Tag Archives: Seoul

I’m also really good at giving directions to taxi drivers

Barely glancing the take out menu in my hand, I automatically dial the number I have so often dialed before.

This time it’s a man’s voice on the line. Sometimes a woman picks up, but today it’s some guy whose voice I also recognize.

Without my even saying anything he recites the address I am currently at.

Without my even thinking I say “재육덮밥 하나 주세요”

Without any response the man on the other end hangs up. I don’t mind. I know that soon someone will bring food directly to my office and I will pay him and he will leave and I will eat and place the dishes outside of my building and in an hour or so he, or someone else will come get them. The circle of lunch.

A Korean co-worker overhears my order and remarks “your Korean is improving”

“Well, it’s just my lunch order”

“Yes, but I can tell your intonation is very good”

This makes me laugh, “well, I order the same 3 or 4 things every day so I hope I’m good at it by now”

“So many foreigners don’t know how to order their own food, but you are very good”

“Thanks” I say, and we part ways to our respective work spaces.

In about 10 or 15 minutes someone will bring me food. He probably thinks I am fluent in Korean.

In the land of foreigners who often refuse to learn basic language skills to get by the foreigner who can order lunch is king.

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Filed under city life, Culture, Narratives, The foreigner experience, Uncategorized

Expectations

Not that anybody would have, but if you would have asked me 10 years ago to name the least likely things I would expect to be up my rear I might have listed ‘the fingers of a Korean child’ somewhere near the top of my list.

Yet, here we are.

 
(If you don’t get this, read the description of the ddong chim game played in Korea, or for the urban dictionary definition click here.)

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Filed under Culture, The foreigner experience

Freedom

Just above my apartment, for the past few months, lives an elderly gentleman. Every time I am sitting outside my apartment, he seems to come outside at the same time. I have never spoken to him and he has never spoken to me. We always glance at each other, never acknowledge each other in any way, and eventually we both go back inside.

I sometimes wonder if that is my future, and does he conversely consider me as his past.

On the walkway next to my building there is a structure of garbage, and an elderly Korean man who continuously sorts it. Occasionally he takes a large bundle away, leaving the walkway to my house clear for a moment. He wears green camouflage cargo pants, a red t-shirt, and a black baseball cap…everyday. On cold days he wears a jacket, and occasionally he is a drinking. During the previous winter I considered bringing him one of my extra jackets that I no longer wear but didn’t. He might have felt obliged to speak to me the next time we see each other, and we see each other almost every day.

Across the slender alley from my apartment there is a pretty girl, seemingly in her mid-20s, who lives on the ground floor. I often see her enter her apartment later at night, around 12. Sometimes she is alone, sometimes she is accompanied by what I assume is her boyfriend. I’ve never really looked at him, but I think it’s the same guy.

Sometimes on the weekend there are children playing in front of my apartment in the alley way. They have taken the liberty of becoming my sporadic Saturday alarm clock; and if I hear them playing I can assume it is a nice day outside. One time I helped one of the smaller boys carry his bike up the stairs leading to his apartment. Mostly though I try to avoid the children on my way out.

Civility in a city is allowing people to live their lives without recognition, and without forcing upon them the requirement of having to recognize others.

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Monday the 11th

(Authors Note: This is my last post about Korea. I am moving to Mexico. I will probably start another blog, and when I do I will let you know. In the meantime I will continue to write for instablogs, if you want to read more of my work.)

Strange thoughts on this night in Seoul. It feels like just a year ago I was writing this exact same post. I like symmetry.

I’m not sure if I’m better or worse for this year in Seoul, but does it really matter? I’m different, maybe. I suppose that will have to be enough.

Last year my feelings could be summer up by her. That seems like an entire lifetime ago. Now my feelings can be summed up by a different her. Will this seem like a lifetime ago a year from now, or will it seem like a new beginning? I know what I plan, but plans never work out, which is why I don’t usually make them.

I’m not really sure what the point of this blog was, I know I started it simply because I like to write…but did it have a purpose beyond that? Was it to keep in touch with friends? Was it a way for me to meander and muddle through my own existence in a public forum? Was it simply a vehicle for my own subconscious desire to feel important? It’s probably a bit of each of those, but whatever reason there was behind the blog, I hope you enjoyed it.

For better or worse, it was what it was
and that’s not that bad

I leave you with this statement I wrote a few posts ago, at the end of the “Looking Past Korea” post because I think it applies here as well.

“Through this series, and this blog in general, I have tried to avoid telling people what to think with my writing. Instead of being a guide I have instead attempted to be a lamp. Hopefully I was able to shed enough light that you were able to find your own way.”

Maybe when I look back at this past year I’ll have shed enough light that I’ll remember where I was, how it felt, and subsequently figure out where I’m going next.

Stay tuned…it can only get better

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A few random notes before closing up shop

– So, this will be probably my second to last post here. I leave for Mexico this week where I’ll teach high school writing and literature. I really hope they speak decent English because I’m not quite ready to spend another year sucking at a 3rd language. Plus they don’t give me a co-teacher.

– I haven’t decided yet if I’ll start another blog while I’m in Mexico. I probably will, but not immediately. I kind of want to take a break for a few weeks, just to get used to Mexico. If I do start a new blog I also want it to be more focused than this one, and since I have yet to choose a focus I have yet to create a new blog…but when I do I’ll post the link here for anybody interested. In the meantime you can keep checking me out at instablogs.

– One thing I’m worried about in Mexico, besides being kidnapped, is tequila. Tequila is either the best idea ever or the worst, depending on whether or not you enjoy ripping your shirt off in the middle of a club and dancing to “Sexy Back” even though the songs not playing at the moment.

– Was in Itaewon this past weekend for a goodbye drinking session with a few friends. At the end of the night we decided to get some Kebabs from the Kebab van. It was later in the night and they were running low on meat, luckily I was in time to order. Some of the guys behind me, not so much. A fight ensued behind me between two foreigners and a Korean guy when the Korean guy tried to cut in line. Now, the kebabs are delicious – I should know, I ate 3 – but when the Korean guy grabbed the kebab sword and started swinging it at the two foreign guys, even I thought that was a little ridiculous. I mean, it’s not like we were all waiting in line for the last ribwich…that I would have understood.

– I don’t know if it’s just Korean cab drivers that like to pretend like they’ll pick you up, only to speed up once they get a closer look at you, but I know I don’t like it. It’s not like I’m a violent looking person with a kebab sword. But I doubt that yelling obscenities as the taxi drivers passed by helped our cause.

– I’m upset that Korean men suck at basketball so much. I think if they were better, we might actually get some men’s basketball coverage here in Korea. It’s really the only event I care about, and if I have to see a replay of archery, judo or the men’s 400 something event in swimming again I might just up and move to another country – oh yah.

– Additionally, not only does South Korea field no mens’ basketball team, but they do field a women’s basketball team. I think I’d rather watch archery or Garden State, rather than women’s basketball. (and those who know me know how much I hate Garden State)

– A final note about the gum lady post. It was actually inspired by my friend Noreen, who was attacked in a hit and run by the gum lady, when she refused to buy her gum. The gum lady punched Noreen, and then ran off the subway in what is one of the funniest mental images I’ve ever had.

– The new Batman movie is sweet, but I don’t suggest sneaking beer into the theater unless you want to leave halfway through to go pee. It’s a really long movie.

– Finally, I was going to leave you with my Korean Underground Hip-Hop playlist, but when I started putting it together I thought I’d just rather give you a few artists and songs you should type into youtube. No matter how much I talk about the K-pop stars, my first love is always hip hop. It’s the thing that first made me enjoy writing when I was in high school. Anyways, the list goes as follows

1. Dj Soulscape – Story
2. 리쌍 (leesang) ft. 정인- Rush
3. Infinite Flow – 20’s
4. Deepflow – Bring Rap Justice
5. Mild Beats – Deal with us
6. Garion – Ancient Story
7. Primary Skool – So Much Soul
8. Da Crew – City of Soul
9. E Clue – Keep ya head up
10. Basick – Better than the best
11. The Unforgiven – What’s the Name
12. Digiri – 아이에서 어른으로
13. Paradigm Shift – Bewylder
14. Superman Ivy – Yes Yes Ya’ll
15. Kebee – Feeling You
16. DJ Shinin Stone – The Hypnotize

There’s a bunch more I didn’t include, like Drunken Tiger, MC Sniper or 45 Rpm because they’re big enough that you’ll stumble across them eventually. Or Paloalto and Quiett because you should really just listen to everything they have. Then this video below, because it has a member of Big Bang in it, but still a decent song.

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The Last Shot

For the final discussion I’d ever have with my co-teacher we decided to drink a little bit. Obviously. Already a few bottles of Cass littered the table and steam rose off the grill as we placed another slice of meat on the kalbi grill. She was telling me I did a good job.

“Foreign teachers need to be excited and happy to teach, you did that very much this year,” she told me.

I wonder, what sorts of teachers aren’t excited to teach? Teaching isn’t a profession that lends itself to large sums of money so it seems that the people who would do it would do it out of love. When I first decided to be a teacher, I told myself that if I ever felt bored with teaching that I should quit. Students deserve teachers who care.

“Yes, but I felt like I should have done more. I’m not sure the students learned that much from me.”

“No, you can not do more. Hey, you only have very little time to teach students and you have over 1000. You can not teach them everything. We need foreign teachers so students feel excited about English and so that they can get used to being around foreigners. You did this, even when you were tired you still acted excited”

“But couldn’t you hire any foreigner for that? Who cares if they’re qualified teachers?” I queried.

I was beginning to feel that my college degree was going to waste. You don’t need to be a real teacher to do this job. In fact, that’s one of the education systems favorite marketing points ‘Teach English in Korea! Travel the World! You don’t need a teaching degree!’ The only qualification we need is to be born in an English speaking country. I guess I’m qualified then, congratulations to me. I took another sip of the Cass and felt just a little bit more numb.

“Yes, but that is a difficult job. Hey, there are not many teachers who can keep attention of students for forty minutes.”

She was trying to make me feel better. I didn’t really need it, but I guess it was appreciated. Nickelodeon programming also does a decent job keeping a child’s attention for forty minutes to an hour.

She continued “The students liked you and I could see that they became very comfortable with you. Two years ago when we have no foreign teacher the students were very scared to speak English. Now they speak lots.”

“Yah, but only really easy sentences, and most of the time they don’t even do it correctly.”

For example, ‘hello, nice to meet you,’ when I’ve met them twenty times before. Another bottle of Cass down.

“But we are very poor school. Students are excited to have foreign teacher. Especially guy teacher, it makes us think we are very special. The students are more prideful of themselves and think English is fun.”

Some people talk about fighting the good fight. Sticking it out when times are tough. But if I wanted to fight the good fight I’d move to Africa, or New Orleans. Besides, the kids who are smart learn English by studying themselves and by attending hogwans and the lower level students don’t care…who exactly am I teaching then?

“The students are sad that you are leaving,” she said as she tried to grab one of the waitresses as she ran by. I guess she had a point. Maybe I was just trying to convince myself to the contrary.

“I still don’t think I did anything that special.”

And with that we ordered one last bottle of soju.

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Filed under Culture, Education, Narratives, The foreigner experience

Looking Past Korea: Series Wrap Up

Well, it’s time to wrap up the “Looking Past Korea” series. If you want to check out all the posts I did for the series, simply click the link on the top of the page. During this series I wrote about things that, although superficial, I thought were important; I wrote about things that I thought were overrated by foreigners living in Korea; I wrote about things that I thought were truly important cultural differences. I made lots of generalizations.

The one thing we have to remember is that, while I write about my time in Korea and about my observations of the culture, the people who live here are still people. As a whole they make up the culture, but as individuals they have hopes and dreams and love and hate just like any other person and they are uniquely themselves within their own cultural setting. This was the main purpose of the series. I wanted to finalize what I thought were differences so that I could finally begin to focus on what really matters, our similarities.

With that said, I have one more sweeping generalization of Korea. Korea is the middle brother of Eastern Asia. It is stuck between the power of older brother China and the baby brother celebrity of Japan. These other two countries are so powerful and noticeable that Korea, many times, is caught between them when it may be the most successful of them all given the circumstances. I’m not entirely sure.

Through this series, and this blog in general, I have tried to avoid telling people what to think with my writing. Instead of being a guide I have instead attempted to be a lamp. Hopefully I was able to shed enough light that you were able to find your own way.

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Filed under Culture, Narratives