Monday, June 27, 2011

Out For A Night

            So the other night I met up with my friend Kat and her good buddy Jevon. The night started out at a game store where they were playing Rummikub. I had never heard of this game but it's pretty neat because the rules are similar to Rummy but you play with tiles and the goal isn't the accumulation of points but rather to solely run out of your tiles first. Anyways, we leave from there and go to Wow bar to have some beer and drinks.
            Now up until that point Jevon hadn’t really been talking that much but after our first bottle of Lemon Cap Soju he started to tell some stories about what it’s like for him to be black in Korea. He had some whoppers but the best one by far is the one where he talks about going to his first school when he came to Korea two years ago. Now his school wasn't in Gwangju but was in a rural part of Korea that’s surrounded by rice fields and mountains. Very serene but not very exposed to foreigners. So he gets to the school, meets with his translator and then meets with his principal. The first thing the principal asks is this question, "Is your father the leader of your village?" Jevon is from Brooklyn, NY and is a Fine Arts major and has never been to Africa.
            This pretty much sums up Korea’s racial tone because it’s such a homogeneous country due to the fact that no immigration really occurs here.  Jevon said that because Koreans do not have a history of mass immigration they have no understanding of negative racism only true ignorance.  I’ve talked with other foreigners who aren’t white and they say the same thing.  Now this homogony cuts both ways because crime and disorder are unheard of here since everyone is pretty much the same.  It’s wild to think about considering how racism is historically based in the States! 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Funny Student

            Yesterday was a fun day at school because one of my students has a sense of humor.  I was in my third class and these kids are little.  I think the oldest might be 11 but most of them are 9 or so.  Now remember that my school is a private academy so the kids are grouped together by their understanding of English not their age.  This particular class is very energetic and very smart so I need to keep them engaged or I’ll lose them and the day is wasted.
            The lesson for the day was Cause and Effect.  We’d gone through some examples in the workbook but I like to get them involved and write on the board.  Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of the board but I’ll set it up the best I can.  I wrote on the top of the board Effect.  The Effect was, “Making an A+ on the exam.”  After doing this all the kids gave me blank stares.  They were not sure what an “A+” meant for them!  So I explained the American grading system and they were pumped about how they were all “A+” students.
           Once they understood what “A+” meant I went and wrote Cause in the middle of the board.  Then I had a kid come up and tell me what one cause would be for making an A+.  He wrote “I study hard.”  Then I had a second student come up and he wrote “I study every day” which is a very Korean answer. 
            Lastly I called on one of my favorite students in the whole school, June.  This kid might be 8 years old but he learns English faster than most American kids.  Plus he’s a lot of fun and is never down about anything.  For example even he has a cast on his arm and won’t let anyone sign it he still makes jokes about it all the time.  So after I called him he struts up to the board and starts giggling, so whatever he’s got in mind is super funny in his head.  He gets really close to the board and when he’s done I see that he has written, “I had some luck.”  I look at the Korean teacher and we both start laughing uncontrollably.  Easily one of the funniest moments I’ve had since I’ve started teaching.

My studious comedian.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Dude, Don't Hold My Hand In A Bar

            So today I woke up around noon since I had been out a little late the night before.  No there weren’t any shenanigans but I will tell you about what happened when I went out to a dance club called Bubble Bar.  I was with a couple of guys, one of who is the guy I met on the Mudseung Mt. night hike and the other I met at a foreigner dinner.  We met up and had some beers but all the bars were closing early and these two were feeling the desire to get some ladies digits so we went to Bubble Bar. I don’t like the place but I can wingman when I need to.
            We get there hang out and James sees some people he knows so he goes over and starts talking to them.  Well I wait a minute then head over to see if he needs some cover.  He’s doing just fine but something different happened while I’m standing there.  A Korean guy tried to grab my hand and talk to me.  Now I don’t think I’ve talked about the difference between Korean masculinity and Western masculinity but it’s a huge cultural difference.  Obviously Korean men are much smaller than Westerners and they have zero, I repeat, zero facial hair.  And if they do it’s because they have a Japanese ancestor. 
            However the cultural differences between us are that they have no personal bubble space they will hold hands or walk arm in arm together.  It’s definitely different and I’ve experienced this firsthand because my 70yr old landlord will grab my hand to show me something or take me to his office to pay a bill.  It definitely weirds me out when he does that but I don't want to be Westerner who insults his cultural version of the backslap.  I’ve also seen Korean businessmen walking down the street stumbling drunk off Soju arm in arm together.  Now, I lived in DC for six months and hung out around Dupont Circle where there’s a large gay and lesbian population.  So I’m familiar with seeing same-sex couples together or being approached by gay men.  It didn’t bother me if they would come up to me to hit on me as I would politely say thank you for the compliment but that I was straight and they would leave me be.
The ironic thing is that here Koreans culturally believe that no gay people are in Korea.  Yes there definitely are but because of how Koreans interact, and my Western interpretation of a certain type of interaction being “gay” or not, I can’t tell if a Korean man is gay or not. I’m not the only one who has commented on this phenomenon as most of the Westerners I’ve talked to agree that it’s difficult to understand Korean masculinity.
So now that you know Korean men will hold hands with one another or what not back to my story.  I’m standing there next to James watching the weird Korean music video when someone tries to grab my hand. I think it’s a girl and push it away.  Quickly it comes back, I look and can’t tell if it’s a girl's or guy's hand so I follow the arm and I see that it’s a Korean guy.  He tries to grab my hand again and I SWAT it away.  I don’t know why that bothered me so much but it did.  I was not in the mood to have anyone grab my hand and he wasn’t my 70 yr old landlord, so I wasn’t letting it be.  That was my cultural line of, “You can do what you want but I am not trying that out bud”, it’s as simple as that.  Well James and Jonathan thought that the whole thing was funny as hell but I bet that Korean will think twice before trying to grab a Western guy’s hand in a bar again.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Fresh Start

            So I know that I haven’t written in the past two weeks and the reason is I went through a bit of a rough patch.  I had the realization that I’m not going home for the next year, I am truly on my own in a completely foreign country and I was desperately trying to hold on to the notion that “they” should have to adjust to me, not the other way around.  “They” includes Koreans, my fellow teachers and the foreigners I’ve met.  Sounds pretty ridiculous I know but I was struggling with adjusting to living here. 
            Because I was feeling so frustrated I emailed some friends and family asking for advice on what to do and how to be a better teacher.  The advice I got back was fantastic as both of my parents, who teach at the college level, suggested that I relax and talk with my fellow coworkers.  Great advice but it was my girlfriend who broke my glass ceiling by saying that I’m not a full time teacher like I would be in the states but my role here is that I’m a glorified camp counselor.  Not that the students should be treated like I was in a summer camp but that I need to have that type of attitude to adapt and do a good job teaching.
            Well that was just what I needed to hear for it completely put things in perspective and that I what I thought would happen here isn’t going to and that I need to just enjoy the experience of being here.  So last Friday I decided to buzz all my hair off to acknowledge this new attitude with the reasons being threefold.  First, it’s really hot here and I was tired of sweating on the way to work.  Second, the Korean hairdressers have no idea how to deal with all my waves and curls.  Lastly, I wanted a fresh start.  A way to admit I don’t have the answers but that I need to grow into my job, work with people different from me and accept Korea for Korea.
            And how’s it going now you ask?  Well I’m loving it!  I went and bought a guitar to give me something to do in my apartment, I feel so cool despite it being 90 degrees and work is great! More to come so stay tuned!

New Haircut!