Sunday, August 5, 2012

Summer's Here, and the Time Is Right

아, 덥다! Summer in this part of Korea is merciless, as far as the weather is concerned. I've been running the A/C 24/7 at home and can't wait to see the electric bill at the end of the month. The good news is we're doing summer camps at school, so I only have to be at school for half a day (or less) and we get to do more fun, one-on-one stuff with the limited number of students I'm working with. I haven't had the chance to do any traveling yet, except for a continuing education conference for the teachers at my school, and in the interest of not biting the hand that feeds me I'm not sure how much I should say specifically about that. I guess I'll say this: 1) Generally speaking it's good not to get blind drunk at workplace events, but honestly it's just not as fun. (I chose not to maximize my fun on this trip. Wouldn't have been prudent.) 2) In the United States, it's young people who tend to be the most irresponsible on trips, because they don't fear the consequences and don't feel a need to fear for their reputations. In Korea, for mostly the same reasons, it's the oldest, most important people who act that way. Clearly I have ventured to the other side of the looking glass here.

Speaking of that, the Olympics are going right now and the coverage is a bit disorienting over here. Judging from television you would think that the only events that are happening are the ones that Koreans are winning gold medals in, and those tend to be the almost exact opposite events from the ones that get attention in the US - namely, things like badminton, fencing, archery, judo, etc.. I'm not sure if they even bother covering the events that Koreans are good at but don't win. My parents were telling me that they saw an extremely close match between the US and Korean women's volleyball teams, which the US ended up winning, but I don't remember hearing anything about it here, even though volleyball is a fairly popular sport here. I guess one nice side effect is that they're showing a lot of women's athletic competitions. (Korean women kick ass if you give them half a chance.) One of my South African friends here keeps telling he how much she hates how Koreans seem to insist on acting like Korea is the best place in the world an no other country could be better, even though many of them haven't ever been to any other countries. "Doesn't every country act like that?" I say, quite American-ly. 'Not South Africa," she replies. Then again I haven't really been paying a lot of attention to the Olympic coverage. I'm all for celebrating the achievements of great athletes - in moderation - but something about all the nationalist pomp-and-circumstance surrounding the Olympics doesn't sit well with me, especially in those events that come down to a couple hundredths of a second or a slight stumble on a landing from some hapless teenager. I mean really, aren't we all winners under modern globalized liberal capitalism? (Heh. Hah hah. Oh, ha ha heh ha hah.)

Oh, by the way, the industry here may be pushing that new Wonder Girls song, but this is definitely Korea's official summer jam:

I decided not to continue Korean classes at the YMCA this summer out of general frustration with my lack of progress and the realization that there's no way that I'm going to be anywhere near fluent - or even conversant, really - by the time I leave here. Instead I bought an acoustic guitar, which I'll probably sell when I leave. Now, instead of being frustrated with my lack of eloquence and ability with Korean, I can get pissed off at my inchoate guitar-playing. I've only broken one string so far in a fit of frustration, but give it time. (By the way, never buy off-brand Korean guitar strings, they sound like shit. Stick with the D'Addarios, trust me.) I'm still doing the Korean lessons with the volunteer group I ran into, though, but primarily because I like the people there. It'll be a hard choice in fall when I decide whether to double-down and try one of the more intensive classes at the YMCA in order to try to get the most out of my time here, or to acknowledge reality and just completely give up. Honestly I'm just not motivated to learn Korean, and as a wise man (or maybe just my dad, but to be fair he's a pretty craft fellow) once said, there's no point throwing good money after bad. So now that I can say, "My Korean isn't very good," (Hangukeoreul jal meothaeyo), "I'm sorry but I didn't understand you," (Mianhajiman, mollasseoyo) and "Korean is too difficult," (Hangukeoneun nomu aryeoweoyo), I don't see a lot of practical reasons to continue my studies. (I tried out the last of those three phrases above on some Korean co-workers and they didn't seem too pleased. I think their precise words were, "You should study more." How Korean.) But pretty much all the Koreans friends I have here speak English to some degree (by necessity, given my Korean language abilities, perhaps) and I don't get a lot of chances to chat in Korean or listen to conversations that I understand so I don't have a lot of opportunities to absorb more of the language. Most of the time when people try to speak to me in Korean it still sounds like gobbledygook.  (Which in Korean would be spelled 가불디국 - Google Translate has no translation but suggests "the fire, the United States" as a possible translation of that phrase as a typo.)

Speaking of guitars, trying to learn how to play correctly after years of mashing out barre chords on and off is fun, but I'm not discovering a lot of natural ability. Part of the problem is probably that the book of guitar exercises I bought at the same time as the guitar seems to be designed mostly for electric guitar, so on a cheap steel-string acoustic certain things in the book are impossible (full-step bends - not gonna happen), some things are near impossible (playing past the 15th fret) and just about everything other than strumming chords and alternate picking is more difficult. Also I think I messed up the action by screwing around with alternate tunings. Can anyone show me how to adjust a truss rod? My hope is that I'll undergo a Harrison Bergeron-like transformation once I get my hands on an electric guitar again. My lack of skill still hasn't stopped me from internet window-shopping for more expensive new gear in my spare time, of course, which is the danger inherent in almost any hobby. I mean, both of the electrics I own right now, which are in storage in the US, are hollow or semi-hollow, so I would be completely justified in buying a new solid body to add to my collection. Or maybe something a little more straight-forward. Or maybe a Tele knockoff to aid in my quest to learn how to play side blues. (I'd consider a real Tele, like maybe a '72 Deluxe reissue, but generally I hate Fender's round necks. Why do Fender and Gibson players insist on being stuck in a time warp? Get with the nineties, people!) And as long as I'm guitar shopping, I might as well price some other stuff. Maybe a smaller amp for practice. Or a better version of my current amp, which I of course never use. Or a much bigger amp. Heck, while I'm at it, why don't I price some new effects pedals! How about that pedal that makes you sound like Kevin Shields? That would be fun! I mean I should probably learn how to play first, but did that ever stop anybody?!?

It's hard to escape the sense that my time here is winding down. Things fall apart and I'm lax to replace them. I had to toss out the sandal I had at school with a broken strap (and for some reason whoever designed the new ones decided to place some bumpy, sock-destroying torture device in the instep... why and how was that a good idea?!?) but I'm still wearing slacks that are at least two sizes too big, with a comically long belt that makes me look like some soju-preserved farmer that I pass on the street here, just because I'm too lazy and cheap to try to find pants here that fit better. I'm hoping things like the salt, sugar and giant-sized bottle of shampoo I bought when I got here last another eight months so I don't have to buy more and leave the remainder behind. Like I said, no use throwing good money after bad. It's hard not to be concerned, though, that when I leave I'll be moving on to something different instead of moving on to something better. I just realized that I gave the same title to one of my final posts from LA and one of my most recent posts from here... ironic, no? Funny how life can be cyclical, especially when your head is stuck in the same round rut.

The idea of returning home to LA is currently scaring the shit out of me, though. I don't think the economy there is all that much better, and I'm pretty sure working and living in the United States will never be what it once was. I'm reluctant to talk about this - mostly because I don't want to prematurely panic my friends and family back home (so brace yourselves, guys) - but the idea of staying somewhere in Asia as an English teacher keeps looking more and more attractive to me. It's a really exciting region and it would be nice to have more time to explore and travel here. I seem to be pretty good at this job, and working with these young, starry-eyed students is much more fulfilling than those jobs where you can't escape the feeling that you're a cog in a perpetual bullshit manufacturing machine. Supposedly with three years of teaching under my belt I could possibly get a university English-teaching position somewhere, while back home my resume will mostly get me a lot of funny looks and head-scratches. No use throwing good money after bad, right? It'd feel fairly tragic to come home to the States with a small nest egg and end up losing it all to being unemployed in LA again.

On the other hand, I really do miss my friends and family back home, and I'm not sure if I would be fulfilling my greatest potential as an EFL teacher. I think part of my problem is that I'm currently planning to come home to US to pursue something that was a backup plan all along, and it honestly doesn't seem like a much more attractive plan than the one I'm involved in right now. I've thought about trying to take some steps to get back into entertainment somehow - I'm still threatening to possibly use my desk time at school to work on a screenplay, and all the WTF Podcast I've been listening to here has me thinking that it would be fun to attempt to break into stand-up or sketch comedy, though you would think it would have the exact opposite effect. I never wanted to pursue something like that because I always thought it was a sucker bet, but at this point I kind of feel like I've blown the rent money and I have nothing to lose by putting my last sawbuck on a long shot. Then again, I've always been the type to see something on TV (movie making, rock stardom, baseball, skateboarding, lucha libre, what have you) and want to do it despite a ludicrous dearth of natural ability and opportunity. It's a particularly destructive type of addiction, I think. Huge unrealistic aspirations can inspire you to work harder to better yourself and reach your full potential, but they're equally likely to leave you with huge, unrealistic obligations and no way to fulfill them if you're not careful. Essentially, the problem with dreams is that they're dreams. Good money, bad money, good dreams, bad dreams...

Anyway, it's a difficult choice. Maybe it'll be easier once I get to chapter 13 of "What Color Is Your Parachute?" and do that leaf or flower diagram they keep alluding to like it's the Second Coming. (I've been reading less since I'm not taking the train to Daegu for YMCA Korean lessons these days. Also, Attn: Richard Bolles - you should not have put your face on the cover of the 2013 edition, dude. Know your limitations.) Maybe not. Maybe it's not easy for anyone.

Well I think that's pretty much the extent of my brain dump for this indiscriminately demarcated time period. I've got two more weeks of camp coming and then I'm taking my long-awaited vacation in Japan. I bought new shorts and socks for it and everything! (Yeah, yeah, Japan is evil, sleeping with the enemy, I know, whatever.) In the meantime I'll be continuing to make horrible, sad noises on a hapless, cheap, Chinese-made acoustic guitar and trying not to become destructively or belligerently disinterested in constructive activities.

Since I'm not likely to be here next year, I'm also hoping to pen (type?) some summary blog posts to consolidate my observations and opinions about some topics such as (and remind me to post updated links here when I actually write about these things): my top five favorite and least favorite things about Korea; advice for aspiring EPIK teachers; an open letter to EPIK and the Korean government (pending some more consideration of the appropriateness of such a thing) about what they're doing right and what they could do better; and some other vital topics like a survival guide to cooking for EPIK teachers (it's not as easy to figure out as you would think).

I was going to add something to smooth my transition into the YouTube clip that illustrates the inspiration for the title of this installment, to keep with recent tradition, but I think I'll just let it stand on its own. (I posted the same clip to my Facebook page on the day that the Supreme Court came down with their health care ruling. I wasn't anticipating that they would actually uphold the status quo when I came up with the idea, but I suppose the result is the same either way. War all the time. So how about that Presidential... nah, I don't even want to go there, it'll just make me depressed.)

In the immortal words of Chris Farley... STREET FIGHTING MAN! G-7!


  1. The reason your sandals are destroying your socks is: you shouldn't wear socks with sandals! What are you thinking?! They're just trying to gently encourage you towards a better fashion choice.

    If you get tired of good money after bad, try "penny wise, pound foolish." It's a favorite of mine.

    1. Going barefoot is considered very rude here. Not as rude as wearing shoes indoors, though. Thus the slippers.