So it's World Cup time here in Korea, and boy do these folks ever love the Red Devils, the Korean national soccer team. For the last two weeks there's been nothing but Red Devils paraphernalia on sale and Red Devils-themed advertising on TV. It's even more intense than all the Yuna Kim madness during the Olympics (and she had a much better chance of coming home a champion). I have to wonder what the Christian fundamentalists here think about all the happy smiling families running around right now with light-up devil horns on their heads. (I'm guessing they put aside their misgivings in the name of national pride.) The funny thing is, from what I've heard, most Koreans don't care all that much about soccer aside from following the national team. Sure, I've seen some Arsenal and Inter Milan jackets around school (and of course bloody Manchester United, because Jisung Park plays for friggin' fraggin' Man U) but apparently club soccer here takes a back seat to baseball and other sports, and clearly there aren't nearly as many people here concerned about whether Spain might meet Brazil in the second round as there are concerned about whether Korea will top Nigeria next week. I guess I can't blame them for expressing their national pride. Especially coming from America, where people usually watch Team USA as long as they last in the World Cup, maybe get curious and check out an MLS game or two at some point afterward and then immediately forget that soccer exists anywhere other than at their kids' school. But the national fervor for the Red Devils is a little bit overwhelming. What can I say, it's a trend-driven society and the Reds are clearly the new black.
The World Cup also means I've been a bit short on sleep. The games here are on at 8:30 PM, 11:00 PM and 3:30 AM, so while it's been rare that I've stayed up for a 3:30 AM match, I have been sucked into my fair share of 11 PM matches, with difficulty calming down enough afterward to get to sleep quickly. Opening night I ended up going out with my South African co-teacher Mo and some other friends to see the South Africa-Mexico match at a bar in Daegu, and because the trains back from Daegu don't start up again until 6 AM I ended up staying out all night. It was kind of crazy, here I am in this very monocultural country (spell check is telling me "monocultural" isn't a word, but I'm saying that it should be) and I end up at a bar full of South Africans and Mexican-Americans, along with a bunch of Koreans, Americans, Korean-Americans, a handful of douchebags from the US Army (please note that I am not suggesting that all enlisted men in the US Army are douchebags, just most of them when they're in bars), some Senegalese dudes, a Brazilian and a Russian. Small world, eh?
Speaking of trouble sleeping, how about that USA vs. Slovenia game? I actually thought the ref was doing a decent job up until the blown goal call, personally, but that last call wiped out a lot of goodwill on my part. It looks like we won't need the win to progress to the second round, especially since England has been doing such a wonderful job of underperforming, but hey, three points is three points. What's up, ref?
Otherwise things haven't been too eventful since I got back from the Philippines. I was looking forward to coasting into the summer break until I found out I still have to teach during the summer break. In fact, I have to teach the same kids every day over summer "break," meaning I have to do five times as much lesson planning work as normal. Or I would if I was planning to deliver the same caliber of lessons as the regular school year. I have a feeling there might be more than one "let's review restaurant ordering" or "let's watch The Big Lebowski" lesson this summer. I volunteered to help out an English camp at one of the local grade schools in an effort to get out of my high school gig for a week (and make some extra money) but the English camp is in the morning and my high school classes are in the afternoon so I'm not 100% certain I won't end up having to do both. Then again, I do get eight days of vacation, which is eight more paid days off than I ever got as a temp, so I can't complain too bitterly.
My school is asking me to split my vacation between the beginning of summer break and the end of summer break, and I'm trying not to spend a ton of money on travel since I just went to the Philippines, so I'll probably just hit up some spots around Korea in July and maybe take a short trip somewhere else in August. I was talking to a friend in Taiwan about visiting her in August. Figured Taiwan might be a good trip. After all:
- There are monkeys. (Always research whether a country has monkeys before planning any vacation.
- CHEAP ELECTRONICS. (Pretty much everything here is Samsung or LG. There's not a lot of impetus to compete on price without foreign competition.)
- Need to see it before China blows it up.
- Good opportunity to see all those art treasures the Nationalists stole from the mainland.
However, my friend in Taiwan hates it there, so she doesn't want to guarantee that she'll still be there in August, which means I can't really plan ahead to go there. Also apparently Taiwan is hot as balls in August. Not sure what the back-up plan is, it's going to be hot and wet anywhere in East or Southeast Asia in August and I can't afford to travel too far out of the region. (You wouldn't believe what it costs to travel to Bora Bora this time of year. Believe me, I've checked.) I guess I could always check out Jeju Island or something, but I get the impression that the people who say Jeju is Korea's Hawaii would also argue that Branson, Missouri is the Mid-South's Las Vegas.
It's too bad I'm not in quite the same financial situation as some of the younger teachers here who don't have student loans from an expensive graduate degree and ten years of other miscellaneous debts to pay off. This job hasn't completely let me forget that I need to keep a positive balance in my checkbook every month. (Actually I have to keep a positive balance in two bank accounts now, which is slightly trickier.) When I first got here I calculated that, with a strong dose of financial prudence, I might be able to have all my credit cards paid off in two years and not have to borrow any extra money to finish the courses I'm taking. Of course when I made those calculations I hadn't been here long enough to see my real expenses, the won was at its peak against the dollar and I had left out some important expenses like textbooks, trips to the Philippines and late nights in Daegu sending off co-workers returning to America or watching South Africa play Mexico in the World Cup.
Basically, the yin and yang of my current financial thinking is this:
Yin: It would be stupid to travel all the way to East Asia for work and not explore Korea and the rest of the region, meet people, make friends and enjoy myself.
Yang: It would be stupid to travel halfway around the world for a job and not come home in a much better position to get work and pay my film school loans.
So far it looks like it won't be too hard to strike a balance as long as I don't make too many crazy purchases or trips to Bora Bora, and maybe consider staying for a third year. It's just a little annoying that I have to start re-balancing my budget when I realize I need a summer wardrobe to survive the lack of central air. Plus Mo just borrowed a bicycle from someone and I'm still pissed off that I haven't been able to replace my Trek that got stolen out of my fucking garage in LA. (All bicycle thieves should die.) Why, God, why can't I have a decent bike??!?! All the bikes here are crappy or expensive as shit! (Although I hear Giant bikes are cheaper in Taiwan...)
Ever since I got back to Korea from soaking in hotel pools in the Philippines I keep thinking about where this job is heading and what I'm gonna do when it's time to move on. Teaching is all right but it's hard to imagine making a career out of it here. (Or most other places, for that matter... What language do they speak in Bora Bora?) I'm studying for an accounting certificate I can use when I get back, but accounting isn't exactly the most exciting career in the world and I keep running across articles about how tough it is to get a job in the States these days, even with a CPA cert. I dunno. I'm trying to keep in mind all the things I've picked up from reading about Taoism and Buddhist teachings over the years. You know, wu wei, action without action, craving leads to suffering, all that good stuff. I should probably stop worrying about the future so much and concentrate on going to work every day, giving the kids a good English lesson, passing my accounting courses and enjoying the opportunities I've got. The bills will get paid, the job will still be here tomorrow and the world will still be there the next time I get vacations days. It's just hard to be at peace when there's so many shiny new bicycles around.
Speaking of Buddhism, one of my Korean co-teachers took me on a trip with his family to the Gatbawi stone Buddha outside of Daegu this last weekend. It was a heck of a hike up to the thing... it didn't look like a long trek, but it was steep enough that it took it out of you. I think I've figured out why Buddhist love to put shrines up on mountains: there's no way to hike up a mountain without spending some time thinking, "Now wait a second, why the fuck am I hiking up here again?" and then forgetting about it while you continue climbing. When we started the climb, the path entered a forest canopy and I started to hear drums and chanting coming from far away. When we got to the top, I found out that the chanting and drums were a recording. (I love Buddhists, they're so practical.) I also saw that they had a helicopter landing pad nearby for VIP visitors. I guess the path to enlightenment is shorter if you own a helicopter. The Gatbawi statue is apparently the most popular shrine in Korea for parents to visit to pray for their children to pass exams, including the big national exam that comes at the end of high school. I'm really tempted to come back just before November 17th, the date of the exam, with some Western friends, a case of Charm soju and a couple pitchers of Cass and tell the parents coming up the path, "Don't do it! Give up! They'll just end up fat, rich, ignorant and lazy, like us!!!" But that would be antisocial.
Goddammit blogging takes too long. I need to eat something and finish my TEFL homework while I have a break between quarters for my accounting classes. Back later.
Oh wait, one more thing... If anyone here in Korea can find a video link to that crazy Hite beer ad with the guy in the car with the mariachi band, can you send it to me? I found this YouTube video with a behind-the-scenes look at the shoot, but nothing with the actual commercial. (You should see it. It's crazy. There's a mariachi band.)