Monday, September 19, 2011

The Farther One Travels, The Less One Knows

Hey all, Look at that, one month to the day! I am a consistent blogger once again!

We're now entering what is, if I'm not mistaken, the fourth week of the current semester. There's not too much that exciting going on. I bought some decent beers (Duvel! Kozel! Fuller's London Pride! Erdinger! Leffe Brune! Hooray!) and some packets of curry spices from HomePlus so my belly is happy. I bought a really expensive pair of flip-flops a few weeks ago, but I'm justifying it by the fact that I waited the whole summer to buy them. I quit one video game and bought a couple others. I joined a fantasy football league. During Chuseok, I actually watched football. Sunday NFL games are usually on from 2 AM Monday morning until about noon Monday afternoon here so there's no point trying to find a way to watch them. This year Chuseok fell on a Monday, however, so we had Monday and Tuesday off, giving me the perfect excuse to go nocturnal and watch the opening weekend of football (sans the Thursday opener, sadly). Getting up at 2 AM to watch football until 3 PM and then try to get some sleep might seem a little crazy, but it seemed worth it at the time. Could have been the football withdrawl, I don't know. Maybe it was the whole September 11th thing. Spending the tenth anniversary of September 11th in a foreign country was a little strange, especially since it kind of lasted for close to 36 hours with the time change. Personally I was kind of glad to be able to avoid it--I don't like to revisit that day. But remembering the date with a day of NFL football seemed appropriate somehow. And I've got my reservation to see the memorial when I visit New York in February. Anyway, I'm just glad the Bills won the only one of their games that I'll probably see all year, and handily. I take back most of the awful things I've said about Ryan Fitzpatrick. (I'm sure he understands.)

There hasn't been that much fascinating, interesting stuff to report. I did go to the Daegu International Bodypainting Festival, which was a fun event for a shutterbug like myself. There are so few creative arts festivals or museums outside of Seoul that it's surprising that something as daring as the Bodypainting Festival is going on in boring-ol' Daegu. Earlier this summer I went to the fine arts gallery in Gwangju, which is associated with the  big Gwangju biennial, so I was expecting big things. Most of the art there was so boring (Ooh! It's the same damn waterfall that Asian artists have been drawing for centuries!) that I wanted to impale roadkill on rusted cars, light it on fire and photograph it. (YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO STEAL THAT IDEA.) The Bodypainting Festival isn't especially avant-garde--a lot of the work looks like it would be at home in a sci-fi/fantasy video game--but it was still cool to see the creativity at work. I also liked the fact that a lot of the work was done by local design students. And of course the whole nakedness thing is a little brash for Daegu. Some other people I know who had visited past festivals complained that they were a little creeped out by the number of older men at the festival ogling the models while they were preparing for the judging and performance, but I honestly didn't see anything too unseemly along those lines when I was there. Maybe the models were in a more completely prepared state when I was there--I can imagine that the preparation in outdoor tents must feel a little more revealing before the base coat goes on, no matter how hard the artists try to shield the models from the public eye. The promotional videos they showed at the event showed a few male models in the competition, but there was only one at the event this year. Not that I'm complaining. I think what shocked me the most wasn't the nudity aspect, but the fact that at the end of the show the models walked through a crowd of drunks and down a dark asphalt path to get back to their outdoor prep area. Trust is a beautiful thing. Trust, and a lack of lawyers looking for lawsuits.

The bodypainting and costuming was quite beautiful, too. Let's not forget that.

I guess the only other big news is that I officially intend to renew for a third year. I don't think anybody should be surprised by that decision. If anything I was more worried that something was going to happen to yank the rug out from under me before I could renew. There's been a lot of crazy rumors floating around among the foreigner population here lately. A lot of teachers are concerned about the fact that the province of Gyeonggi-do defunded GEPIK, after instituting a hiring freeze earlier in the year, and now all the teachers in the province seem to be in limbo. (I still don't know what the relationship is between GEPIK and EPIK in other provinces, but given the separate acronyms I've been led to believe that there's some sort of significant separation.) There also seems to be a general trend in the country towards viewing teachers in general as having special privileges and not working as hard as other Koreans. In a way it's kind of comforting to see that there's more than one country that can be driven by crisis to hate teachers, even one that worships education. And worships spending long hours at work. Korean sources like to blame Korea's low labor productivity rates on large concentrations of workers in service industry positions and the informal economy, but I'll bet it also has something to do with the number of hours Koreans are at work, which is the highest per worker in the OECD. Part of Korean business culture seems to be that no one goes home until the boss goes home, which isn't just a great way to depress your productivity by guaranteeing that your workers are spending a lot of idle hours browsing Naver, but also a great way to instill a crab-bucket mentality when it comes time for a recession.

On top of that, there seem to be a lot more stories and rumors kicking aroundabout Koreans just plain not liking foreigners. Personally I don't take a lot of stock in those stories. I think a lot of things that prompt Westerners to think that Koreans are "racist" are just cultural misunderstandings. I'll admit, Korea is a fairly closed society. It's difficult to forge close friendships with the locals (at least by Western standards) and Koreans don't really embrace foreign influence the way some more blended cultures with longer histories of foreign influence, colonization, international trade and immigration do. But I think foreign teachers also do things to reinforce some of the negative stereotypes that already exist here. I don't think there's a good reason for Koreans to believe that we're all child rapists with AIDS (and I've seen the evidence of what Korean men get up to in Southeast Asia--don't think we don't know what you're doing at those clubs in the Philippines, guys) but a lot of foreign teachers don't seem to have gotten the message that just because you can have an open container in public and find prostitutes at juicy bars doesn't mean that you should. And since we're foreigners, we're going to be held to a higher standard than drunk old farmers because we're a lot more visible. It may not be fair, but it's the rules of the game. The same way that foreign English teachers might panic when they hear a story about a vigilante spying on foreign teachers trying to catch them breaking the law is the same way that Koreans will overreact when they read about a foreign teacher assaulting an older couple on a bus in Seoul (warning: the linked video is not a happy video). It's important not to let rumors, innuendo and the worst elements of a group color your opinion of a whole culture or collection of people, especially when it seems like there's so little communication and exchange of ideas between the two groups sometimes.

But, long story slightly shorter, it appears that I've been invited to stay another year. I'll admit that there were a few days there where I was contemplating asking to be moved to a different school in a bigger city. I love my school to death, but my town is a little isolated and it would be nice to have a few more Westerners to mix with. But in the end the rational decision won out. I know my last blog posting was a little glum, but with the world economy being what it is it makes more sense to stay and keep the stable job for another year, and it made more sense to stay at my school than to roll the dice and possibly end up at a crappy school. I'm trying to make more of a concerted effort to get out and meet people, so I'm sure this current social lull will pass in time.

Speaking of which, lately I've been thinking about what I should do with my spare time when I'm here next year. My accounting courses will be finished by December, which will give me a helluva lot more free time evenings and weekends, and I'll have enough lesson plans prepared for school that I shouldn't have to do more than some minor tweaks to them when I'm at work during the week. I know some other teachers have tried stuff like taekwondo school and belly dancing classes but I'm not sure if either one of those is my speed. I know there's a kendo school next to my school, but I think most of the participants are elementary kids and my own female students, so I don't think I want to get involved with beating (or more likely, getting beaten by) little kids and a bunch of Korean schoolgirls with a bamboo rod. I may give Korean lessons another try if I can find a language exchange partner to help with some additional practice outside of class. I've been thinking about buying a new acoustic guitar and finally learning how to play, especially since I saw some of the acoustics here that are available for under $150. (Unfortunately I don't know the quality of any of the brands available in Korea. I'm familiar with Samick and Cort, but a lot of the cheaper acoustics are made in China and I don't recognize any of the trade names used here. I do know Samick and Cort manufacture guitars for a lot of good American brands--I have Korean-made Schecter and Danelectro electric guitars back home and they both rule--but I'm also a little wary since my first guitar was a Samick acoustic and it's a piece of shit. Admittedly it was a really shitty Samick, and $50 less than a similar low-end guitar from Yamaha. But I've gotta say, I've seen a lot of good-looking guitars at dirt-cheap prices here, and unless there's hidden manufacturing defects you can usually hear or feel if there's something you don't like about an acoustic guitar.) At some point I'll have to review for the CPA exam, but I don't think that takes an entire year. I've thought about working on a screenplay (why abandon entertainment when you can keep pulling at the scabs?) but I have the age-old problem that I don't feel like I have an idea that's solid enough for a feature screenplay. (And I don't have enough access to American TV to write a TV spec. Maybe I should invest in some more NBC comedies from iTunes...) I suppose I could spend more time watching football (cough cough I mean soccer, sorry) but Arsenal is off to such a bad start that I would consider switching allegiances to Barca if Korean TV ever showed La Liga. There's also the age-old issue of money. Next year I should have more cash saved up for vacations and such, although I'd prefer to take it home with me and invest it or spend it after I've paid all the moving costs from coming home. (At some point I realized that it's the same price--and distance, as the crow flies--to fly from Seoul to New Zealand as it is to fly from LA to New Zealand. That kind of put a damper on my dreams of trekking the Milford Track as a goodbye trip.) But next year I'll also have to pay Korean taxes, start paying back some loans and pay some moving expenses when I return home. Anyway, I guess not knowing what to do with your free time is a good problem to have. Especially in the country with the longest work hours in the OECD. Better not let the locals see me enjoying myself...

(I just cracked the Leffe Brune. OH MY GOD WHAT A GREAT BEER. Belgians rule at beer.)

Alright, I'm tapped. I'll be back in a while with more crazy stories. In the meantime, here's the obligatory parting song...

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