Friday, February 28, 2014

New place, new perspective

Since being back, I am constantly reminded of how much people make a place. When I was working for a racist, lying thief, I had quite a negative perception of Korea and Koreans. Although I knew that generalizations and stereotypes were detrimental ways to view the world, my experiences made me suspicious and paranoid. Was the bus passing me because I was a foreigner or because I did something wrong? Did that old lady push me because I had a different color skin or because age dictates her rights? Do people avoid speaking with me because they are nervous about carrying on a conversation half in English and half in broken Korean or because I am not one of them? Right or wrong, I lost the privilege of allowing people the benefit of the doubt from having to constantly battle for my basic rights to be observed. 

But now I am having such a different experience. I work with people who don't hate foreigners and who actually believe we are equals. As a result, I can overhear my name in a jumble of Korean that I don't understand without assuming they are spreading nasty rumors about me. I can walk on the street, receiving  curious stares, aware of the innocent intentions behind them. 

I know now that I went about this experience the wrong way last year. I waited to show my love and care and attention until I received it. Only then would I lower the defensive wall about myself. But I should have treated all strangers with that love and care--gratitude for their patience land allowing me space in their culture despite my lack of language skills and cultural knowledge. I recognize my mistake now. 

So Americans--when you encounter foreigners in your own land, what impression do you make of the place? Do you encourage paranoia or do you foster compassion and understanding?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Back to the grind.

Hello there loyal blog readers! I have officially been back in Korea one week...and it feels like its been a year! I already had my first craving for In-n-Out.

This week, I have been participating in training for my new job. It involves sitting on a train for two hours (if I'm lucky enough to get a seat) just to get to the training center on the exact opposite side of Seoul from my locale (in reality: 22 miles away), mock-teaching a class of would-be teachers and receiving critiques, sitting on a train for another two hours to get home, and then completing hours of homework in preparation for the next day. All without being paid and without the guarantee of PASSING the training (thereby losing your potential job, being sent home, on your own dime, like the sad sack of crap you'll inevitably be made to feel like you are). Great deal, hey?

I'm lucky to have taught before, frankly. I'm leaps and bounds ahead of the other student-teachers, merely because I already know the routine. Not only do I know how to handle a class of ESL students, I know the un-taught things that matter the most: how you look (dress and full make-up/hair), being early every day, and a doe-eyed deference for the instructor mean more than any simulated teaching any day of the week. When the instructor criticizes my PERFECT simulation by telling me to do things I was already doing, I bow my head and say "yes, teacher," while the n00bs are still spluttering "but I DID that." 

It's been so wonderful to return, despite this exercise in patience and insanity (I mean, how many days in a row can a person wake up at 6 am without being driven into full-tilt insanity? Never mind). My boss already set up my apartment, just one floor under the boyf's. It smelled all new and clean, not requiring the day-long scrub-down his required. I don't even mind having to go in on Sunday to set up my classroom without getting paid because this transition has been so easy (and because I know my boss isn't a foreigner-hating wretch out to actively ruin my time off). 

I'm excited to start working, also. The access to technology in the classroom is insane! The televisions are smart TVs--touch screens preloaded with the entire lesson. Basically, lesson planning is all done, I just need to prepare. Doing this mock teaching has reminded me how I enjoy teaching and how excited I am to see these kids cute little fasces and help them to learn English!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

3 Days in LA

January 10, 2014
Phoenix to LA = 357 miles

Los Angeles is not really my city. I have experienced far too many people interested in only what you can do for them to hold any dear feelings for the place.

But I won't lie, as the plane touched down, the sun streaming over the tarmac, I felt light. The unusually efficient manner in which we passengers were shepherded through the terminal and our bags already whinging about the carousel when we arrived at baggage claim were both pleasant surprises. And of course, the warm, sunny LA weather greeted me at the curb--not too humid, not too hot.

I spent only a few days meeting with old friends, but it felt like a lifetime. I was reminded of all the days gone by and excited for all the days to come. Everywhere I went, it felt like a few weeks, maybe a month had passed, rather than a year-and-a-half.

I am so grateful for the kindness of old friends and the ability to pick up where we left off without a hitch. At the end of my stay, I got dropped off at the airport, the bright LA sunshine squinting in my eyes, and hopped on a plane ready to finally kick off my grand adventure after many months of waiting and a week of planning.

From the plane as it cruised over the city, I could see the Silverlake reservoir, a reflecting glint of sunset--my last view of America until 2015.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Ready for kick-off

As my time left in the good ok' USA retreats, I can't help but become contemplative. It's funny the ways moving to Korea changed my life. It answered so many of those mid-level needs--having enough money, being fulfilled by my job (and doing it well!), social needs, and comfort-level needs. These are the things that you can live without, but not having them drains your sense of security and well-being.

When I'm in Korea, these needs are met. And as a result, I can focus on even higher order needs--continuing education, completing life goals, developing new and old hobbies, and exploring the world around me. 

Doing another year in Korea and having the new year upon us has me reflecting on me and my life before I left and now. I have high hopes for the next year, but also worries. I learned from my naïveté last year and am full of hesitation. But I am also open to all the new experiences I am about to throw myself headfirst into.

All in all, I CAN'T WAIT.

I will try to keep you all updated on my travels--but I won't lie. I will probably be too busy having a fabulous time.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Reverse Culture Shock

It is SO weird being home.

The other day, I watched a Christmas light parade and I found myself getting choked up. Seriously.

I feel more cultural pressure here, which is odd considering, Korea.

I find myself missing certain things about Korea--the freedom, the kids, some food, the stability. It doesn't help that I left my boyfriend there, too.

Too soon, and not soon enough, I'll be heading back.

A Haiku

I have been halved. I
do not know where I belong.
Home is everywhere.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Post-Nano Hangover


I won! Winning NaNoWriMo (short for National Novel Writing Month) isn't like normal "winning," it just means that you crossed the finish line of 50,000 words. And I did it! Barely. I "finished" my novel at 50,038 words. This is a big deal for me, someone who has always wanted to write a book but never could stick with it. I learned a lot about the contest, myself, and writing in general in that time and I am grateful for those lessons. Now that I know that I can do it, I am going to keep doing it. It feels so good to set and meet those goals!

When I first heard about NaNo, I was skeptical. I felt like there was a huge emphasis on the number of words, and not the quality. And sure, that is definitely emphasized. However, I think it depends on the person. Obviously, what I wrote was not excellent, by any means, but I think it has the potential to be. It certainly has more potential than an empty page.

So maybe next year, you should do it with me! Because I know I will certainly be there, slogging through to the very end. Join me!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Delicious food in Bupyeong, Bupyeong Station, Line 1: Cheap Shots!

With a name like Cheap Shots, you might be surprised that I am mentioning their food. If you're even familiar with the Bupyeong area and this came up, you're probably rolling your eyes and making "duh" noises. Well, first of all, don't judge a bar by its name and second of all, don't be a jerk. Although Cheap Shots does, indeed, sell cheap shots, they are also fine proprietors of delicious foreign food in the Bupyeong club district.

The Food: Where to start? The burgers (real DILL pickles! crispity, crunchety bacon! delicious meat!), the poutine (gravy and cheese atop fries, oh my!) occupy all of my time at Cheap Shots, but I've heard great things about their salads and their wings. The variety is amazing, Tommy, the owner and chef, is a super nice guy, and the bar hosts trivia every Thursday at 9:30! What's not to like? The prices for wings are exceptionally cheap, but the poutine and burgers clock in at about 10,000. I think this is perfectly reasonable for perfection.

Getting There: This can be a bit complicated, but if you already know how to get to the Bupyeong club district or the Starbucks/Baskin Robins gateway, then that's half the battle. Skip down to the next paragraph. If you don't, we will still get you there, don't you worry! *NOTE: There is probably an easier way to get there. However, this is the one I always use and it gets me there eventually.* Get to the main turnstiles at Bupyeong station and then walk straight into the underground shopping abyss. Walk straight until you come to a long, intersecting lane and make a left. Walk straight until you come to a octagonal/circular large open area and look up. There will be arrow signs pointing you in the right direction. Look for the one that says Bupyeong Culture Street and follow it. Walk straight until you see a bunch of male mannequins and make a right out of that exit--#16 or 17, I believe. Go up the escalators. After exiting the escalator bank, turn around and walk around the corner. Bennagin's will be on your left. Follow the corner as it turns and walk straight down the street until you see Starbucks and Baskin Robin's on your left.

Cross the street. Enter into the club district of doom and try to dodge all the promoters trying to get you to go to their clubs. I promise you, they aren't that great. Make your first right and make a left down the street directly before Ho Bar II. Cheap Shots is on the third floor of the building on your right.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Delicious food in Bucheon, Sinjung-dong Station, Line 7: Subway sandwiches!

Sometimes you have to go where everybody knows your name. And if you live in the area, everyone will know your name here very quickly. You will also fill up their frequent customer rewards cards with alarming speed because I know from experience.

The Food: Typical subway sandwiches with a few caveats--the avocado mash is some strange, from-a-bag mixture that makes the roof of my mouth itch. The meatball subs use frozen meatballs that are smaller and less tasty than the varieties we are used to at home. The chicken used for any chicken sandwiches is of general poor quality and is also less delicious than you might be used to. They don't offer any varieties of cheese, only offering white processes slices. However, with the exception of those things, this is a great place to go when you crave something American! The cold cuts are awesome and I have no issues with the cheese. The pickles are DILL, the olives are BLACK, and they have jalapenos, hallelujah! A six inch could potentially be less than 5,000 won, but I wouldn't know because I've never been here and gotten anything less than a footlong. Apparently, this restaurant will also turn you into a pig, if you weren't one before.

Getting there:

Take Line 7 to Sinjung-dong station. Take exit 3 and go up all the escalators. Out of the escalators, make a left. Lotte Department Store will be on your left. Cross the first street you come to and make a left. Subway will be on your right. If you hit the convenience store or McDonalds, you've gone too far.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Delicious food in Bucheon, Sang-Dong station Line 7: Indian Food at Macchapucchre

Although this restaurant can be difficult to find, the food is divine!

The Food:

I am personally fond of the Makhani, a mild, creamy sauce with an accompanying meat. You can get it with naan for 11,000 won (9,000 won during lunch times 11:00-3:00). They have curry, tandoori, vindaloo, and more at reasonable prices. The great thing about this place is you get to pick the number of spiciness 1-10. The owners say they usually stick to a 7, and refuse to go up to 10, but if there are any brave souls in your group they might want to risk it! I usually stick with a 3 because I'm a wuss, which means I get really mild, delicious, full-flavored food. Lucky  me!

Getting there:

Take Line 7 to Sang Dong station and take exit 3 or 4. You will have exited onto a street corner. Turn and look at the Lotteria. The restaurant is on the second floor, directly across the street from KEB. It has lights in the shape of the Taj Mahal in their window, so it may be easier to find at night.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Racism on Facebook and in South Korea

A Facebook friend of mine began this horrible flame-war about racism today that has given me a lot of mixed feelings. Basically, she was bemoaning the fact that Halloween has become an excuse for blatant and forgivable racism. I can definitely see the point--I mean, when I was three, my mom painted by face with mascara for a beard and put me in a poncho and I went as a Mexican. I suppose you could say it was a different time, but it certainly wasn't the most politically-correct costume choice.

However, this friend took it several steps further--painting those that participate in All Soul's or Dia de los Muertos as culture-appropriating assholes. This accusation has its flaws, as they are not one and the same. All Soul's is a Catholic holiday, not strictly a Mexican one, and Dia de los Muertos is the Mexican mode of celebrating this Catholic holiday. As a result, not all who celebrate Dia de los Muertos are Catholic, nor are All Soul's supporters necessarily Mexican. When others attempted to point this out, they were flamed as racist mansplainers. Althought the writer of the post was saying "I hate white people" and "I hate how white people [blahblahblah]," which is, in my opinion, just another form of racism. It spreads the hate, pure and simple, and prevents people from coming together to solve problems. Of course, as a white person of privilege, I am able to say that this is, for me, the most poisonous aspect of racism in the world.

However, having another, more unique perspective--that of a white person living in South Korea, where I am constantly discriminated against, put into positions where others, possessing the cultural capital that I do not, are able to disadvantage me with their words and their actions. I suffer from the discrimination, but also the paranoia of perceived discrimination--that nagging voice in the back of my head that questions why something is happening--is it because I am white or is it because of something else that I don't understand? Being put in this position--where people have literally spit on me because of the color of my skin, where I am judged daily because of how I look--only reinforces the importance of coming together. I am lucky that I grew up in America as part of the majority, where this racism was not ingrained in my psyche and doesn't define how I perceive the world around me. I have that privilege. But I also have perspective.

I have watched this daily grind turn some foreigners here into racists against Koreans, but it only perpetuates the cycle. Whether or not a minority can truly discriminate against the majority, how does perpetuating hate in any form serve anyone? Does it vindicate the minority? I've sat around with foreigners, making their racist jokes and whining about their discrimination. But I've never felt vindicated by that. I have felt vindicated by finding Koreans who aren't intentionally racist, educating each other about our cultures and beginning to feel understood.