Monthly Archives: January 2009

To the Philippines

Taking a midnight train, an early morning plane, then another, and a mid-afternoon boat ride — all to end up on Boracay Island, on the beach, in the sun, where I’m very certain they don’t have computers. I’ll write a proper entry when I return in February. Till then.

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Under the Full Moon

full-moonThe city covered by the full moon outside, inside I have dreams, lying on my heated floor, listening to the voice of a favorite female singer, well-known in American independent music circles. When you have dreams this way, on a heated floor, it’s a lot like lying on the beach, except the sun burns from beneath you, not above. I can’t really sleep on the floors, though sometimes I can, so maybe I’ve made some progress, but something about lying on them now, taking in these songs, is rather pleasant, even peaceful. And it shares another similarity to lying on the beach: It makes you satisfyingly drowsy. Then the dreams come, like I’m not even in South Korea anymore. The dreams are a nostalgic mix of memory and imagination, or perhaps of past and future. Of life in the United States and of life in South Korea. How does one reconcile such a thing? In the dreams, I’m nowhere; I have no place, not a sense of home or of belonging. Each country in the world is only a place to visit, not a place to call my own. I’m country-hopping, slowly, the journey only at its beginning. Yet I’m inescapably connected now to two countries – first, the United States, by birth, from growing up there, from the way I look (though many have said I look European, which I always take as a compliment) and second, South Korea, by relocation, from teaching here, perhaps even from my feeble attempts to be more Korean. Still, when I come out of the dream, I have only one home. But more and more – if I can accurately articulate this – I’m finding this to be a problem. I’ve left all of my deepest connections. That is the sacrifice you make when you leave your home country, the country in which your family resides, among other things and people. And it’s not even that you’ve left them; it’s that they’ve become intangible. You begin to wonder what the solution might be, still coming up more or less with a blank response. For now, I’m going to go back to the dreams, the moon still bright and clear. And I’m going to let imagination take over a bit more. What else is it there for, anyway?

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My vacation in Korea

I want to talk about my job, namely what vacation is like, but before I do I should make one important distinction. I work at a public school, not an academy or hagwon, in Korean. And if you want to do what I’m doing, I recommend getting a public school job, not a job at any number of hagwon[s] all over each major city. With a public school job you will know what you’re getting into, you will be compensated for overtime work, you will get a seven day vacation, but you may not get these things at a hagwon.

Now, vacation at a public school. My school has been on vacation since the end of December, and as far as I can tell what this means is, regular school classes are not in session. What it also means: teachers must come to school to do paperwork on two random days as assigned by the principle and vice principles; some classes, at least one computer class that I know of, are in session; and I, on a different contract than my Korean co-teachers, must come to school on days I’m not teaching at English Camps or basking in the sun in tropical Boracay.

I must do this until regular classes resume again in the second week of February. What I do while I’m at school is undefined. So far, I read, and make lessons for my English camps. If you’re confused, you can imagine my frustration when I found out that many of my friends don’t have to come to school at all. Yes, they are contractually obligated to, like I am, but, in turns out, whether or not we have to fulfill this obligation is at the principle’s discretion. After some discussing, I got off easy anyway. I only have to sit at school until 12:30, then I’m free.

This, of course, assumes you understand the definition of English camp. Students in Korea still go to school during the so-called vacation. They go to hagwons, and they go to what are called English camps, three- or four- or five-day classes, at which the foreign teachers are dispersed. In the case of my first camp, each teacher will teach a different lesson to eight groups of fifteen students, though this varies by camp. This, one of two camps, starts tomorrow, at a material-less school an hour away. I will be sleeping on heated floors. Ah, when teaching in Korea.

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On becoming a minority

A friend from Seoul came to visit me this weekend. A Korean girl, born in Seoul, who I met at Indiana University South Bend, a graduate of Notre Dame who is now doing graduate work at my old university. But before you think oh, what a small, small world this really is a month or so ago I met a Korean girl who lived in South Bend for six months and went to the South Bend English Institute, where I had tried to get employment before coming to Korea. I never would have thought either of these two meetings would have happened, but happen they did.

The friend from Seoul reminded me of a fact which I had not yet acknowledged, and that’s that I’m now a minority. Here I am, a brown-haired, green-eyed, white-skinned American in a sea of brown- and black-eyed, dark-haired Koreans.  Why this had not struck me in impactful way prior to her mentioning it, I don’t know. Even now, it doesn’t really strike me. When I first came to Korea, I found myself socializing with a group of Korean-Americans, standing out from the start, and not caring one bit about it. It was quite good, actually; it was like a crash course in Korean culture.

Now, though, I don’t see those friends much at all, which means the people I hang out with are more diversified. Some are from the United States, others from Canada, still others from Korea, all with different backgrounds, many of which I don’t understand very well. But this is one of the most challenging parts about being here: Meeting people who have different backgrounds than I do and trying to understand them. And I suppose I am a minority here, but I’m also in a minority group, us waegukin, us foreigners, and we tend to find and commune with each other. This happens naturally, like a force pulls us toward each other or at least makes us acknowledge one another on the street, with brief eye contact, a slight head nod, or any variation of hello.

This, I think, is good, so long as we don’t band together so tightly that we shut the majority out. So long as we don’t start to think Korea should cater to us as Westerners. So long as we keep in mind that we are in fact minorities who have been given the privilege to live here, if only for a short, dizzying time.

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Life resumes as normal

The following is an attempt at a short first person account of seeing my sister off at the airport. First person account, it should be said, minus all first person pronouns.


She’s gone now, made it through the line, through the agony of flying standby. She received a seat before going through security, was given the choice of sitting next to a window or the isle. On recommendation, she took the window. Her indecision, though at first mistaken as simple indecision, came from the need to get on the plane, the focus not on where she will sit, but that she gets to sit at all. And so it goes when flying for nearly nothing back to the United States. A benefit with any luck not wasted in the future.

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Severe case of wanderlust. Sitting in Incheon International, ear buds in, salsa music flowing from iPod to brain to feet, it hits. Coming to Korea was not enough. Just not enough. It should have been, but it isn’t. Sitting, feet kicked up, watching passengers from Korea, from France, from the United States, from everywhere fuels the drive, creates more lust for travel. Lucky then that flights have been booked, rooms have been reserved. The Philippines. Boracay. In less than twenty days. The sun, the sand. A drink, a book. Perfection. Now, though, the waiting, waiting for the bus back to Daegu after departure.

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From the future: I have seen 2009.

img_2844My friends, sister and I brought in the new year with the crowds of people at Guk Che Bo Sang Park downtown. The celebration was complete with tribal music which made it seem like a sacrifice was about to be made, several song and dance performances including one from Momma Mia!, a coutdown that was of course screamed out in Korean, and the ringing of the bell to signal the start of the new year during which time the host announced that certain demographics should make their wish.  Then the crowd dispersed some and we moved closer to the front, only to turn around and witness quite the spectacular fireworks show.  Prior to this we had dinner at a traditional Korean restuarant where they fill the table with colorful sidedishes, then we went to play several games including Jenga, Tumbling Monkeys and Holli Galli at a board game cafe. It was an all around fantastic way to end 2008 and start 2009.

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