used by the local professional club. Locals are permitted to play on that field in the evenings.
Because I cannot play and until I can again, I visit an acupuncturist after school. Roughly, $3.50 per visit after my healthcare discount. I get two pins in my foot and two in my hand, both rightside, to help control swelling, pain (and heat, I think.)
I am usually home around 8 or 9pm, which is early around here. From what I can tell, the people of Seoul enjoy a night-time culture. I like it quite a bit. I like walking, grabbing a drink from a convenience store, and sitting in a park or on a bench street-side with my neighbors. I probably walk two-four miles each evening.
I am in bed not too long after midnight. If I can't sleep, I read.
Added into this routine is writing, which I am working back into my schedule. I write in the early morning and/or late at night. I always have. I tend to write for 1 to 3 hours at a time.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
I used to live in Sillim-dong. Unfortunately, the word Sillim in Seoul conjures up thoughts about the working poor and reminds everybody here about an undefined, yet ever-present dread of poverty. In an effort to improve property values, apparently, (but really in an effort to make it easier to ignore the all-too visible poverty here) I now live in Daehok-dong, or something along the lines of "University Neighborhood" and "Scholar-Hood". I don't think I have to change my mailing address yet...I don't think. Better look into that.
I pulled a muscle, today, in my leg: somewhere high in my quadricep. It could be a bad strain. I will go to the hospital tomorrow and have a sports injury specialist look at it. Oh yeah, I have a health card and it gets me cheap health care at many places. For what amounts to $3.50, I get a 40 minute acupuncture session. I will go for two weeks, four days a week, while my muscle heals. Great stuff. I might not have to pay for anything at the hospital. It depends what the doctor suggests. I can barely walk. Sucks to be in Seoul with a muscle injury. Walking is a way-of-life here.
I am very happy about several things.
- I begin teaching night classes at my public school next week. My classes will consist of 20 hour courses over a five week period. I will begin teaching Idioms: Everyday Expressions I, II, and III. I get paid after I complete each 20 hour period. It's good, legal pay, and I can use the money to pay off the credit-card debt I created while I lived with my folks in Ohio and like a bum, refused to work. Of course, I was sulking about Andrea dumping me and having to possibly leave Denver for an extended period of time. But you softboys out there know how tough it is when another woman dumps us because of who we are. Whine, Whine, I know.
- I am writing again, and in a focused manner.
- I was invited to join a soccer club: Samsung High School Club. I get my uniform and equipment next Sunday. It's too bad I am injured and won't be playing again for two weeks, but I am happy becoming a more significant member of my community.
- I have made several friends already. Jang Jinho and Kim Sooyoung are great folks. I am learning Korean quicker than anybody expected. But I have good help. I hope with these two I can create lasting friendships.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
If I was able to sign a multi-year contract, I could benefit from all sorts of great deals. Unfortunately, my Visa is year-to-year; I can only sign a one-year deal. Whereas my monthly bill is tiny in comparison to US telecoms, my initial start-up fee is kind of high as is the kind of cheap phone I can purchase.
At least I can call: for help, for directions, for conversation. And I can use a nifty software that will help me learn to translate all of the Hangul I see everywhere and am learning to read, but still cannot understand.
My feet are killing me from Sunday's football matches. I played too much on Sunday--3 games. Moreover, I am breaking in new shoes. Ouch.
New photos to come.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
I will head out to Hongdae tonight to see some great Boston hardcore! Can't believe an act like this is coming to Seoul. They are even playing a show outside of Seoul--from what I can tell, very rare.
Say hi to me if you're there. I'll be the bald guy in the St Pauli tshirt with a big smile.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
- I have 2o sections of English classes at Samsung High School. 800 students. They all think I am swell; they're shy; they're wonderful. I love the school I am at. I am the first foreign teacher and they are treating me extremely well.
- The recruiting agency that brought me to the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (which brought me to Seoul) screwed me and I am being paid 50% less than I should be paid this first month. Not worth bitching too much about it since I am well paid and will only suffer this first paycheck. Some teachers come to Korea and end up in far worse situations than partial pay for their first month in town.
- I play soccer with my students and have played with a local club team. Games are played on hard-packed sandlots. Very challenging. But I am a skilled player at my position and it appears I am welcome to play for many of the clubs in my district.
- Because I can hike, play soccer, and teach in Gwanak-gu, I have yet to really explore Seoul. On the other hand (unlike many foreign teachers,) I have been able to fully immerse myself in Korean culture. Not that most teachers don't want to be here, but most teachers do spend much free time with other English-speaking foreigners and in the foreigner-centered districts in Seoul. My teaching and sports schedule has me hanging with Koreans almost everyday and evening. I am hoping this will help me excel at Korean language study.
- I like the neighborhood I live in. Sillim-dong is filled with students both university and those studying at law school prep academies. Plenty of young, active people.
- A good sauna (sow-na, is how the Koreans pronounce it) is just down the street. Nothing like a Korean public bath after a hard day working.