Friday, November 19, 2010

Contradictions!!!! Fan vs. Science. Round 1.

Once one has lived here for a while, it can be seen that S. Korea is a one big contractiction. Its amazing how such an economically and technologically advanced country can be so downright backwards in so many ways. There are so many contradictions I will just start at my favorite.
The number one contradiction: Science vs. Fan. There is a belief in Korea called Fan Death, where if you sleep in a closed room with a fan blowing, you will probably die. Now this death can be diverted if you remember to open the window in the room before you fall asleep. It's only a death-threat if the windows are all closed.
Now when I first heard of this "fan death" I thought it was an old wives tale. I was sure that upon asking my Korean Co Workers they would say that people used to believe it and they obviously don't now due to scientific evidence. After all, this is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. Home to many well known companies such as Dae Woo, LG, ect. There are toilets that clean themselves and laundry machines that have a million different settings and sing a little song when they are finished.
My friends and I started to ask a broad range of Koreans, young and old, what their thoughts were on fan death. To our shock and surprise, all of them believed it! Now these were not loaded questions. We were not trying to sway evidence in our favor at all. Upon asked, "What do you think would happen if you fell asleep with the fan on and all the windows closed?" all of the Koreans we asked actually responded somewhere along the lines of, "You might die..."
So there in lies my first contradiction, science vs. the fan. They have all the scientific materials and know how to set up a long study to prove or disprove fan death. They could just infer that their Korean-made Dae-Woo fans were of a high quality and weren't going to fly apart and kill someone. They could even go as far to invent some kind of safety fan made of styrofoam or someother soft material. But no, instead they believe in fan death. Even the curriculum that I am supposed to teach to my pre-schoolers at school instructs me to teach them about fan death. Do they just want to believe?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Should I stay or should I go?

So here I am, still in South Korea. I can't believe how fast 8 months have already flown by. Sure enough I have bonded with these crazy little Korean six year olds and will miss them more than I would like to admit. I won't miss the tantrums and whining but I will miss the joking and satisfaction gained from actually teaching them to a point where they can actually have a real conversation with me.
I'm not sure why I came here. I was in such a haze at the time theres not telling what I was thinking. I just made a gamble that this would be a good experience and that one day I would have some sort of epiphany about my future. I know it sounds ridiculous, but in a way both things did happen. Of course its not as extreme as I had once imagined an epiphany would be. Virgin Mary didnt appear to me in my window and I didn't have any hallucinations of my great grandfather on a mountain top. But there was one moment of clarity in which I suddenly realized what I wanted to do. Now the only question is can I do it?
I think everyone my age, whether here or back at home is in this same horrible position. The dreams we once had are not longer attainable. Most of us are forced to scrounge around for any kind of job. Some are settling into bullshit corporate jobs that work you to the bones and pay you pennies. I went down that route for a couple years and will never go back. It just left me bitter, chubby and tired. Like most corporate office workers (no offense you do work hard). Another option for someone of my age, and a graduate of a four year university is to move back in with their parents and work a part time job while saving up for graduate school. This is a great option for those who get a long well with their parents. Unfortunately for me, my parents literally live out in the middle of nowhere in a broccoli field. My days would be spent picking cabbage and convincing red necks not to drive drunkenly through town. Another con to this option is the very high possibility that after you dump all your money into your graduate education and there will still be no viable options for you when you get out!
The reason why people are getting stuck here for so long is that in the short term sense, staying here is a much better option. You get a free flat and payed enough to travel all over Asia and buy whatever you want. Compared to going home and working at McDonalds this is a much better option. And wait...I probably can't even work at a fast food chain because since I am college educated I am way too over qualified for 90 percent of part time jobs. I can't even get a part time job even if I wanted to make money and try to go back to school. So my only option for trying to go back to school is to live on my parents couch or win the lottery.
So by now you must be wondering why I don't just stop bitching and stay here. The reason why I can't is because there are not that many opportunities for upward movement. People that stay here, while they are comfortable in their living situation are also stuck in one place. They are not struggling but they are also not building any kind of career..unless they want to stay here and be an english teacher forever. I actually do want to be successful. I do want a career. I am willing to work hard at something that I know will actually pay off in the end.
I read a lot of articles about older people complaining about the "laziness" of my generation. Constantly complaining about how we are not successful because we are unwilling to work. I would like to say that I think we are completely misunderstood. We are not unemployed because we are lazy, but because there are no jobs. Simple as that. I guess the obvious response would be, "there are jobs you just need to get off your keister and put in some elbo grease and you'll eventually be successful...."(said in an old man voice). The problem with this mentality is that the "American Dream" is dead. The ideals of the Protestant Work ethic no longer apply to the situation that we are now in. Chances are most of us are not going to make more than our parents. Most of us will probably have to live with room mates and in apartments a lot longer than we want to. Most of us will have to fight tooth and nail to get entry level jobs that were once stacked in heaping piles upon the desk of any average college graduate. Most of us will have to change jobs multiple times in our lifetime. Most of us will not have social security money to retire on when we are in our mid 50s and will probably have to work as a high school janitor well into our 80's.
That said I don't blame my fellow 20 something year olds for going abroad to work or doing whatever we are doing to drag our feet. With such a bleek profesional future ahead of us, why would we be in such a hurry to start it? So I came to Korea in search of inspiration...and I actually got it. The way things are back home though, is it really worth going back and pursuing it? Should I stay or should I go?

To be continued....

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Week 2: Welcome to Hell

School started on a Wednesday, and the night before was spent at school cutting out and laminating a multitude of bright decorations for the class rooms. My thumb was actually sore from using the scissors for so long. It was the first time we found out who are Korean co-teachers were and we worked together two set up our two joint class rooms. I of course, got a co-teacher that was kind of a bitch. I am still scared of her. The rest of the foreign teachers got nice, giggily typical Koreans and I got the sassy one..go figure.
It never really crossed my mind when I was preparing for this trip that the children would all be crazy. I had heard that Korean children were obedient, eager to learn and would just sit in their chairs and do anything you say. I was more concerned about whether or not I would be a good teacher. How I would control the kids was never a though that crossed my mind..obviously if you are a teacher you would think that I am retarded. The first day finally came and may have been one of the worst experiences I have ever had. I started out with a classroom of 9, six-year-old Korean kids. This is their second year at the school so they speak pretty good English and they know how everything should go. Everytime, I made a mistake they knew and they would attack. I had kids running on the desk and screaming at the top of their lungs. I had kids punching other kids in the face and laughing. At one point, I finished a lesson too early and did not know what to do so I gave them something to color. Just as I did that the head teacher walked in and freaked out. She started screaming at me in front of my entire class. Apparently the kids are not allowed to have foreign coloring materials at school and she made me rip the crayons out of the kids hands and shove the illegal coloring materials into their backpacks. After the yelling incident, I had completely lost my authority with the kids and they would not listen to me and just ran around the classroom screaming. At one point, amidst the chaos, I thought to myself, "Fuck, how am I going to do this shit for a year..." and then I felt like I might cry. Luckily I got myself together and started bribing them with stickers. Somehow I got through lunchtime, which unfortunately I have to eat with them and then I switched to my last hour with my other 6 year old class which was a lot tamer and just seemed bored of me for an hour but luckily did not run around. When I was walking my kids out to the bus line, I finally saw all the other teachers for the first time, and we all looked like we had just been through a war. Later I found out that multiple people actually had started crying and that night one afternoon teacher just straight up bought a plane ticket and left the next morning with no word to the school until he landed safe in Canada. The next day I was actually terrified of going back, it was another terrible day of children screaming and punching each other. Some how, we made it to the weekend and we all drank ourselves into oblivion.

First Week: The Honey Moon

So I arrived in Incheon on February 22nd. The flight was terrible and long. A. I was hung over and nautious the whole time and B. I sat in front of two old Korean grandpas who decided that I should not be able to recline my seat for 12 hours. Every time I tried to put my seat back, they would kick it and push it back up to the upright position. Finally, I turned around and went off on them for about five minutes. I don;t really think they understood a word I said but they got the point. When we finally arrived, a guy from the Theme Park Tourist Hotel picked up two other girls, Jess and I. It was incredibly difficult for him to fit all of Jessica's luggage into the van but he finally did it and we were on our way.
I can't really complain about the accommodations for the first week either. Jess and I each had our own room with a giant bed, big screen T.V. with a hundred channels, hot tub bath ect. Training started the day after we got there and the hotel worker even drove us to the school. We met the other teachers foreign and Korean. Everyone that we work with is actually really cool too. This fact is very lucky because there are a lot of western people here that are freaks. Men especially that live in dark basements and watch anime and come to Asia to find a hot girl friend that they could never get back home. As far as the Koreans themselves, the ones we work with are nice but extremely awkward. They laugh for periods of five minutes at a time as a response to most questions and between sentences as well. They also will tell you anything that they think about you, even if it is bad. For example, on day two of training, we walked in and our boss said, " Oh, you look so pretty today, not like yesterday where you did not look so good..." This statement was then followed by a period of 5 minute long awkward laughter.
Training went on for 4 days in which we observed classes and watched meaningless videos about the curriculum in which I retained nothing. Life was good then when we all had unrealistic ideas of what teaching would be like. If was still fun then to be in another country and explore the surrounding areas. One night Jess and I ventured into a restaurant that looked good on the outside but was the most disturbing food I have ever had. After we realized that the language barrier was going to keep us from ordering anything we actually wanted, we decided it would be a good idea to just point at some pictures. To our dismay, what came out about 15 minutes later was stir-fry chicken gizzards and a tater-tot casserole that was smothered in cheese, raisons, onion, bell peppers and cabbage. After picking around some of the stuff and eating a few vegetables we got the bill which was ridiculously expensive and left as fast as possible. Later on, we were to discover that we had eaten a Hof, which is a theme bar notorious for overpriced fried crap.
The rest of the first week went by quickly and before we knew it the weekend had come. We went out with our new teaching friends in Seoul. There is an area called Hongdae which is a University area full of shops, cafes, bars and clubs. We drank from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. and danced for hours. It was fun, but needless to say I was feeling a little under the weather the next day. Beside going out, we explored the surrounding area a little and prepared the for the upcoming week.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Moving to South Korea

So its February 9th. I am sitting at the Starbucks at Northstar while Jessica snowboards. I was going to learn this week but my health insurance expired last week and I know that I would probably cartwheel into a tree and break every bone in my body so I decided to wait until we move to South Korea to learn.

I fly out on the 21st of this month with Rosetta Stone, not knowing a single word of Korean and having eaten Korean food once in my life at a food court in a San Francisco mall. This should be a very interesting experience. I am both excited and terrified at the same time. I actually have never even had any Korean friends. In fact the first Korean friends I every made were last week at a crazy and legendary after hours club in San Francisco called the End Up. Now if you have ever been to this club you would know that it is legendary for its dance music for days on end without closing and of course the crazy antics of its attendees. I met a Korean man and his brother and sister who were shimmy-ing around the club with gigantic smiles on their faces which led me suspect they may have been a little more than drunk.. They suddenly became fixated on Jessica who they were convinced was Hillary Duff. We tried to explain to them that in our culture she is not referred to as a singer and to say one looks like her is also an insult.

After they bought me a few drinks of vodka on the rocks with a hint of juice ( which I kept giving to other people when they were not looking) I somehow got forced onto the dance floor and before I knew it, I was in the middle of some sort of Korean dance-sandwhich which I could not get out of for a long time...

All in all, they were very very nice people and almost started crying with joy when I offered them gum. I am thinking that this year is going to be very very fun.