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Archive for November, 2009

Giving Thanks

This time last year I was sitting on a bench atop a hill in Forest Park. Alone on Thanksgiving (for the first time in my life) I experienced a new sense of thankfulness. It was in the absence of the familiar that I could better define that which was important to me. This is partially the reason that I took a job in Korea; searching for the antithesis to my reality that would clarify its meaning.

Now, I’m sitting in a quiet faculty office in a small middle school on an island off the coast of South Korea. It’s not peaceful in the natural sense, but the sipping of morning tea and clicking keyboards amidst an otherwise solemn atmosphere will make due. I’d like to take this time to reflect on what I’m thankful for.

I’m thankful for a social position that’s granted me endless opportunities to lead a relatively optimal existence-low on the pain and suffering charts, high in self actualization. I’m thankful for my wonderful family, especially my parents, who nurtured me along the way and provided examples for me to formulate the role I play today. I’m thankful for my health, my body, and my mind. I’m thankful for the friends that challenge, encourage, and support me, especially my most excellent girlfriend who I largely credit for my sober sanity these days.

I’m thankful for a home, however changing, that continues to exist while I’m away and the people and images that remind me. I’m appreciative of the existence I’m cultivating in Korea and the chance to witness another bit of our diverse humanity.

I’m thankful for the pizza I ate last night and the shitty tasting tea that’s nursing my cold. I’m thankful for new technologies that enhance our experiences and the old ways that inform them. I’m realistic about the outcome of our human race, but thankful for stories of success that inspire me to strive for further success.

I’ll close with a facebook quote from a friend also teaching in Korea:

“Its 11:30 pm on Thanksgiving for me, and even though it is a B.S. holiday that distractes most Americans from remembering the genocide that occured during the construction of our contemporary capitalistic society, it has also become a time for enjoying the company of those we love and appreciate. But until being completely alone with no other Americans in my entire S. Korean city, no close family or dear friends do I fully realize what it means to be only thankful for what you have, but also to be in a state of solem despair for those people that are no longer with us or just out of our reach.”

The sentiment inspired me to write this morning after kinda falling into a rut. Thanks bud.

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Wind With a Chance of Korea

It’s been an exciting week, relatively speaking, on the little-island-that-could.  Monday we hosted our first couchsurfer-a dude from Philly traveling in Asia. He wanted to check out a small island in Korea. I’m glad we could oblige. It gets lonely so the added English-speaking company was nice.

Tuesday I discovered another perk of island hopping. A storm threat put the last ferry from Soan-do (the island where I teach) to Nohwa-do (home) leaving at 2:00. As a result, I was released early and canceled my afternoon class. I felt guilty since my co-teachers often work late into the night, but my teacher said it was cool. I still feel like a spoiled outsider. In reality, I am.

As I left school my co-teacher offered me an umbrella which I declined. “Westerners like to get wet,” she stated matter of factually.

“That’s television,” I replied (picturing pop music videos).

She laughed; another stereotype challenged.

Wednesday, I arrived home to find that our couch, desk, and coffee table had arrived. We’d been anxiously awaiting the arrival of these items (paid for by my school) for the past month. I got in a great workout then relaxed on the new couch with dinner and laptop. The couchsurfer left earlier before I got home to visit my girlfriend’s school on the adjoining island (Bogil). The teachers play volleyball and go to dinner on Wednesdays so I took advantage of the extra alone time to set up our PC (another school gift) as a media server. I thought the scene would have been rounded out nicely by some vids. I’m thinking of purchasing a PS3; could be a good wintertime investment (might also mean I get nothing done).

Today (Thursday), I accidentally slept in resulting in a bad attitude toward the world. Finding things amidst our newly acquired furniture (clutter) made for added irritation. I said a quick goodbye to the couch surfer (who left this morning) and made my commute. Today’s been cold and windy. So windy, in fact, that instead of pulling straight into the harbor the ferry cuts its engines and allows the wind to blow it inland; a very slick maneuver.

At school we received a fresh order of face masks.  It has been confirmed that one of our students has H1N1 (swine flu) and need to wear the masks at all times.  The masks are cloth and feel like a diaper of hot breath on my face in addition to fogging up my glasses. As a result I don’t wear my glasses. The students get a kick out of that. Apparently it makes head look smaller.

face mask

I’ve observed that many teachers (mostly older males) don’t wear the masks regularly, yet impress upon me their importance. I’m not sure if this is for my protection or theirs since the H1N1 gets pegged as “American” borne.

Now I try to wrap up this post while a 2nd grader screams “hello” in my ear and tries to hit keys to attract my attention. My girlfriend and I plan to go to Mokpo (mainland) tomorrow after school. It will be nice to get off the island although I’m feeling the call to stay home. Perhaps it’s something to do with the new laptop/couch combo. Peace.

P.S.-Thanks to those who’ve posted or E-mailed me comments on the blog. It feels good to receive warm regards on the project. Keep it coming and feel free to request a topic or question to address on the blog.

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Sweatin’ In Dress Clothes

One of my most familiar and disdained bodily processes is sweating. I’m prone to it and in large volumes. I’ve heard some say that it’s a sign of good health; my body efficiently eliminating toxins. While I can’t disagree with the benefits of a good sweat I’m seldom in an opportune setting when my skin starts to bead. Take for instance, the occasion that requires dress clothes. A long sleeve button down shirt and a pair of slacks seem to hold heat like a thermos on me. So, when my co-teacher announced that Tuesday was a student festival day, meaning I’d be playing in the student vs. teacher softball game, I suddenly became very aware of my teacher dress (button down shirt, slacks, Teva/sock combo).

The middle school softball diamond is a chalk outline on a multi-purpose field of fine burnt-orange dirt. The left and right lines of the diamond are bordered by the classic “L shaped” school; the outfield is broken by stored soccer goals, playground equipment, and a giant tree. Beyond that the home run fence is overgrown with thick green Ivy. Behind the left field foul line are steps to the school that double as bleachers for spectating students and faculty.

I picked a glove from the basket of baseball equipment and called to the students to include me in the warm up catch. Promptly, I began to sweat. No worries, however, the air was crisp with a slight breeze that kept the due at bay and tempered any trace of heat from the morning fall sun. I pivoted between throws from different students eventually migrating to third base where the P.E. teacher flipped me throws, grounders, and pop-flies. The scene was reminiscent of my little league days although I hardly remember being able catch or field grounders quite so gracefully when I was 9 years old-a chubby asthmatic in his custom made uniform (the league rarely had jerseys to fit my tall/wide frame). My display of skill and hustle earned me a spot as first baseman unfortunately, during actual game play, this position was taken by the principle. Instead I picked up slack in right field-typical placement for the team’s worst player (oh, the memories).

It also reminds me of this dope old school Pizza Hut commercial I remember from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles VHS.

The rules of the game were simple: no lead offs, no stealing, 3 fouls=out, and (as I would later learn from experience) the principal was always safe. The teams were “teachers” versus “students” (eighth grade boys). Apparently, the title nine spirit had not yet reached South Korea. I would add that participation/practice might prevent, for the 8th grade girls, a sorry future foreshadowed by my female co-teachers. Not to say the men were all that much better, but watching my co-teachers attempt to run was sad; like a veal calf trying to run. I digress.

From my understanding it is normal for men in Korea to traditionally strive for scholarly excellence over physical merit. More recently this has been the drive for women in addition to their traditional gender role has housekeeper and mother. At my middle and high school students study from morning to late afternoon then return to school in the evening for study sessions until 9/10 o’clock (sometimes later). When they are not at school my students tell me they typically study or play computer games. The first and third Saturdays of every month students go to school for a half day. The off Saturdays are considered “holidays”-talk about your half empty/half full situation.

It’s this extra time before, during, and after school that I spent training for team sports or was involved in an extracurricular activity. This was the fortunate result of my educated upper-middle class upbringing, but most kids I’ve known spent considerably less time involved in much outside the increasingly atrophied U.S. public school system. Although kids in Korea spend what appears to be an ungodly amount of time studying they receive instruction in a core curriculum that includes a second language (usually English), physical education, art, and music. At my school students have after hour classes because the island does not have a strong market for Hagwons, or private institutes to supplement basic instruction. Hagwons are the choice option for parents who wish to give their children an edge in the immensely competitive game of Korean school testing (this is a whole other area of discussion).

Anyways, all that extra physical training left me with little to show. I had a lousy time batting off the tee and wound up with shin splints and a sore ankle from running (something I’m finding harder and harder to do w/o a treadmill). At one point I tripped and fell while trying to snag a ball strategically hit to right field. I did, however, catch a pop fly and assist in a double play, but the majority of my hustle left me with a sweat-stained dress shirt and dirty pants. All talent (or lack thereof) aside I had  a blast playing with the kids and bonding with my teachers. That is something I rarely get to do since I live off island and my teachers go home to the mainland on the weekends. All-in-all I’d categorize Tuesday’s activity as a good sweat.

Oh, yeh, teachers won.

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