Monday, October 27, 2008

In Korea two months and already the Americans suck ass

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'll recap:

  • 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

Samsung High School News

I am now writing lesson plans for both first and second graders at the high school. The experience is a bit bewildering. I am still learning where the students are in their English education. Many students can understand only the most basic English; for them, my classroom work is extremely difficult no matter how simple I make it. On the other hand, many students are excellent English speakers for their age and experience; for these students, the basic work I bring to class is an exercise in boredom and patience. I try, therefore, to teach to the middle. I just don't know where the middle is.

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

(t)here i go.

Just when I feel things settling down, everything seems out of control once again.

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

phone woes

I need to find a "cdma" usb driver for my Anycall phone (SCH-w390m). I found CDMA driver packages for Samsung phones, but I think the scripting and executive files must all be in hangukeo because I cannot get the computer I use to recognize the driver once I have installed it.

If anybody has any ideas, get in touch.

More substantial blogging tonight.

Back to teaching.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

My Weekday Routine

I rise at 6am, not too long after many students head-in for sleep after drinking and eating all night. My neighborhood is full of dormitory hotels for students, who after working all-day socialize all-night. Popular bars and restaurants are open till 5am. Still, the neighborhood is never too loud.

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

Have Heart, The Spot (Hongdae, 9/27/08)

Hardcore Seoul: Positive Community Experience (PCE)

So far so good. The Seoul Hardcore/Punk scene seems to be healthy.

The expat crowd whines about it on the message boards. But I find this to be an American Obsession: Scene Health. Scene Health is typically lamented, especially within outsider communities. Anyway, it took me maybe one set to tire of the Army Skinheads Posing as Hardcore Kids scene. It didn't come as a surprise to me when one guy took off his shirt to reveal a pistol tattoo above his belly and some reference to God & Country in text above or below, I cannot remember, the image. He kept making comments about Mexicans.

I have learned, by the way, to ignore the expat crowd and its advice. I know there are many great expats here who are living in Korea and contributing to life here in a positive manner, but many of the teachers, mostly private school folks, are complete bores and professional whiners.

I have two friends here, who I never get to see. Sad. Emily. Vanya. I am sorry I don't live nearer to both of you.

I was told that it would be difficult to get to now Koreans. WRONG. In fact, Koreans have taken me in and look out for me and seem to expect that I will continue to participate in daily life here becoming more Korean with every new experience.

I like the Korean fighting spirit. It is hardcore. And like the kids stage-diving and climbing on top of each other and hugging and holding hands at the Have Heart show last week (The Spot, Hongdae, 9.27.2008,) the men and women I am wandering around Seoul with are very attentive to cultivating a Positive Community Experience (PCE).

Korea has its problems. For example, do not get me started about the sexism.

I am certain to post more about PCE. Right now, I want to post photos from the show and then go to the bath.

grey grey grey

i know the color scheme on dagseoul is poor. i am working on fixing the layout right now. soon, it will be easier to read. cheers.

Getting it Together

Finally, after three weeks I am feeling settled down and a bit of peace has entered my daily life. I am enjoying my new home. I like my neighborhood. The local government has changed the name of my area to "Daehok". I may have it spelled incorrectly. I am still learning.

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.