Monthly Archives: December 2008

Christmas in Korea

santaChristmas in Korea is not Christmas in America. Christmas in Korea is more like Valentine’s Day. It’s a holiday made for couples, not families. Families with small children will probably spend it together, and those children may receive gifts (then again, they may not; I’m still confused as to who gets gifts, if anyone gets them at all), but mostly this holiday is about taking your girlfriend or wife out and showering her with dinner, presents, flowers, perhaps serenading her with a song of sarang and playing the piano for her, as one of my teachers had planned to do. The Christmas I know does not exist here. Kids do not make Christmas lists – though they did in my classes, as a short writing/speaking exercise in which I discovered that many want mp3s and mp4s and Nintendo Wiis. They do not wake up early Christmas morning and open gifts with their families. When I told them that this is what people do in the United States, many of them said they wanted to go to America to have Christmas there. The city is not lit up with decorations, only a few trees outside the local Homeplus and a handful of Christmas trees made of lights scattered over town. No driving around to look at snow-covered homes glowing green and red. The homes are not homes as we know them in the States; they are huge apartment complexes. And, of course, there is no snow here. All that said, Christmas in Korea was still pretty good. My parents sent my sister to be with me, the Daegu Metropolitan Office of Education (DMOE) threw a Christmas Eve Dinner Party for the foreign teachers in a wedding hall at a hotel downtown, and on Christmas day my closest friends in Korea gathered at my house to eat and celebrate.

But I think the highlight was taking a bus to the hotel with my sister on Christmas Eve. Filled to capacity, my sister and I stood at the front, holding on, bracing ourselves. I didn’t have exact change, so I asked a woman if she could change a 5,000 won note (oh chun won), but she didn’t have change either. She asked the bus driver who said we could ride for free. The bus driver was dressed as Santa Claus and he had decorated the front of the bus with lights and Merry Christmas signs. He seemed to be quite pleased with himself. And despite the craziness of that bus ride, I think so were we, my sister and I, sharing Christmas together in this strange, strange place.

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Scenes of Celebration

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Take one:  The teachers and I celebrated yesterday, celebrated the end of open classes, the end of other teachers and the Godfather-esque administration standing in on our classes and evaluating us. The end of the open class. We went to a nearby restaurant, we ate galbi, probably the best dinner I’ve had since I’ve come to Korea, like sliced pieces of grilled steak, but better, way better. We sat on the floor, it was a traditional Korean restaurant, I’ve gotten used to this by now, never thought that would happen, and the raw meat cooks in front of you, you staring at it waiting and hunting for the perfect first piece. You can wrap it in lettuce, adorn it with a sauce or two, onions, garlic, or you can eat it by itself. A stand alone bite of perfection. I do both, depending on the mood of the moment. We drank soju and cider – cy da. We drank the main alcoholic beverage of Korea and the equivalent of Sprite. I drank one shot, as they say, “One shot!”, of soju at lunch, with my co-workers, in the middle of the school day. Then we ate Korean oranges, had cups of coffee, like fat bears getting fatter not for the coming winter, no these are bears out for the pleasure of eating and drinking, these are the bears that take things in stride, sitting back, stretched out, that’s who we became yesterday at lunch.

Take two:  The teachers and I and the Godfather-esque administration celebrated today, celebrated this time the opening of the new school building, the building in which I will have my own English classroom, starting the middle of this month. We celebrated this time with chicken, mekju, cola, tangerines, rice cake. All of us in a first grade classroom, the desks turned together to form three long rows, all of us sitting like students at those little desks, using chopsticks to eat fried chicken marinated in teriyaki sauce, pouring mekju and cola into little paper cups, the standard in Korea. As was the case yesterday, no one got drunk on the mekju or soju, but we all raised our cups “Konbae!” then drank, then ate, and turned once more into those same fat unhibernating bears, bears who thought this could not be better.

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The sun always sets on the day before

dpp_001777This will be reckless, this writing, this mix jumble of words and thoughts, though it will be reckless with some kind of logic, the kind of logic that only comes to one at late hours when one should otherwise be sleeping. But I am not sleeping, cannot be sleeping, instead stopped by an idea, then more ideas, and more after that, each one losing something to the next and the next, but one keeps coming back, keeps fighting its way, and it has to do with the triumph of hope over experience, and no, those are not my words, but I feel they transcend the lips of the human who spoke them, like all words do at one time or another, and don’t do, because without those lips where would our lovely words be? I am stealing them, carelessly, and I am not stealing them. But neither matters much when one considers this idea, stares at those words, observes them, instead of sleeping, because observing, even the observation of words in an otherwise dark room, because that is part of one’s job, part of my job, part of what I like doing, what I will continue doing, and so we have Hope and Experience in what appears to be, and in reality actually is, an endless struggle. It is the same struggle we find in Future and Past. We have what we know, or think, will happen. Then we have what we hope, or perhaps believe, will happen. And they fight, they fight, they fight, and make us think and think and think until we lock up, close down, stand in place with a frozen still beating still warm heart. Perhaps it is reckless to stomp out what we call the wisdom that comes with experience. But now I see that it must be done, I see we must make more room for hope, not hope in the vague sense of the word, not hope in something we can’t see, though maybe we can’t, hope in something that will actually become tangible eventually, and perhaps everything important becomes tangible eventually, like the sun here in Korea and back home. It sets on the past, always, over and over again, but that light – that light always returns even though one day we know it won’t. And all the same it touches us. Warms our faces. That light.

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