Saturday, April 9, 2011

Back By Popular Demand

Ah, spring. Spring is a lovely time in Korea. The festival season begins, the many long, tubular greenhouses in the countryside let loose their harvest of ripe, delicious strawberries, and the cherry blossoms burst forth from their winter slumber. The other day one of my co-teachers commented on the March calendar image on another teacher's desk, which showed a spring field of bright yellow yuchae flowers in full bloom near Seongsan Ilchulbong on Jeju. He told me how young engaged couples have their pictures taken in front of the peak and the fields of yellow yuchae to celebrate their love. He didn't know the English word for the yuchae flower, however, so I opened Google Translate on my computer and typed it in. Here's what came up:

Yes, "yuchae" is "rape." Why do we have the same word in English for a plant and a sexual assault? I'll never know.
Way to ruin the moment, English language. What do you do for an encore?

Nothing much has been happening this semester so far other than the usual detritus of working, staying alive and other typical human behaviors. But  people have been asking why I haven't updated the blog lately, so I figured I ought to scrape together whatever came to mind and make it into something cogent and somewhat entertaining. For a few weeks the most exciting thing going on (besides, you know, the deadly tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, but I'd prefer not to dwell on that) was that I was waiting for a calculator to show up in the mail. Mind you, this was no ordinary calculator. This calculator has a USB cable that plugs into your computer, so that you can do 10-key data entry on a computer that doesn't have a 10-key keypad. Plus it has a trackball so you don't have to save space on your desk for a mouse or use the stupid touch pad mouse. (If this does not excite you intensely, perhaps even sexually, then you have clearly never used Excel on a laptop on a cramped desk.) The calculator was pretty much all I had ever dreamed of in my most feverish, intense, spreadsheet-manipulating dreams (it even has a scroll wheel that wasn't described in the online listing!) but after it finally showed up about a week after I expected it to I discovered that I no longer had anything to look forward to every day. So the moral of this story is that I really, really need to start dating again.
The scroll wheel totally upgrades this puppy from boss to ultra-boss.

When I've been traveling lately--solo, for the most part, coincidentally--I've often started composing narratives in my head for the blog as events unfold, recounting to myself exactly how I'll detail arriving at the boardwalk in Danshui and discovering that it's now cold, dark and packed with far too many people to enjoy any of the area's offerings, or how a cabbie in Jinhae refused to let me out of the cab until he reached the exact dot on his navigation system listed as "Dream Park," and then declined to accept the full fare out of embarrassment when I finally convinced him to let me out so I could explore the park on foot. But invariably by the time I've had a night's rest to consider the day's events I realize that no one really wants to read every minute detail of my personal mental narrative of trekking around a foreign locale, eating congealed duck's blood and developing blisters the size of a $50 TWD coin, no matter how cleverly worded it is. (The congealed duck's blood and tofu I sampled in Kaohsiung, by the way, was actually quite delicious, although I would recommend to anyone trying it not to accompany the dish with plum tea if you want to avoid severe bowel discomfort the next morning.) So I'll give you the condensed version, and if you want additional details (and if you know who I am, mwah hah hah) then I recommend that you check out my Picasa and YouTube pages for the photos and videos. There should be links on my Facebook page somewhere, which is probably where you're reading this if you know me.

I took a trip to Taiwan at the end of February. I have an ex-roommate whom I hadn't seen in years that lives in Kaohsiung, so I wanted to say hello while I'm in the right hemisphere and see everything Kaohsiung and Taipei had to offer. My overall impression of Taiwan is that it's a very cosmopolitan country, more so than Korea. The Taiwanese seem more individual in their tastes and more welcoming to foreign influence. And the first cafe I went to was playing Blonde Redhead so that was some straight indie cred right there. Also, it's totally cool to put a neon sign of a giant penis or a dog fucking a pig on your bar or cafe, as shown in these photos. I love the Taiwanese sense of humor, it's much more subversive than what I've seen of Korean humor.

Billy Lawless, eat your heart out.
Nothing a dog and pig can do together cannot be art.
It was a little bit of a shock coming to another foreign country and speaking even less of the language, something that I had also noticed when I was briefly in Shanghai on my way to and from the States. I don't speak very much Korean, despite living here for a year, but I've picked up enough to barely survive, and I can read the alphabet, which helps immensely for all the "Kanglish" words that are transliterations of English words. Before I landed in Taipei I managed to get down "xie xie" (thank you) and "ni hao" (hello) and learn how to count to four, but that was about it, and Chinese characters are still a complete mystery to me. I'm sure once you get used to reading them they're a lot easier to read, but for me, trying to remember "okay, this jumble of lines means 'beer' and the jumble of lines that looks like a lantern and a little sign post is 'station,' and box plus spikey tree thing means 'exit'" was a little beyond my comprehension. (Luckily just about everything in Taiwan is listed in English and Chinese characters. Places other than the United States are considerate like that.) I'd love to learn Chinese some day--it's a wonderfully musical language once you learn to appreciate the tones, I could seriously listen to airport announcements in Mandarin all day just to hear all the different sounds and inflections--but considering how little Korean I know I should probably stick to one new language at a time. Anyway, Taiwan gets a big thumbs-up from me. Go for the duck's blood, stay for the hot springs and electronics shopping.

The new school year has been relatively free of surprises. My former partner-in-crime Mo departed for the United States to be with his bride so I've been spending a little more time by myself while readjusting my social life to include new people. All the new folks in town are very nice and friendly--especially the TaLK teachers after a few beverages--but they've all arrived with  intact social and/or family relationships in the area, so it's not quite as easy to form friendships based purely on proximity and desperation to speak English. Clearly the lesson here is that I should have made more than one close friend my age in the last year, but that's not so easy when you're a foreigner living in a small town and not the type who readily establishes close friendships. (And to be fair, I did make at least one Korean friend who moved away to Seoul.) As many of my dearest friends back home have pointed out, good friends are hard to come by. However I'd prefer not to dwell on that point since all the aforementioned individuals can read this blog and I don't want this to turn into a whiny spooky-kid Livejournal post. (Ha ha ha BURN Livejournal.) I've been thinking about trying to get hooked up with one of these "language exchange" opportunities I've heard about from other EPIK teachers, where you meet a Korean who's interested in learning English and that person helps you learn Korean, and this is probably a good opportunity to make an effort to get to know the people in my town better and reconnect with some of the folks I know in other areas. I believe some folks are coming to town for the bullfighting festival next weekend so that should be a good opportunity to get reacquainted with people. (The bullfighting festival, by the way, was supposed to happen in March but was rescheduled and shortened due to a national outbreak of foot and mouth disease. A lot of non-cow related festivals were also cancelled outright in March to try to discourage people from traveling and possibly spreading the foot and mouth virus, so it's kind of funny that the one directly cow-related festival in the country is still happening. Mess with the bulls, you get the horns, baby.)

Oh, by the way, the coda to the mug story... No one ever came forward and gave it back to me, but one day I found it on a window sill in my school on the way to the English classroom. So I got my mug back, and no hard feelings. It's a happy ending!

One of the distinctions between the Korean school year and the American school year is that the Korean school year runs February to December instead of September to May (although it's impossible to keep the kids out of the school during breaks, so it's really a year-round schedule) so that means as teachers we get a classroom full of teenagers in rut that are impossible to teach at the beginning of the year instead of the end of the year. Personally I think that makes a lot more sense because it means that they'll be mellowed out and hunkering down for winter when they have to prepare for all the big exams at the end of the year, but it doesn't make the teaching this time of year any easier. Hell, I would rather be outside too, but we don't have a big six foot touch screen for my PowerPoint presentations outside. The time passes quickly, though--we'll be into midterm examinations in another three weeks or so, even though it seems like the year just started. As they say here, time flies like an arrow...

I guess the only other thing I'll talk about in this post is how I've been thinking about the future, although I'm reluctant to say too much about my thoughts since my co-workers can read this blog. When I came here I was planning to only stay for a year, maybe two, but once I started crunching numbers I realized that I might have to stick around for three years in order to pay off all the bills I came here to pay off and put together enough savings to come back and resettle in the States comfortably. (I'm sure this proposed extension was an especially pleasant surprise to the friend of mine who agreed to take care of my pet fish for a period of one to two years.) Plus I landed at a good school and I had a very enjoyable year, especially compared to the previous year in LA. For a while I was thinking that maybe I should consider looking for work in another country after two years here, but at this point I'm feeling like the expense and hassle of moving again would outweigh the benefits, especially since it would be difficult or impossible to find a job that pays as much with my qualifications. So for now my choices seem to be staying here at my current school for another year, moving to a school in a larger city in Korea at the end of my current contract (probably one in the same province so I don't lose all my retention bonuses) or heading home at the end of this year with less money and more bills than I would like. I've been feeling a little homesick lately but the idea of returning to the States is also really daunting. I've pretty much given up on my former line of work so I'll be returning as a 34- or 35-year-old with little experience related to the job training I'm currently doing, two or three years of unrelated experience teaching in a foreign country, and a resume that represents a lot of hard work and sacrifice but will probably look like a vagabond's CV to anyone who's never worked in entertainment. Disappearing into Thailand, Rambo-style, sometimes seems like an attractive, if irresponsible, option. Well, at this point at least I can say I love the school I'm at, I've got straight A's in my courses and the balance of my debts is decreasing at a satisfactory rate. So I should probably count my blessings and worry about my future when the time comes. And besides, it's spring, and the strawberries here are too damn good. Also it's 1:30 AM and I need to finish more work for my accounting classes tomorrow, and I wasted half of today going to Daegu to see "Sucker Punch" which was so awful I left halfway through. (There are very few other movies I've ever seen where I've been struck by the thought, "This would be much better if it were a Russ Meyers film.") But at least I have a new hat. I'm rambling. Good night.

No comments:

Post a Comment