Feb 17, 2010

Chapter Twenty-Three: The End

This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I'll never look into your eyes...again

My year in Korea has come and gone.  This will be the last blog entry so I hope you enjoyed reading about my impressions and experiences in Seoul.  Skip to the end if you want to see how follow in the future.

Korea is a country with both feet set firmly in the past, with eyes stretching towards the future, but with absolutely no thoughts about the present. What does living in a place like Korea do to your psyche?  My expectations have changed quite a bit in the last twelve months.  Here is what the last year has done to my thoughts.

I think that if I can't get my way, the solution is to make whiny noises until people give in.

I think coffee should cost twice as much as beer.

I think garlic bread and pasta sauce should always have sugar on it.

I think a bag of chips should be opened sideways.

Everytime someone says "That's very hot," I think "Hot. Hot.  That's very hot."

I also expect them to connect two objects not with a straight line but with the craziest squiggly line ever.

I think I need to apologize profusely if I want to leave the bars or clubs before 5 am.

I think that even with my windows closed, there is always an abnormal amount of dust that accrues in my apartment.

I think the mop/broom combination thing I have is inadequate to deal with said dust.

I think that, no matter where I'm eating, it's a good idea for the food to be served with sweet pickles.

No matter what the time of year is, I think bars should be simultaneously decorated for Xmas and Halloween.

I think it's okay to get one plastic bag even when I buy a month's worth of groceries.

I think I'm in a really fancy restaurant if our group gets more than one menu and we are allowed to keep it during our whole time there.

I think it's normal for korean kids to start chanting "ole," but, like them, I think it's spelled "olleh!" (hello backwards).

No matter where I am in the city, if the nearest 7-11 is more than 3 minutes away I think it's a major inconvenience.

I think it's perfectly normal for businessmen in otherwise formal attire to wear a snoopy or teddy bear sweater.

I think "panties" is a unisex word.

I think it's just a normal day when I see dozens of people on the subway and on the streets carrying cakes.

I think that when you go hiking, you shouldn't take food, maps, a compass, or even water.  If there aren't vending machines somewhere near the top of mountain, there will be a restaurant on the way.

I think that no matter where I am, there will be excerise equipment available.

I think my knowledge of grammar looks like this: "Subject is verb."  (Rex is run.  Teacher is cry?  James is no finish.)

I think wooden chopsticks seem clumsy, large and bulky.

I think it's normal even during drastic crayon shortages for there always to be too many peach.

I think I should be able to take a 20 minute walk, and see a dozen Paris Baguettes, Duncan Donuts, 7-11's, or Noraebongs, but if I see one garbage can I am truly surprised

I think every dinner table should have scissors and a roll of toilet paper.

I think any apartment big enough to fit more than two-three people is massive.

I think old women have the right to push me if I am in any way standing in their way.  Or even if I'm not.

If someone isn't standing as close as humanly possible to the person in front of them, I think it's okay to step in that space.

I think you can just bre
ak up words in English whenever you wa
nt to.

This blog is ending, but the journey is just getting started.  Future travels include hikes in Himalayas and the Pacific Northwest, a few months in SE Asia, and perhaps a visit to New Zealand before teaching again in Japan or Taiwan.

After two months in Nepal, I will meet Rachel in Bangkok and it will kick off.  Follow our adventures here: http://arewethereyeti.wordpress.com/

Feb 8, 2010

Chapter Twenty-Two: People as Places as People

To answer a question
It'll probably take more
If you're already there
Well then you probably don't know
Well we were the people
That we wanted to know
And we were the places that we wanted to go
--Modest Mouse

Considering a move to the hermit kingdom?  Blogs and recruiters will tout the financial and cultural benefits, both of which, depending on your lifestyle, can be very true.  But there are other, less obvious benefits available to those whom risk the change in continent, lifestyle, and career.  Here are five of my favorites.

Racism: The other side of the coin. 

Most of the teachers here are white, and most of us hail from North America, the UK, or Oceania.   Though our generation has been raised with an emphasis on racial empathy, it's good to live somewhere where you are a minority.  Further, it's good to live somewhere where many people disapprove of you based on your skin color.  It will primarily help you examine your own beliefs and preconceptions about minorities in your own country.  Secondly, it is freeing to live in a world where people are predisposed to find you an annoyance or, at best, a novelty.

Corrupting the Youth

This will depend on whom you teach and how old they are, but many teachers here end up with kindergartners in the 4-7 age range.  Taking kids who don't have English names and who barely know the English alphabet and turning them into English speakers who, for example, love the Beatles, quote the Princess Bride and Bill and Ted, and who sing "We Will Rock You," has made my year very rewarding.  What would you teach youngsters about western culture?

You don't need Twitter for Social Networking

By about the age of 25, most people have their friends set for the rest of their life.  Moving to a new country is a great equalizer; everyone is in the same boat.  You can meet so many more people, in the big cities in particular, than moving to another city in your own country.  The social networking for expats is excellent--you can easily find clubs and organizations for everything to soccer, hiking, rafting, drinking, and improv theater. 

It's the Great Outdoors.

Seoul won't be mistaken for Edinburgh, Melbourne, or Paris any time soon.  But Korea is a scenic, beautiful country--minutes of leaving the city reveal a rolling green countryside that belies the uber-urbanization associated with South Korea.  The valleys are full of rocky swimmable rivers, the islands have gorgeous, campable beaches, and everywhere you go are the mountains.  Seoraksan, pictured here, is a vastly scenic area replete with hiking trails, hot springs, hermit caves, and waterfalls.

Information Vacuum

In many ways, this is my favorite.  Korea is already a little out of touch with the rest of the world, and without a tv (or at least without English news) you can escape the over-dramatized uber-sensational programming mislabeled as "news" in the west.  Escaping the barrage of banality is a major boon; the mental equivalent of selling most of your useless stuff and paring down to the essientals.  If your ears ache from hearing too much celebrity gossip, I suggest you start developing a taste for gimchi and start thinking about what to pack. 

In fairness, you will probably have more challenges in Korea than if you stayed in your home city.  I have known many teachers here who had great difficulties dealing with how different the people, attitudes, and the culture is.  But dealing with challenges isn't always a bad thing, either; if you are open to new things or want to become so, then teaching abroad may be for you.  If it's ever crossed your mind, I say "go for it!"