6.30.2011

Head Teacher kissed me today.

I just felt like letting the world know that. I won't suffer in silence.

The only other thing of note in the last couple of days is how out of control my shopping gets in the summer. Do you know why? Because I'm fucking hot. And all I can think about is how if I put that over there on that rack on, I'd probably be like 3% less hot than I am right now. So then I buy it. And wear it. And I'm still fucking hot. And the cycle just continues.

I need to stop buying shit and just turn my a/c on. But I hate the a/c. Maybe it'll all come out in the wash, with savings on the electricity bill. Although probably not, because I spent 200,000 won today alone. But the good news is, I've got something nice to wear on my first weekend date in two weeks with my boyfriend tomorrow night. So who fucking cares.

Not teaching right now. So sorry. This is what my actual life looks like.

6.29.2011

When INP can't bother to be coherent.

Google search: i'm no picasso boyfriend marry

Daum search: woman teacher fucking

Question: Why is the internet full of complete freaks?

Leave me alone and get your lives together.

I was in Yeongdeungpo being a disgusting couple with my boyfriend until like midnight last night, and I don't have any classes today, so we're going old school with this one and just going to make it a rambly, personal nonsense kind of day. Dig?

First and foremost, I'm happy to report that, although one of my new students at the study room tried to shove my 4 gauge earring through his lobe before I had the chance to stop him on Monday, I don't appear to have contracted any diseases from then kind of staring at the thing in my palm, thinking about it, wiping it on my shirt a few times, and then putting it back in. I mean. Yeah. That's dirty. But when you work with boys, sometimes you just have to suck it up and take your chances with hepatitis.

But the good news is that, although the new study room crew are no less gangstery than the last, they are a hell of a lot more polite. They like to make scenes, for example, by walking me to the bus and then lining up to bow at full 90 degree angles while I get on. I must appear to be the leader of some kind of pubescent crime ring in that neighborhood now, or something. But the point is, they've got good manners. And I beat the strongest one at arm wrestling on Monday, so they are well within my grip. For now.

Uh. What else is going on? Jangma's here. Fucking hooray for that. Not. Everything is soggy, my hair is just a constant disaster, and I'm ruining all of my shoes. I hate this shit. Last year I went home for the entire month of August and bypassed it almost entirely. That's not going to happen this year. So.

Um. Maybe actually going to Vietnam finally, although how many times have you people heard that one? Currently ironing out some awkward details with the namja about how my going a bit spastic on him even mentioning moving in together a couple of weeks ago combined with my really uncomfortable pauses when he mentions taking all of our vacations together forever does not mean that I actually hate him, but rather that it's been a really fucking long time since I've done this and I just need a minute to get my shit together and kind of stop panicking.

True story: when all of my girl friends were busy watching "Sex and the City" at university and identifying with Carrie Bradshaw, I found myself constantly being like, "Now hold on a minute because Big kind of has a point on this one...." And I never really saw him as the asshole the show makes him out to be, and Carrie was kind of fucking dramatic and clingy, if you ask me. And then I think it may have all culminated in me getting really, really drunk while we watched the show one night and maybe actually crying about how I'm fundamentally fucked up and A Bad Person just like Carrie and her friends thought Mr. Big was. Which my friends at the time only half-heartedly tried to argue with.

Well. Maybe I am Mr. Big. But I'm not a dick. And Busan's pretty patient with it, and I think may even take genuine joy in trying to make me uncomfortable sometimes. He's become a big fan of chuckling and telling me that 'first step is hardest'. Which is a little condescending, but also a little bit true. So we're doing alright.

Other than that. No. There's nothing else really. Haven't you missed these kinds of posts? I know I haven't.

6.28.2011

A preview of things to come?

I've already spotted out next semester's problem customer. It's always the fresh-faced, timid looking ones. They're the same kind of women who drive me up the wall back home, as well. They're just so.... shocked. About everything, all the time. I mean, props to their fathers or whoever it is who has managed to bring them to the age of 30 while seemingly entirely denying them any working knowledge whatsoever of the outside world. I don't know. They drive me up the wall, because I'm a foreigner, so me just kind of going about business as usual tends to automatically clash with some of their holy sacred ideas about life. And I don't really have any patience for that.

Anyway, I've mostly steered clear of her so far. We don't teach together until after summer. Maybe she's very nice. In fact, I'm sure that she is very nice. I'm also sure that she's very uptight. But we'll see. Today, there was no one else in the lunch room, and it would've been a little obvious if I had purposely gone out of my way to sit at another table.

First question, after the usual pleasantries..... ready for this one?

"Isn't it difficult for you to teach?"

I mean. I don't really get the premise of that question to start. Why would it be difficult for me to teach? Is it difficult for you to teach? Are you trying to tell me that you're having a hard time? I don't see why else someone would look at me and, out of nowhere, ask me if it's difficult for me to do my job, which is actually the same job they are doing. But whatever.

No. It's not difficult for me to teach. I've been doing it for nearly three years now, well over three years if you count my university experience. Next question?

"Is your boyfriend a student?"

Nice. I can see the little path we're carving out for our relationship here already. No. I'm 27 years old (Korean age). My boyfriend is not a student. Is your husband a student? What? Is that an odd question? Why? We're only two years apart in age..... if my boyfriend could be a student, why couldn't your husband be a student? Is that ridiculous, for some reason?

That's the thing with this type. Every time you simply make an innocent face and turn their questions right back around on them, they give you this kind of strained smile, like somehow you are being rude and don't know it. But they can endure it so as not to embarrass you. All the while completely failing to realize that all you are doing is repeating their questions back to them.

She really didn't mean any offense, though. And you'll see why in a minute. See, this one still catches me off guard. I still don't always see this one coming. But there's a reason I specifically didn't see it coming this time.

"Oh.... what does he do?"

"He works at a company."

"Oh..... a Korean company?"

Did you crack on yet? No? Hang on.

"Yes. A Korean company."

"Oh...... did you meet him in Korea?"

At this point, you have a choice to make. You can either let them continue to ask completely off-base questions and pretend like you don't realize they are not considering the possibility that your boyfriend is Korean, and risk them having a really embarrassing and shocked "Aha!" moment, or you can just point it out up front, which also tends to lead to a bit of embarrassment for some reason. Why the subject always seems to end up embarrassing for some reason is beyond me. But those are your choices. I usually go with the first one.

The thing is, the last time I met with this woman, she sat through a thirty minute conversation amongst my co-teachers about my boyfriend and how I make terrible typos in Korean sending messages to him sometimes, and how I would do well marrying a Korean because I've adpated well to the culture, and raising bilingual kids. And all the other kind of nonsense that your older coworkers tend to carry on about when they decide to gang up on you about marriage and kids over coffee, outside of the office. So I'm not really sure why we're back to square one on this one, wondering how my American boyfriend got a job at a Korean company, but it's fine. She'll figure it out eventually. And hopefully she'll adjust when she does. Because I don't know if I can handle Head Teacher the Human Bulldozer and Pollyanna the Overly Polite Xenophobe at the same time.

6.25.2011

The weirdest email I have ever received.

Since I started this blog, I've been constantly pleasantly surprised by the conversations and connections that I have been able to form and be a part of.

I have also been constantly surprised by the level of weird that exists out in the world. From creepy, to misguided, to offensive..... to downright silly. I've had it all come through my inbox. And hardly ever with any actual intent of malice, it has to be said. That all falls into a different category which isn't even worth addressing.

That having been said, this week everything I've ever seen kind of got topped a little bit. Not because of the subject matter at hand, so much as because of the level of sheer enthusiasm on display. I dunno. I'm trying not to go at it with too much judgment. I mean, I think I'd probably be just as weirded out if I got the same email about chickens or cows or pigs. But I would probably find it a bit more odd if the person involved had never actually eaten chicken or cow or pig.....

I mean. It's kind of like how I find people who are really into hunting to be a bit.... psychologically questionable at times. Not people who hunt. Because, after all, every time I eat meat I am playing a part in that. Something died, and something was killed, and I just basically didn't have the balls to be the one to do it. But I find doing a task, or even enjoying a task, for an end result to be a little different from the people who are like...... FUCK YEAH! LET'S GO KILL AND SKIN SOME SHIT! I mean. That weirds me out. It just does.

That having been said, I guess I don't really see the problem. It just struck me as more than a bit odd.

Without further ado:

Hello,

I hope you don't mind getting an email from a stranger. I have a strong desire to eat dog and I came across your blog while searching for stories from people who have.

Your posts on eating dogs are thoroughly enjoyable! Even if I disagreed with you, I would have enjoyed reading them, as they are incredible articulate and well-structured. As it happens, I am very much in agreement with you. That's why I wanted to write, because I'm so excited to discover someone with views about eating dogs so similar to mine.

Like you, I think that meat is meat, whether it comes from a cow or a dog. When I eat meat, I never pretend that I don't know the origin: an animal was killed & I have no problem with that. In fact, I embrace that. I also love wearing leather and fur. Just as in the case of meat, I have no problem wearing leather that comes from dogs -- I actually have several pairs of sneakers made from dog and they're my absolute favorites.

Unfortunately, since I live in the US, I've never had the opportunity to eat dog. If I could, I'd eat dog every day; everyone I've ever talked to who has eaten dog says it's delicious. I wish people here would be less hypocritical and just start farming dogs for food and leather too.

Back to why I love your blog posts. I like how you carefully argue in parts: first you successfully challenge others to say why eating dogs is supposed to be different than eating other animals; and then you save the best for last when you point out that if a consistent vegan disagrees, that's still just their opinion! You're unapologetic and unwavering -- I love it! I will never stop eating and wearing animals and I'll never apologize for doing so.

Again, sorry to intrude on you but thanks for letting me share and for writing those awesome posts. Keep eating those dogs!

Now. I have one question and one question only, really, about this email. Well. False. I have a lot more than one question. But there's only one question I really feel I need (or even really maybe want) to hear the answer to, and that is:

Where on the face of fuck do you find shoes made from dog leather in the U.S.?

I'm serious. I want to know.

6.24.2011

Fear of blogging and literary baloney.

Do you ever get paranoid that your school will find your blog and fire you for blogging about work???? Or at the very least make you feel very uncomfortable about blogging? I was also going to ask about your opinion on Catherine Barkley. I am obviously very focused today.


The basic honest answer is, no. I'm not really very worried about my blog colliding with my work life. I don't think the chances of anyone from work finding it are very high. I don't broadcast the fact that I have a blog at work, just for the sake of caution, though. I don't want anyone to go specifically looking for anything, either. If they did know that I kept a blog, I highly doubt that they would object to it.

In regards to Catherine Barkley, I have to admit that, although I will always source Hemingway as one of my favorite writers, I really mean mostly in regard to his short stories, memoirs and The Sun Also Rises. His other novels kind of annoy the fucking shit out of me. I think his style is just right for short stories, because the format forces him to get to the point. And his beautiful understated prose is shoehorned into actually saying something rather quickly. In his novels, he tends to kind of mumble and drone on a bit, in my opinion. Also, the misogyny that Hemingway is often accused of displaying doesn't really bother me when I'm reading his short stories or memoirs, because in the short story form, he doesn't usually have time to make it too cringey, and in his real life accounts, it's a bit more honest -- he's just being a misogynistic cock. Which plenty of male writers from his time were. But when he has free reign over a female character in such great detail as a novel affords, it gets really tedious really fast. Because I don't think he's actually aware of what a misogynistic cock he is sometimes.

He has a bad habit of creating what I think he genuinely views as good, worthy, well-crafted female characters who are really nothing more than hysterical, annoying, whiny stereotypes. Catherine Barkley, for all that some feminists like to prattle on about what an overlooked hero she is, definitely falls into that category for me. I don't really see anything heroic about her, and I think if she were an actual breathing human being, I'd avoid her company as much as possible. People like to argue that she was just so overcome with her own passion and suffering as a woman that she couldn't help but fall into pits of despair, or whatever the fuck it is. But, let's face it -- she's a drama queen. Because Hemingway largely misunderstood women as being primarily hysterical. Just because he tried to take his stereotype and turn it into something admirable doesn't mean that it's any less of a boring, predictable and annoying stereotype.

In case anyone's wondering, I have massive issues with people considering Jane Austen's writing to be so completely "feminist" as well. I find her to be nothing of the sort.

6.23.2011

Formspring!

I've got the day off work, thanks to the school's birthday, but no water..... so I can't shower and go out. And besides, hello jangma. So.... here we go.

can you please post more stories about your students? They are so cute ^_^

You know, it's what I used to do, almost exclusively. Then things at work got really busy and crazy, and the days became a bit of a blur. My students are still cute, obviously. Almost unrelentingly. But between all the exam writing, paperwork nonsense, extra classes and other projects I'm squeezing in, I can't really recall much by the time I finally get home in the evenings. I'll work on it, though.

I know it's dangerous to generalize--but what do you like (or love) the most about Korean culture? (Besides your interpersonal relationships, what is it about Korea that is tugging at your heartstrings to stay?)

This one is actually really difficult for me to answer, because I think it's just kind of a combination of everything that keeps drawing me back to Korea. And every upside almost invariably has a downside, as well. I love the landscape, the language, the expressiveness of the people, the way that expressiveness can be really contradictory at times. The mix of modern with ancient in the architecture and the food and other places in the culture. The chaos. The breakneck pace at which this country and culture are changing. The utter ridiculousness of the pop culture at times, and the times when the pop culture suddenly gives birth to something so soul-shatteringly genuine. The fact that almost every Korean I know is unquestionably obsessed with singing, either listening to it or doing it. Plastic tables on the sidewalks in summer, the iron stoves full of coals in the winter. The rainy season. Ajumma and ajeosshi taking charge on the subway. Little kids running around in squeaky shoes. The young generation with all of their polish and poise, their hair and their clothes and their bags and their makeup.

All of it, really. Even the bad.

Why can't 12 year-old Korean boys tie their shoelaces, whistle, swim or make paper airplanes? Can Busan do these things lol

Well, something must happen between 12 and 14, because my students most certainly can make paper airplanes. I have a desk drawer full of them at work. Tying their shoes isn't really something I witness or don't witness, because all of their shoes are squashed into shapes that don't really require tying (shoes aren't allowed in our classrooms, so they slip them on and off approximately 500 times a day -- that is, when they're not going into the disgusting bathrooms in their socks because they're too lazy). Swimming and whistling are definitely common deficiencies I've noticed, but they aren't across the board. Whistling is one of my biggest pet peeves and there's usually at least one time a day when I'll turn around from writing something on the board to ask who has committed the offense which should be, in my opinion, punishable by death. And as for swimming, I always just assumed it was because I was dealing with city kids. But who knows.

Busan can do all of the above, as far as I know, but he's afraid to go swimming outside because something in the water might touch him. He's also afraid of even mild rollercoasters. Obviously, we can never have any fun together ever.

Did your relationship put the kibosh on your dream of teaching in rural Korea?

Anonymous.... way to stick your fingers right into my barely perceivable wound. I mean, I own my shit. So yeah... I can admit it. It probably has for now. When I talk about it now, he gets kind of equal parts whiny and excited, depending on the mood. Sometimes it's, "Why are you going to leeeeeave me for good makgeolli?" And sometimes it's, "Yeah! I hate crowded places! Let's go be farmer people!" Obviously, I'm not at a place yet where I can either walk away from this relationship, or ask him to move away with me. So it'll probably be at least one more year in the city for INP.

How do you feel about the possibility of becoming the longest-serving teacher at your school? (if you're there for 5yrs)

First of all, I don't even know if they'll allow that to happen. But from what we're being told from the district, it is entirely possible. It seems the foreign teachers are operating under a bit of a different set of rules, simply because the schools hate replacing them so much. To be clear, Korean teachers can also stay at a school for longer than five years, if the principal personally invites them to do so. And sometimes it does happen -- it happened with one or two science and math teachers at my school this year. So technically, it isn't actually a different set of rules. It's just that a good foreign teacher is more likely to be asked to stay on, because the gamble and hassle involved in replacing them is quite high.

The only thing it really makes me think about is how sad I'll be to see the last off the teachers I started out working in Korea with go. I've become quite close with some of my coworkers over the course of the last three years, and they've dwindled a lot, but there are still quite a few of the originals left. My relationship with them is noticably different from my relationship with the newcomers, mostly because they tend to actually take me into the fold a bit more than the other, newer Korean teachers. There's a pretty noticable kind of generational divide ("generational" in reference to what year the teachers arrived at our school) among the teachers, and I am generally regarded as part of the old guard now. I sit and socialize with the older teachers. The newer teachers haven't really gotten used to me yet, and tend to be a bit more stand offish, or are more likely to cling to the "Wow! A foreigner! You use chopsticks very well!" mentality. The older teachers kind of protect me from that, with a bit of ruffled feathers and eye rolling when it occurs. Which makes the newer teachers back off a bit. But they kind of tend to learn from each other, and it gets passed down from one year to the next. Which means even the teachers who have only been at my school for two years still roll their eyes at the new ones (for the most part) when they respond to me that way.

In short, sad to see old coworkers go, but not that concerned about it. Don't really care for my new VP and P, though, it has to be said. But then no one else really does either. The old VP and P were really good men, and they left big shoes to fill. They didn't interact with me tons, but they showed me a lot of respect and consideration, especially considering I'm just a young female foreign teacher, and don't really need to demand much of their attention. The new ones haven't really taken the time to get to know me in any real way, and seem to regard me as kind of a pretty young girl who is basically serving her purpose simply by being that. Which is fine, I guess, but can get pretty gross at hwaeshik from time to time. The old ones didn't really go out of their way to acknowledge me anymore than anyone else, other than to be a bit more concerned about the fact that I'm far away from my family, and kind of protecting and accomodating me in that regard. The new ones will often call me over to their table once they get drunk to either carry on about how pretty I am or lecture me about how I need to adapt to Korean society, even though they don't know me at all. The new P actually told me earlier this year that my boyfriend is like my father in Korea, because I can't take care of myself. My old P would have never, ever said something like that to me.

But I'm far from alone in my opinion of them. So it's all good, I guess.

When did the world start going to hell in a hand basket?


Probably around the time human beings acquired language, I'm guessing. But it's all good -- it makes life interesting.

thank you for all your posts. I hope Seongmin and his friends ok, did you ever have that talk with him? and i just want to say, i would love to have you as a teacher, the warmth, love and care you have for others really shines though. :)


That's a really kind compliment -- thank you. And no, I haven't talked to Seongmin about it, because I feel like it would be crossing more than a few lines. He has been, however, one of the students I've become closest to this year, and we talk almost every day. I tell him all the time that if every student were like him, people would be fighting tooth and nail over the position of being a teacher. He sometimes comes to ask me for advice, or about my experience, because he says he wants to be a teacher when he grows up. I always tell him that only crazy people want to be teachers, but that I think he'll make a fucking excellent one, because not only is he ridiculously smart, he's also one of the kindest and gentlest people I've ever met in my life.

Are you sure the head teacher is REALLY that obsessed with foreigners and bread? Maybe she is just trolling you.

The problem is, she's completely not. HT never, ever means to be offensive, and feels really horrified when I'm not able to conceal the fact that she is. She's not actually a bad person, and she doesn't mean any harm. She's just abrasive. She annoys the shit out of the other teachers as well. She actually really likes me, and takes the time to accomodate me when she's able to see clearly how she can. I should go easier on her, but it's a high pressure work situation with her right now, and I don't always have the ability to just laugh her off, because she can make situations that are already stressful feel a lot worse, at times. Most times. But I'm constantly trying to adjust my attitude toward her, and I've actually come a long way. A long way yet to go, obviously.

Hi INP, I’m going to Daegu in August through EPIK, which is both exciting and daunting! I know this is trivial and that it’s up to the individual but should I bring gifts for my coworkers? I feel that I should but I don’t want to presume anything. Thanks!

Yes! By all means, bring gifts. Korea definitely has a gift-giving culture, and it will endear you to them almost instantly. That having been said, it's not by any means necessary. Any small thing will do -- it's not the quality of the gift that actually matters, so much as the thought and the consideration. I always bring things back for my coworkers when I go abroad, simply because they always do the same. Occasionally bringing in coffee or food for the office is always a good idea as well.

MAn I'm glad I work in a good hakwon and don't have to deal with any of that public school crap, good luck!

The funny thing is, my best friend in Korea is actually a hagwon teacher who is being put deep dans la merde at the moment. I think it kind of comes back to experience, and the individual job. Part of the reason we have so much work is because our superiors know we can handle it. The more you are capable of doing without fucking it up, the more you are going to get handed -- that's just a fact of life. And not just in Korea. She's been here for nearly four years, I for nearly three. We know our shit. We're capable of a lot more than just the bare minimum. Therefore, we are expected to pick up the slack. We also have adjusted pretty well to Korean work culture, which means that we can be counted on not to kick up a fuss about contracts or whatever when we're approached with a new task. Frankly, we're easy.

But neither one of us would ever trade it. Because, in the right situation with the right coworkers, what that means is not only more work, but also more respect and regard. And it also means being seen as less of a foreigner and more of just a good employee. It also means finishing every day with a feeling of pride that you've done the best that you can, and that other people know they can rely on you when they need to. Even if some people do take advantage of that sometimes. So. In the end, it's fine. But I reserve the right to bitch about it in my weaker moments.

Would there be any seasonings you wish you could have brought?

Cilantro! Anything to do with Mexican food! But mostly, no. Because I'm really busy and really lazy and don't really cook much anyway. I mean, I do cook dinner at home almost every night, but I'm just one person and I can't be bothered going to great lengths about it. I do wish that I could cook some proper Mexican food for Busan, who had one traumatic beef enchilada experience at a restaurant in Seoul and won't go near the stuff again. Which is ridiculous, because I know he would like it, if he would give it another chance.

But mostly, everything I need here in Korea I've found. It wasn't like that in the beginning -- there were a lot of things I missed, but I can't even think of what they were now, because it's been so long that I've just gotten used to it. Whenever I do go home, I constantly prowl around the grocery stores obsessed by all of the things that I've forgotten I used to love. But I also spend a fair amount of time complaining about the things I can't get in the States either, so it's a bit of a trade-off, I guess.

Would yu be hella chill with Busan seeing prostitutes with his boss, like, brush it off like Korean women do, or would ya flip ya lid?

This is just all around classy. And I've got your IP address marked, so I know that you are capable of asking questions that don't consist of some kind of broken down impression of .... whatever kind of speech it is you're going for there. What is it that you want, exactly? A new job? A girlfriend? Something to fill your time with other than obsessively checking my blog dozens of times every day? I don't understand.

Liz, just read your zoo post. :-) one day, I hope you write a book. You are such a good storyteller and can really hold an audience. Jae

Thank you for the compliment. Honestly, part of the reason why I blog and don't do many other kinds of writing, is because I enjoy the freedom. I'm shitastic with carrying a narrative -- I realized that basically my first semester at school, which is why I became a poet instead (kind of joking.... there were obviously other reasons, but also kind of not joking as well). Writing a book is obviously a lot different from keeping a blog. Frankly, I might just be too lazy. I also don't know who would take part of their hard earned cash and actually lay it down on a counter for this nonsense. But I appreciate the sentiment.

How much kimchi did your gran eat? Thank you for your time^^

Not much, it has to be said. She tried. She tried her best, bless her. But she's 70 years old and can't even eat our Mexican cooking at home, because the spices destroy her stomach.

What does your Grams like about Korea the most? -omgq

My aunt and mother asked her the same question when she got home. Apparently, her answer was, "Being with Elizabeth." I don't know if that speaks well of me, or ill of her opinion of Korea. Haha. But that's what she's got to say. I know she found a lot of the scenery when we were in the smaller towns and countryside to be really beautiful, and she was quite fascinated with a lot of things when we went to the Buddhist festival. Probably, I would say the sights and the sounds and the history. She also got a hell of a kick out of the way old people would come running up to us on the streets shouting, "Hello!" like school kids when they saw her, because they got excited to see one of 'their' people, as a foreigner. It amused the shit out of me as well. I never expected that. The older generation here mostly ignore me, or treat me with an amused and endeared kind of distance, always, always speaking to me in Korean. But something about seeing a foreigner their age brought out the youth in them, I guess, and they would do their best to come out with whatever English they could remember from their school days, before asking me all kinds of questions in Korean to translate for her. It was really sweet.

Do they have a way of censoring bad words in Korean? Like how in English one might type out sh*t or d*mn? I know about 18 for 씨발, but are there any interesting ones you want to share?

I'm not really sure about this actually, because a. my students know better than to cuss in either language in front of me, for the most part and b. Busan doesn't swear in Korean, and I don't either. I do know that Busan's little brother regularly sends him texts that say, "ㅂ ㅅ", which means 병신. My students also know exactly what I'm going for, when I put up this image to explain "using bad language" for one of our lessons together. So. Basically I'm no help on this one.

based on your exposure/experience, can you give us your assessment ie pros/cons of both the us and korean school systemss/culture et al?

Way too big of a question for me, at this point. Not least of all because I've only experienced the US system as a student, and I've only experienced the Korean system as a teacher. I will say that the communal aspect of the schools, and the support that the students have up through middle school in the form of their homeroom classes and teachers is absolutely essential for kids of that age. They need that. The fend-for-your-fucking -self mentality that hits kids right when they need that sense of community the most in the US schooling system is something that I think allows way too many kids with bad home lives to fall straight through the cracks. I will say that much.

For people moving to Korea alone, what's the best way to make friends/meet people?

Completely individual. Myself, I've met my best friends here in a variety of ways. I became close to my coworkers, first and foremost. But I also met Smalltown at a bar, and a few other people at cultural exchanges (although both of those settings, particularly the latter, offered a lot more frustration for me than they did benefit, to be honest). But the way I've met the foreigners I am the closest to now, and have the most in common with? The blogs. Honestly. With the blogs, you can seek out the people who have the perspective and the outlook on Korea and this whole experience that most closely jives with your own. I would have never had any chance of just running into most of these people out in public. And I don't know that I would've even taken to some of them based on first impression alone. But the blogs gave us a chance to get to know each other through a more relaxed medium first. It's been pretty cool, actually. So. Start a blog. Start making connections, and arrange a few meet ups. I'm not the only one who has this same answer to this question -- not by a long shot.

That's enough for now, don't you think?

6.22.2011

How did you deal with your grandfather's death from abroad?

I was afraid this would be a little too long for the formspring.

I remember reading awhile back that your grandfather died while you were in Korea. My grandmother recently died, and it has been so hard to be here. There's nobody for 7,000 miles who has any knowledge of her life, much less someone to share memories with. I try to talk to my family, but they simply don't understand how it could be harder to process grief simply because I'm living in a foreign country. How were you able to process through some of your grief when you were so far away?

Thanks,

Sarah

I just want to tell you first of all that I'm really sorry to hear that. Obviously you know that I know what it's like to go through something like that. And I think what was actually the hardest for me was not being so far away from my grandfather when he passed (let's face it -- that would've been fucking difficult from two feet away), but actually being so far away from my family when it happened.

My family has been through a lot of atrocious things. I'm not a whiner, so I'm not going to get into all (or any) of it, but we've been through things that were a lot harder in some ways than losing someone is. But the thing about those times, when I look back on them, is that I don't remember work or school or friends or absolutely anything outside of my family. All I remember is going through my daily life in a daze, just hanging on until I could get back home to the safety of the little trenches we had constructed for ourselves there. We would often end up even all sleeping in one bed, or one room. We didn't talk a lot. We just stayed close by each other's sides. And that was how we always got through everything.

When my grandfather was passing, and after he passed, I went through my daily life in the same daze. I didn't want to talk to anyone about it, or much of anything else -- especially not anyone who didn't even know who he was or what he meant to me. But in the evenings, instead of returning to the safety of my family, I got to go home to an empty, quiet apartment.

Something about me that I've mentioned a few times, but not in great detail, is that I've suffered from a pretty severe social anxiety disorder in the past. One aspect of that is that I have a tendency to completely withdraw when I feel out of control or incapable of handling things in my life. I don't talk to anyone, I don't answer my phone, I don't go out in public -- I drop pretty much all social interaction of every kind. I also sometimes stop eating.

I mention this to say that the way I found myself getting through my grief is probably a bit particular to my own way of grieving, which is to say that what I had to do in the end was realize that, right -- this is life. This is what has happened, and it's not going to change. He's not coming back. You didn't get to say goodbye. There is nothing that will ever make that better or less painful than it is. So you have to face it. And you have to start facing your life where that is a reality.

I remember clearly the Saturday morning of the evening my grandfather was to be buried. Because I had spent the entire night before basically trying to make myself stop sobbing, or do anything other than just lay in bed in a comatose state, not even sleeping. I had tried to make myself pick up the phone to any number of friends who were calling to make sure I was alright. I had tried to make myself take in anything other than more coffee and cigarettes. And I had decided that that was enough. I was finished. I was going to go to sleep, and when I opened my eyes in the morning, I would accept the fact that this had happened, and go out and face what life looked like, having acknowledged that.

I started small, with morning coffee by myself on an empty patio at a cafe in Myeongdong, before any people at all had started to crowd the streets and shops. Then, I faced the shops. Then, I called a friend for a late lunch. Then, I called more friends for a few drinks in the evening.

I ended up having to cut the evening short because just as we were planning to move from one place to another, I looked up at the time and realized that my grandfather's funeral was starting. And I started to lose it. And I knew I needed to make it home before that happened. And probably not consume any more alcohol than I already had.

But that first step was the most important one for me. After that, it was just a matter of not trying to make myself feel better, but facing the unchangability of the situation. The fact that it wasn't like a lot of other things I've faced down before, where eventually I can hope that I'm going to get out of this situation, or I'm going to find a way to make it okay. It just is. And the only thing you can do is get on with life in the best way you know how. To realize that you're learning an important lesson about the things you cannot change, and that having lost someone doesn't change the fact that you once had them, either.

In the end, in some ways, I'm almost glad that I faced that alone. Having my family with me during that time would have meant the world, obviously, and made it a hell of a lot easier in some ways. But there were moments when I felt closer to my grandfather in a way precisely because there was no one else around who knew him. I had time to remember him and honor him in my heart and my mind for exactly what he was to me, and me alone. I didn't have to remember him as father and brother and husband -- I could remember him just as grandfather. As my grandfather. In all of the ways that he was what he was only to me. And that was valuable, too.

The funny thing is, this week was the one year anniversary of his death. My family and I don't go out of our way not to mention him these days, but we're all still smarting a bit and there's a noticable shift in tone when he does come up -- a half a second's pause before someone has the courage to go ahead and speak his name, trying to pretend like it's normal and that there's no pain left there. The other night, I called to wish my mother a happy birthday -- last year, her birthday was two days after his funeral. She was asking me about Busan. She said he sounded a bit like my brother. I said there were parts of him that were quite similar, but who he really reminds me of sometimes is my grandfather. She started to cry a bit. She said it was because there is this person who is obviously becoming very important to me who she doesn't have the chance to know. And I'm sure that was true. But I don't think it was the only reason.

Anyway. I hope you can find a way to have that same experience of somehow finding peace. I'm going to try not to get too sentimental and horrible here, but I really do believe that, whether in spirit or in the form of the part of me that was influenced and shaped by him in his lifetime, my grandfather was right there with me during that time. In the way that he's still with me now, in the form of the lessons that he taught me, and the funny strange little things he always said that I still remember sometimes, and the way that he taught me that although good men may not always look exactly the way you imagine them to, they do exist.

거지.

I'm currently very ill and unable to breathe and fucking hot and really tired from being on the phone until late with my boyfriend who is apparently dealing with gangsters at the moment. Long story. The point is, I don't have a high level of mental capability right now, and what little I do have is being concentrated on making little half-people at least pretend to study English for the last three weeks before summer vacation begins. I'm also sneezing a lot. And I've not had enough coffee.

Which means it's formspring time. That's the best I have for you right now. I have a few kind of interesting questions, but mostly just comments.... not really enough to hang a post off of. Actually, I have 35 fucking questions, but most of them are either things like, "How much kimchi did your grandmother eat while she was there?", or "Can you explain in detail the pros and cons of the Korean education system vs. the Western education system?" (answer: no, I cannot).

Give me some meat, people, and I'll see what I can come up with. And then you'll get to find out what spices I wish I had brought with me to Korea. And I know you're all dying to know.

Ask me anything.

6.19.2011

Farmer Person.

Busan loses his shit in a fit of giggles every time I mention the fact that both of my grandfathers had farms when I was growing up. It's something my students also tend to giggle at. I guess maybe to them, especially having grown up in the city, being a "farmer person" is just a bit a taboo. I'm not a farmer person.... I just have some farmer person blood and experience, I guess.

Anyway. His friend has decided to drag him to eat dog meat today. I say "drag" because he's fucking freaking out beyond all reason (in my opinion) about it. When he told me, I just answered that yeah, it's summer... it's getting hot. It's a good time for 보신탕. He thinks I'm a complete freak, because there are three things I'm not, which should prevent me from being okay with eating dog: old, Korean and a man. I often brag that I'm looking forward to becoming a world class foreign ajumma. Yesterday he said maybe I'll become an ajeosshi instead.

At lunch yesterday, he brought up the dog meat again and I decided to prove a point about it. He had helped himself to a mixed menu of ribs, chicken, shrimp and half of my hamburger. I started by prattling on, while he was in the middle of eating it, about how shrimp is really like a giant ocean cockroach. I held up the tail of one as evidence: "Look at this! It's totally a bug! With the crunchy shell, like this? Ocean cockroach! That's what you're eating right now..."

He closed his eyes and stopped chewing. "What are you doing right now? I'm paying a lot of money for this food...."

"And have you ever seen a chicken have its head cut off?" I motioned toward his pile of marinated chicken salad with my fork. "Did you know that sometimes the body keeps flapping and running around for like five minutes without the head?"

"Sometimes I can't believe you're really a woman."

I stabbed a piece of chicken with my fork and stuck it in my mouth. "I'm just saying."

"It's because you're a farmer person...."

"It is. You know. Because I face reality about eating meat. All meat comes from an animal -- something that was alive and may have had something that could have closely resembled emotions at one time. That's all I'm saying. I like cows. Chickens can go to hell -- they're stupid and dirty and mean. But cows are alright, and I still eat beef."

He pointed out that when there had been a big ugly spider on my bag in the subway station, I had flicked it off with my fingernails and then forbidden him to kill it. He also pointed out that I used to be vegetarian, and that he was really confused about how I can be so uptight about living things sometimes, and so casual about it at others.

I told him that I thought hunting was excessive and probably a bit wrong, when the animals are just killed for game and not put to good use. I don't see the point in killing something for no reason. But that I don't think it's wrong so long as you make good use of what you take. You honor the animal's life, so to speak, by using its body to provide for yourself and your family. I don't, after all, rank animal life above human life. If I did, I wouldn't be carrying this leather bag, or wearing these leather sandals. Or eating this hamburger.

He's messaging me this morning on his way to the restaurant for further encouragment. I told him just to think of it as beef or lamb because, after all, it's really no different from that. Whether you like dogs or not. I'm proud of him for facing it down. And even happier that now maybe he'll stop telling every ajumma working in every restaurant we go to where we're eating something they say is too difficult for "pretty foreign girls" that I've already eaten dog, so I can't get much lower. This farmer person foreign girl can hang with the best of them. And that's nothing to be ashamed of.

6.17.2011

What we do.

Every afternoon for months, the same ten boys have been coming into my office after school to sit and try to learn the same twenty vocabulary words in English. They're the absolute lowest level students in our third grade -- they're here because they failed the standardized exam. Miserably. In the beginning, they couldn't so much as read. And some of them are still struggling, and having more luck memorizing phonetically. Among them, of course, is our jjang, Kyeongwon, who shares his name with one of my original favorites from two years ago -- another from the old jjang crew who was a boxer and reminded me a hell of a lot of my little brother.

Anyway, their homeroom teacher (my co) is getting fed up with them. It's been months, and they've been working on it for hours, and they still can barely get through half of the sentences they're meant to know by heart when just reading them off the page. Yesterday, when they came in, the majority of them just sat on the floor staring into space, to the extent that she grabbed a notebook and started whacking them about the heads for not even trying.

I kind of don't blame them. This English thing, it's not likely to ever happen for them, and what the fuck does it really matter if it doesn't? I'm not one of those people who thinks that everyone needs to be a fucking CEO to be happy, productive and live a worthwhile life. Some kids are just not ever going to get there, and there's nothing to be ashamed of about that. When they're not working to their full potential, that's where the shame comes in. But when they're really giving it their all, and it's just not happening.... I don't really see the point in chastising them for it. This isn't the Hallmark Channel. Not everyone is going to make a miraculous recovery and become the fucking president. But Co's frustrated because she doesn't understand how they could have been at this for months and made as little progress as they have. And if my job were on the line the way that hers is, I might feel the same way.

Anyway. Kyeongwon is the only one in the whole group who has the balls to look me in the eye most of the time. The others will grin and bow when I say hello or goodbye, but other than that, they'd really like to pretend that I, and the English plague on their lives that I represent, don't really exist. But yesterday I felt bad. Co's been on edge in general lately, and has given more than a few pretty brutal tongue lashings to the A ban students in our office over the last few days. Exams are coming and the pressure is on to get the students through the rest of the material to a sufficient proficiency, and they've run out of gas and stopped giving a shit entirely, just in time. I think part of her frustration may have been misplaced. She changed from B ban to A ban earlier this year, and when you do that, your expectations shift as well. I know because I teach both at the same time. B ban takes a different mindset. Especially the lowest among them. You have to be pleased with them simply being engaged, whether they're actually succeeding at all or not. Just having them pay attention and try is what really matters, even if they still get every answer wrong.

She reamed them out and then told them they were staying for an extra hour and they weren't leaving until they could recite at least ten of the words by memory. Then she left to take care of her after school class.

You know what? I figured, what the hell. Their vocabulary lists are obviously in both Korean and English, and although I already knew most of the words on the list, my spelling could always use a bit of practice, as could my handwriting. So I sat and copied the words with them, in Korean instead of English. They got a kick out of that, and even progressed to timidly leaning over and occasionally pointing to a word in English for me to pronounce, so they could repeat it. Which eventually turned into them pointing to words in Korean for me to pronounce. Which was, admittedly, slightly less productive. But still funny. Then Taehoon, not realizing I would understand it, announced to the room that he was tired and annoyed and really just wanted to go home and take a shit. I obviously had a very visible reaction to that, which caused the other boys to lose their shit, and Taehoon to turn bright red.

After I'd been writing for a while, Kyeongwon got a bit cheeky and decided to quiz me. At first he would say the word in Korean, and I would answer with its English equivalent, but then he decided that was too easy. So he started quizzing me in English, forcing me to recall (and speak) the word in Korean. Which is obviously much more difficult. And which also meant that Kyeongwon was speaking English. And the others were listening.

They think they're so clever. But they should know that teachers are almost always cleverer.

6.13.2011

Sorry sorry and a message for Korean Sentry:

Right now, as the semester slumps toward the finish line, I have a lot to concentrate on at work. Namely, keeping both my game and the students' game on target, as we all just kind of want to give into the death rattles of another semester survived. It's not time quite yet. Two more weeks. But keeping myself motivated and from slacking off, while maintaining the students' attention so that we can keep on actually learning shit up until the last minute takes a lot of energy. Also, those relationship things... I forgot how much work they are, when you want to do them properly. They take a lot of mental energy, and even more so when there's a language barrier involved. Me and this guy, we work hard to stay on top of our cultural differences and to keep in mind that we can't always communicate well with nuance when we hit on conflict, but sometimes you just lose sight. So it takes a lot of stopping, resetting, and restarting.

I'm also redoing the extra bedroom in my flat to turn it into a work studio, which has been a long time coming. I guess I just decided that, since I'm mentally and emotionally exhausted a lot of the time these days, why not be physically exhausted as well? Just kidding. It's a stress-relief thing. I'm not the yoga type. I'm the kick boxing type. I cannot sit and just 'be' with my thoughts. That shit will put me in a head hospital. Nothing helps me to get centered and clear my mind like hard physical labor. And the twenty-odd years worth of wallpaper I'm currently ripping off the walls is helping with that, a lot. And I'm excited to be able to have a space to work in, because, if you don't already know, I'm kind of mental about keeping my flat clean. Which prevents me from really getting into some things. Soon, I'll have a space where I can make whatever kind of mess I want, and then close the door at the end of the day and have it quarantined off from the rest of my living space.

Now. It's come to my attention that I've been linked to from Korean Sentry. I groaned when I saw it -- it's never good news, right? What have I done now? I was suprised to find that I was credited as a 'foreigner who actually RESPECTS Korea and actually wants to understand it'. What I have to say about that is this: I don't respect your website. And I don't think you respect foreigners. And the track history that this forum has makes having it in my corner make me feel a little queasy, honestly. I've never seen such psychotically racist shit in my life.

I don't respect Korea or want to understand Korea -- I respect and want to understand people. I don't think many of the people involved with that site can say the same. I think that website is something that the Koreans I know and respect would find to be a huge embarrassment. Respect and understanding are two-way streets. Do you have legitimate concerns and objections to some of the things that foreigners in Korea do and say? Sure. I'm sure it's there. But the way you go about expressing that makes me feel targeted and hated. And I've done nothing wrong. You and your website make me feel like there is a portion of the Korean population who will always target me on the street and make assumptions about who and what I am. I don't carry my blog around with me. My first impression is just that of a foreigner. And it doesn't really seem to me that many of the people actively participating in the kind of conversations that go on on Korean Sentry would be keen to give me much of a chance, seeing only that.

In short, people like you are something that I've had to overcome to be able to understand and respect Korea. People like you are what the foreigners who constantly bitch about Korea on the internet are getting hung up on. You're not helping the problem -- you're making it worse. So, in my mind, you don't really get to complain. Just like Lousy Korea didn't really have the right to point the finger at Koreans in her situation, either. I said it then, and I'll repeat it now: these two groups deserve each other, and they've nothing to do with the rest of us. The rest of us who are working hard to respect and understand each other, and improve the relationship between foreigners and Koreans in Korea.

6.08.2011

I'm Korean-Canadian, it's 'soondae', not 'seonbae', and Germans have blood sausage too ok!

Are these comments real? I really get distressed sometimes trying to figure it out. Did this really happen? It's not actually soondae, at all -- it's seonbae. 선배. Senior. I was clearly talking about people and not sausages.

Please. If you are real. I don't mean to be rude. But please stop reading my blog. And take your friend who actually thinks I don't know what country my boyfriend is from with you.

And while we're at it, to the people googling the question that they're googling about 'Korean guys'.... yes, yes they do.


Another day in the life, kids.

Ask me anything

6.07.2011

On bad seonbaes.

Now. I don't have many. So clearly this post is not going to be about me. If you'll forgive me, I'm going to go a bit off track today and talk about, of all terrifying things, my boyfriend.

He's currently the 막내 (most junior) at his company. And this is his first real long-term experience with the hierarchy in a work environment (other than the army, obviously, which I think most men just assume will be horrible anyway). Which could explain why we have differing opinions about the nature of the hierarchy. I entered into the hierarchy with good 선배 (seniors), and have had mostly good seonbaes throughout. His are utter shit. They do all of the bad things good seniors are not supposed to do, and fail to do all of the good things that good seniors are supposed to do. They withhold information, blame him too harshly and take every opportunity to talk down to him or make him feel like shit.

One senior -- the senior who is most knowledgeable in Busan's direct department and therefore the one he is most reliant upon -- refuses to even speak to Busan, unless Busan's been to church with him that week. It doesn't matter that Busan's family are Buddhist, or that Busan has given it a fair shake by attending a few times. It doesn't matter that he has declined politely. Busan hasn't become a Christian on demand, so this senior will have nothing to do with him.

Another recently chastised him for being, of all things, poor. Apparently Busan is sinning against both his ancestors and his future offspring by I guess refusing to make more money. Because obviously Busan wants to be in the situation he is in, and is relishing it and doing everything that he can to prolong it. And it has nothing to do with this senior, who refuses to help him extend his knowledge and capability in his field so that he can move up on the pay scale, or move to another company that doesn't have such shit pay.

I won't even get into the prostitutes, and what they have to say about Busan not participating in that. (In case any of you have doubts about that being a waegookin urban legend, it fucking well isn't.)

They force him to do their English grad school work, and try to force him into setting them up on blind dates with my friends, even if they are married or already have girlfriends. And now it's crossing over into our relationship as well.

This weekend, we both had Monday off and were planning a big beach trip with our friends. That, for various reasons, fell through. But at the last minute, we decided to go ahead and take a trip ourselves. We had no idea where to go, and didn't want to go to any of the places we'd been before, so we settled on just choosing a place that wasn't too far, going and seeing what we could make of it. Of course, we did this together. Because I'm an adult and I can have a say in things as well. We chose Jeonju, even though a couple of my friends who have been before bawlked about it and warned us that there was little to see and do. We knew going into it that there not very high opinions of the place, but it was near enough and not going to be too crowded, despite the holiday. It's also the hometown of one of Busan's close friends from his time in Japan, who he hasn't seen for going on two years now. It was a good chance for them to catch up, and us to just get out of town and have some quiet time together outside of Seoul or Incheon. Plus, I really like the Jeollas, and haven't had much of a chance to see Jeollabuk-do.

And it wasn't that exciting. But the makgeolli was the best I've ever had, and we had a good time.

Today, at lunch time, a text came through: Busan's seniors had asked about the weekend away with his girlfriend and he had told them, presumably, that we had gone to Jeonju and had a nice time. They responded by telling him that Jeonju was shit, and that they couldn't believe that he had taken me there, where there was nothing to do. He was texting to apologize, because they made him feel so bad about it.

Cocks. I hate them. Every last one of them. They're all shit, each of them in their own special shitty way. And I hate that he has to answer to them, and rely on them. He's not allowed to talk back or stand up for himself, and he's expected to take their word for thing and trust their input. And he does. And I don't understand why.

Every time he comes home from work and reports one of these horrendous conversations to me, I let loose about how shitty their way of thinking about things is. He says he wishes he could keep me in his pocket and pull me out when they get going to tell them off, or to remind him that their opinion about just about everything is shitty.

Busan can be a ridiculously stubborn person at times, but I have noticed a tendency with him to only really be stubborn with his juniors (his little brother and myself, to name two examples -- although he's not terribly stubborn with me). With his seniors, he just folds. And not just on the outside -- on the inside, as well.

Being a seonbae in Korea is a lot of responsibility. Busan's seonbaes tell him that they reason they are so shit is because their seniors treated them the same way. I tried to tell him this weekend, over said makgeolli, that he will have his chance to learn from this, and become a good seonbae, rather than a bad one, as a result. He says he knows that he should, but doesn't really know if he will. We learn from examples, I guess. But we should learn from others' mistakes as well.

I don't know what the point of this post is, really, other than to express that I'm starting to really understand why my view of the hierarchy might be a bit lopsided. I like it, when it's done in the right way. I think it's important to have people to look up to, to guide you and whom you can trust to set you straight when you go off course. You have to have some amount of unquestioning respect in order for that to work. But people aren't perfect, and more than few are also unkind.

Mostly I wish this fool would just give up this company entirely, and go find one where his seonbaes will support him the way that they should. Who won't get on his case for not wanting to participate in company brothel nights, or stick him with the bill at dinners. At the very least, I hope he keeps his head about him and realizes that these are not people he wants to in any way emulate or actually look up to. Because they're horrible. And they're making life not only not easier for him, but more difficult.

I don't envy Korean men, is the long and the short of it. Company life is kind of a mess sometimes. But you can't really expect to marry well and support a family without it. There have got to be good companies out there, and I hope that someday he will get up the courage to walk away and find one.

6.03.2011

I think my boyfriend's Japanese, or: why I still need to find a Korean hagwon.

Well. I claimed that after Grandma INP had come and gone, I would start seriously looking into a Korean hagwon. So. I'm thinking about that. Ahem. But today I was handed a document (hilariously enough, in Korean) advertising a Korean class at Incheon Dae. It's kind of expensive compared to similar courses I've seen in the past, but it could be easy enough to follow up with, and cheaper still than a hagwon, so I asked my co's what they thought about how the quality would be.

Basically, they told me that they thought there was no way I wouldn't be past even the intermediate level. Because "intermediate", in terms of Korean classes, often means "know how to read/write and ask/answer basic biographical questions". So that's disappointing.

But the co's pointed out that now I have a "private Korean tutor". Aka, my boyfriend. Which started me in on a long rant about how utterly useless he is in that arena.

Mostly joking, obviously, as he has helped my Korean to improve loads (just by being too lazy to speak English a lot of the time, actually), but -- let's face it -- he is from Busan. And he uses stupid 애교 spelling in his texts a lot of the time, when my spelling is pretty fucked to begin with. But those are minor problems compared to what happens when I ask him specific questions about Korean. It's so bad that I often accuse him of actually being Japanese. And I'm only half-joking when I do it.

To give a couple of prime examples, there was the time I showed him a joke sent to me by a friend in Korean about his province. He didn't get it. Flat out had no idea what was even going on. Until I explained the joke in English. "Ahhh!" He repeated the line in Korean. "Okay now I get it!"

What? How did you not get a joke in Korean that even I understood? Clearly Japanese. And a liar.

Next was the time he told me I couldn't use 먹다 with liquids. Bullshit. I hear it all the time. It may not be entirely proper, but you're not going to correct me on this one. I know I hear this all the time.

No, no. It doesn't make sense. We would never use that. It's not natural.

Well, maybe that's how you do things in Busan, but up here in the north, it is used that way all the time. My students even have issues with saying that they will "eat cola" in English, because it's so prevalent. You're not pulling a fast one on me this time. No.

You're wrong. Why are you questioning me on Korean?

Cut to him using 먹다 on nearly a daily basis to mean "drink" and me pointing it out every time he does it for the rest of his goddamn life. The first two dozen times, he just claimed he had made a mistake. But, finally, this week he admitted that he was wrong, and Koreans do use 먹다 for liquids all the time.

The long and the short of it is, I still need to find a hagwon. Because I do not trust this man at all. Private tutor my ass.

Breaking news from the Cos:

The Korean teachers are currently tittering all over the place about a document they've received to sign, giving permission for their criminal backgrounds to be checked. The unions are telling their members not to do it, but it's apparently a nationwide move.

What does this mean? I don't want to hear anymore foreigners bitching about criminal background checks. It is now (or will soon be) an across-the-board rule. Which I've mentioned before is something I fully support.

So, hooray for that. One more sterotypical bar conversation I no longer have to endure.^^

Edited to respond to The Metropolitician: Who said I'm not in favor of better interviewing, hiring and screening processes? Who says I think the CBC regulations are not linked to extremely racist media hype and anti-foreigner panic?

I understand some people are not here to teach. But if you are here as a teacher, then you are a teacher. And whose choice was that? The fact of the matter is, CBCs are par for the course in most fields in our home countries that involve working with children. And it would be a shame for even one child to end up molested because something as simple as bothering to check whether or not you're hiring a previously known pedophile to work with kids was neglected. Is it fool proof? No. Neither are condoms. Is it a hassle? Yes. So are condoms.

That doesn't mean you should just go about doing whatever willy-nilly without them, eh?

If you want to criticize the Korean education system for not providing adequate checks for Korean teachers, then by all means do so. If you want to criticize the Korean education system for not providing more effective measures to screen and increase the quality of foreign teachers, by all means do so -- I certainly have, plenty of times. If you want to complain about the inefficiency and absurdity of immigration's way of going about things, go right on ahead -- it certainly is a mess. But none of that relates back to the fact that you need to be able to, at the very least, prove that you've never been convicted of sexual crimes before you are allowed to work with children. No matter what measures that entails.

6.01.2011

What is the state of feminism in KOrea from your vantage point? Has the progression of women's rights resembled NA's at all?

I am so under-prepared to answer this question that it's not even funny. I'm just barely beginning to get my head wrapped around even the most basic social aspects of Korean society, so I have no idea how people expect me to tackle something like this. Give me another ten years?

So, as usual, I'm going to take one of your questions and completely not answer it and just use it to talk about whatever I want instead. Okay?

What I will say is this: I seriously resent people who make broad claims about how much they feel for Korean women and how horrifically sexist their society is. I resent foreigners who spread rumors amongst themselves about what a back-assed culture Korea has in regards to gender. For a lot of different reasons. Which means this is probably a good time for a list.

1. These accusations usually come from people who haven't taken the time to really get to know any Korean women. Or a variety of Korean women.

I've heard a lot of these diatribes about how sorry people feel for Korean women based entirely in rhetoric that foreigners pick up from other foreigners and repeat. It is one of those things that, for me, falls into the category of the expat echo chamber effect that Roboseyo addressed in regards to a completely different topic. You hear it most often from foreigners who have been here for a year or less. Or, in most cases I would say, no more than a few months. And every time I start to ask more clarifying questions, it becomes clear that they are not speaking from direct experience or knowledge -- they don't have any actual Korean female friends. They don't have more than a surface-level relationship with their female coworkers. They don't socialize with Korean families. They don't have a single Korean couple as friends. They've had no chance to actually observe these situations for themselves, or to hear Korean women discuss their own experiences. They haven't bothered to get the facts or form their own opinions -- they've just turned around and repeated what was told to them by someone else who had it told to them by someone else who had it told to them.

Or. It is also a favorite of foreign men to turn around and tell me, "My girlfriend is Korean and her boyfriend used to beat her." Or something similar. Well. That may be true. And her experience and opinions are absolutely valid. But she is not every Korean woman. And what I have to say about that is, how would American men like it if one American woman who had had one abusive American boyfriend told that anecdote to a Korean, and that Korean turned around and repeated to every other Korean they ran into in a bar about how sexist and oppressive American culture is, because they had this one example to give?

To me, it's a basic that you don't speak for other people -- especially when you are dealing with subjects of oppression. Which is why I might feel comfortable answering this question someday from my own perspective as a foreign woman living in Korea, or with anecdotes and opinions and conversations shared with me by my female Korean friends and coworkers. But I can't answer this question myself, from the perspective of a Korean woman living in Korean society. Because I'm not one. That's not my right. And it would make me sexist to presume that it was. And I don't respect it when other people try to.

2. I find the accusations to be incredibly self-serving.


I don't hear about how "sexist" Korean society is from many foreign women. Almost every time I hear this whole thing repeated, it is done by men. I think there are a couple of reasons for this. I'll come back to one of them under number four on this list.

But, the first reason is that a certain kind of man can use Korean culture's alleged inherent and brutal sexism against women as an excuse to get up on a high horse. I spent a huge chunk of my free time in my first two years here sitting around and listening to foreign men shoot the shit, and I cannot express how many times I've heard the conversation turn to how Korean women prefer to date white (they mean "Western", but they usually say "white") men, because Korean men are too sexist. Well, that may be true. Of those Korean women who prefer to date Western men. But what about the Korean women who prefer to date Korean men, who you've never spoken to on the subject, and who are the overwhelming majority? They don't ever make an appearance in these conversations, not even for the sake of balance. Because they are not convenient to these men's own representation of themselves as some kind of rescuers. I guess it's not enough for some men that their girlfriend wants to date them -- it has to be an issue of "saving" her. That's gross.


And when I do hear this mentioned by women, even then the context tends to be self-serving. IE, my female students are so oppressed within their society and I'm so glad that they've had a chance to meet me as an outside influence, and as someone (the only person) they can really talk to about it.

Bull. Women from all cultures definitely play a role in perpetuating their own oppression, and Korea is no different. You will always have mothers "teaching" their daughters how to "be a lady". You will always have infighting and other women attacking each other over the scraps from the table. But you can't place all women from any culture into that category. Young Korean women have older Korean women to look to, and to rely on. And they do understand their situation and their own culture, and they do support each other. I've even been taken into this fold a time or two myself. For example, the time a coworker made a completely inappropriate comment about my S line in front of everyone, which really embarrassed me at the time, and which I had no means of responding to with the nasty reaction I would have liked to, because he is a coworker, and I am a young female teacher. When we got back to the office, the other teachers (female) surrounded me and told me how appalling they had found the entire exchange to be, and they sat and gave me examples of times things like that have happened to them. Not least of all to reassure me that it had nothing to do with me being a foreigner. They know what the fuck is going on, and they know when shit is fucked up. And they are ready to step up and support each other when these situations arise.


3. The accusation, in and of itself, is usually pretty sexist and often used to perpetuate Western stereotypes about Asian women.

This one could be viewed as a kind of subcategory of the two above -- the problem with thinking of yourself as a "rescuer" of Korean women, or of negating Korean women's own awareness and influence on their own culture and on each other within their culture is that you are subjugating an entire culture of women to the category of helpless victims. Which is nothing new, in regards to Western stereotypes about Asian women.

The delicate Asian flower, meek and subservient. How do poor, poor Korean women ever hope to make it out of their helpless situations within Korean culture, when they are incapable of speaking out or standing up for themselves?

Well. I would imagine they will (and are) (and have been) doing it in the exact same way that Western women are (and have been) (and will). They will tell men 'no'. They will slowly fight their way toward more equal levels of respect in all realms, and their rights to their own choices, and their own bodies, and their own images. Because they are not weaker than us (Western women) and they are not more stupid than we are, either. And if we can do it, then so can they.

I've seen plenty of examples of this, myself. From my coworkers, from my own young female Korean friends, and most of all, from my "ajumma" class at work. Sitting down one afternoon every week for years to talk to a group of ajummas will teach you a lot about how wrong the stereotypes of Asian women as helpless or ignorant of their own oppression actually are. They are fully aware of what is wrong with their culture, and how to go about changing it. And these women, my ajummas anyway, don't take shit from any man about anything.

4. It's obviously very culturally elitist. And not in the way that you think.


I am not one who buys into the idea that I can't criticize a culture's obvious and unilateral faults just because I am not from that culture. Which is why, when people give it genuine thought and actually take the time to get to know the culture they are speaking about, and to speak with respect to the fact that they are not from that culture and do not understand everything, or make comparitive generalizations while negating the faults of their own culture, I don't have a problem with people discussing sexism within Korean society.

The Grand Narrative
is a prime example of this, in my opinion. And his efforts to thoroughly educate himself about a topic, as well as insert actual women's real life commentary and experiences into his articles are the reason why I don't find his speaking on subjects of gender in Korea to be offensive, either because he is a man, or because he is not Korean. I don't think he is in any way ignorant about sexism in the West, and I think he does his dead-level best not to speak for women, instead of bringing in their own accounts whenever he can. He listens to women and I get the feeling he listens to Koreans, as well.

So, that's not the argument that I'm going to make. The argument I'm going to make goes back to why I think I hear Western men reference sexism in Korea a lot more than I hear it out of Western women, and that is because Western men are having a chance to view institutional and societal sexism from the outside for the first time.

Western women tend to know better than to condemn Korea too harshly on these matters, compared to the West, because we've been dealing with a lot of the same things Western men are noticing for the first time in Korea back in our home countries for our entire lives. Being condescended to in the work place is nothing new to us. Domestic violence is nothing new to us. Rape positive culture is nothing new to us. Destructive body image related media is nothing new to us. Women being condemned much more strongly compared to men for all of the same behaviors is nothing new to us. It's just another day in the life. At times, the degrees and specifics are a bit off, but it's not anything we're noticing for the first time, and we know it's by no means particular to Korea.

But, lest the male readers think I am letting the women off the hook, I don't think this is by any means particular to Western men. Western women tend to get it, but they don't always. Because they also experience their own culture not as a culture but as "reality". And they experience Korean culture not as "reality", but as a culture. So, even though they have obviously experienced sexism in vast and various forms in their home cultures, they may not always class it as such. Just as not all Korean women will view their own society as inherently sexist, either.


At the end of the day, what I want to say is this: There are ome serious fucking problems with sexism in Korea. No one is (or should be) denying that. And no one should be afraid to talk about that. But, as always with topics of this kind, I think people need to be careful, to think things through as objectively as possible, and to come to the table with a few humble realizations, not least of all that they are an outsider in regards to Korean culture, they don't understand the inherent ins and outs of everything, they're not always getting access to the whole picture, and their own culture is by no means perfect. Do I think foreigners are incapable of spotting out sexism in Korea? No. It is, at times, quite blatant. And do I think that every commentary on sexism within Korean society needs to be qualified with a statement of, "I know it happens back home, but...." No, I fucking do not. And people who require such caveats irritate the shit out of me. That should be fucking obvious. But don't overdo it. And don't assume you are saying anything novel, or that you've cracked onto things within Korean culture better than Koreans themselves have. Because I can pretty much guarantee you that you haven't. Not in all cases, at least.

Ask me anything.