Christ, it's gonna be another "I love Korea" post. I'm sorry. What can I say?
I have a choice for the week after next at school: 1. Three days and two nights on a "training program"/"field trip" with the first and second grade monsters and God knows what teachers (definitely Gil), which I can't actually get any specifics about or 2. Two days of teaching only the lovely, lovely third graders and then going on a field trip with them to an amusement park on the third.
Gee. How will I ever decide? That week is going to be heaven. I love the total chaos of the Korean public education system, at times. Although it's mostly year-round, there are so many festivals, field trips, sport days, and assorted other crap that you don't feel it nearly as much as I think you would at an American school.
Hm. I love those boys.
And this thing with Korea... I haven't the foggiest idea what's going on. So many expats here seem so miserable all the time, especially after the first few months, when the novelty has worn off. God knows I have my complaints, and I have my wickedly pissed off days. But it just keeps getting deeper. What the fuck is it about this place?
I've got the Korean no-hour-of-the-day-wasted bug again. I swear to God it's contagious. Plus the weather is beautiful, and after staring at it through windows all day, I can't bear to just go home and continue that process. Tonight was wangalbi with Mike, then grabbing a quick cup of coffee at Java Shitty to take on a stroll around the neighborhood, sans headphones. I love how everything opens up here in warm weather -- whole facades of buildings for stories up seem to just peel off, or slide open, to let in the cool breeze and let out the sounds and smells of whatever is going on inside. Walking home, I was surrounded by the sounds of dozens of Korean families slapping Go Stop cards down on wooden floors or mats and shouting out at the results.
My neighborhood, although it is a part of Incheon, is really more like its own version of a small town. It's not like any other part of Incheon I've spent time in. In other parts, the foreigners are met by hard stares as they pass, but here, just as in the countryside this weekend, it's almost entirely smiles and what Mike and I like to call "drive-bys" -- people walking past and shouting out random greetings in English. There's something incredibly comfortable in bringing a spontaneous smile to the face of anyone you pass by simply smiling yourself and giving a little bow. Even the coldest glares will instantly transform after this small gesture.
Maybe that's why I don't feel the outsiderness as intensely as some other expats. I have my fair share of what-the-fuck moments -- don't get me wrong. And I have had some blatantly ludicrous things said straight to my face. But for the most part, I find Koreans to be immensely eager to make you feel like anything but an outsider. They want to share everything with you -- their food, their language, their families. On the whole, most people seem to recognize on a very real level that I am far from home, far from my family, and they seem to feel somehow responsible for it. I shouldn't be allowed to walk in the rain without an umbrella, and eating meager portions at lunch is unacceptable.
Mike and I were discussing the habit of some Koreans of babying foreigners when it comes to relatively simple things, like using chopsticks, reading prices or eating spicy food. Yes, it can be tiring at times. And it can, on worse days, make you feel even more outside. But it's not the intention -- I believe that -- and that's why I have seemingly infinite patience for it. The intention, much like a slightly overbearing mother, is to make sure you are not made to be uncomfortable, because they recognize that you are in a place that is strange and different to you. I find it infinitely easier to tolerate than the American attitude toward foreigners of "suck it up, figure it out, or leave". The vast majority of Koreans I have encountered seem to view me as something akin to a guest in their home. And they have been, on the whole, overwhelmingly gracious hosts.