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a moment to write

May 13, 2009

I’m going to try and be more faithful about capturing some of my thoughts and experiences in Korea. This helps me process my life here as well as giving a small perspective on the culture here. In no way can I fully capture the culture and probably, most certainly have a biased view of things here.


Really, I think that most cities allow for indulgence. The fact that I can walk two minutes and buy fresh Sushi and fried shrimp for 6,000won is incredible. Though I am suffocated by tall buildings, I am surrounded by little blessings such as my neighborhood Sushi restaurant. Across from that little treasure I can buy all my fruit and veggies. Outside of my workplace, I can go down to a corner store in the same building and buy snacks, visit an ATM, etc. So convenient. It’s funny how some things are highly convenient and other things are super inconvenient– such as meeting up with friends or going to church, buying large amounts of groceries or buying jeans.

I find that living in a city, I have to ‘up’ the notch of self-discipline regarding eating. Comfort foods are all around and everyone likes to eat out. Cooking is not the norm, especially since most people don’t have ovens here (me included). This is not an ideal place for me to learn how to cook. Fried eggs, soups and the like are what I’m sticking with.

In the city there are so many kinds of indulgences that don’t seem to find as much strength nor the avenues to take root in a smaller town. In Seoul if you want to indulge in spending money, eating, having sex, gambling, walking, — whether morally acceptable or not– it’s here and readily accessible. This is something that I find very interesting about living in a city. Not the suburbs. Not smallville. But a city that encompasses 40 plus million. Now, that’s a city.

I was eating tonight and could not figure out if my server was a girl or guy. No, seriously. I caught myself staring a few times trying to figure it out. Sweet spirit, just not sure of the gender. My heart sank. Something that I can’t quite get used to here in Korea is that many of the men here are very feminine. This definitely is not appealing to me. I was talking with some Korean Americans and I expressed how it is a little disturbing that many of the men here wear make-up or have more feminine tendencies than I do. Of course, what does that say about my femininity but what in the world? I’m sure that I am way too strong and masculine for their taste, while for me they are way too feminine! This is mostly seen with the younger generations. The older men tend to be business men who divulge in drinking way too much. Many of the men have man bags (and I can understand that since they have to track across the city, but some of those bags…); the make-up– I can’t understand that at all; the clothes– when I question who the girl is in the relationship as I look from a distance, that’s just not cool. Sometimes the only distinguishing factor is that the woman is wearing high heals. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but seriously. The long hair– now I don’t mind long hair on men as long as they are manly, but combine long hair with feminine men and that’s just not cool. I’m probably really stepping on some toes right now. I don’t mean to offend. I’m just stating my opinion. I have no problem being friends with these men; I just think I would never date someone that made me question my femininity! I was told by a native Korean that I should dress up more and wear more make-up. Of course, my grandma has told me that since I was a child. I think that I like to be feminine but I also like to be comfortable. Stilletos are not comfortable so I’ll stick with cute flats (and flip-flops, sorry). My coworker, who’s dating a native Korean, was told by him to wear bigger earrings because they were more ‘Korean’ and feminine. We often laugh about how we are probably too strong and independent for Korean men. Hey, just to let you know, I don’t believe that all Korean men are like that and actually most the men from my church do not fall into that category (just in case someone was reading and suddenly became insecure or defensive). Wow, where did that rant come from?

I went to dinner with a Korean coworker the other day and we enjoyed a delicious Italian meal with the Korean flair of Kimchi. Of course, you can’t get a single meal in Korea without Kimchi. ^^ That’s okay,though, because I have acquired a love for kimchi and quite possibly an addiction. It’s funny because I hated kimchi the first time I tried it and wanted to spit it out. However, a few someones told me that it was healthy and being that in Korea the people eat it with EVERY meal, I decided to force myself to consume it. After three months of taking small portions and forcing it down, I came to LOVE kimchi. Actually, it was the first food that I craved after a ten day fast. I mean, after that, I realized I was acclimating to this culture. So, out to dinner with Ally, and the restaurant was empty. We were enjoying a long conversation about our travels and such as well as work and other life happenings, accompanied by a lovely window view of the Samsung Plaza. Interestingly enough, we were asked to leave after we had occupied the table for more than an hour and a half. I found this funny as there was no one waiting to be seated and the restaurant was not closing. Ally shook her head and said, “Oh, Korea.” She’s a native but has traveled enough to know that that is silly. I wondered if that would have happened in the States. I suppose it could. I can’t recall that ever happening unless there were people waiting, and even then sometimes the restaurants just let you talk on and on.

The most bizarre thing happened the other day while I was running. Up ahead I spotted two older women. Just about the time I spotted them I saw one grab the other by the waist and proceeded to pull down the other woman’s pants as they both squatted in sync. Right there, on the grass by the track. I diverted my eyes, feeling as though I was violating them or perhaps being violated. haha The only thing I could think was that perhaps the older woman had some physical/medical issues and had to relieve herself right then and there otherwise there would be a mess in her pants. I felt bad for her. How embarrassing. Though, neither of them seemed to care or seem to have even the remotest shame. ‘Hey, we’re human. You poo too.” Maybe that’s what they were thinking. Anyway, my friend Christie describes life in the Korea the best: she says, “My life in Korea is so random. Every day something random happens.” That’s about how I would describe my life here. Maybe as a native it wouldn’t be so random, but then I wonder. It is the city and when you put this many people in one place, I’m sure that out of the ordinary happens both for the foreigner as well as for the native. I think that if I lived in NY or LA I’d probably experience some crazy stuff too. People are people. And sometimes that means strange things happen.

This week I have had parent meetings for my MK students. I love my little babies. And by babies, I mean my five and six year olds. They really are so young! One of the biggest things that I cannot get used to is that the parents will ask about other students and expect me to tell them. And in fact, the Korean staff allows it and encourages it as well. I hate it. In the States you’d be fired. Period. End of story. A violation of privacy. We have some meetings where all the parents come and then I have to share about each child in front of all the parents. It’s so awkward. However, the parents all talk anyway and control the school by coming in numbers as well as force. The give the money so in the end they control the curriculum and the rest of the school in a lot of ways. There is one parent that is the head parent for a class and they generally have a lot of say and power. I’ve got a parent coming in tomorrow with three other parents in order to discuss the curriculum. Many of the mothers don’t work and spend all their time bringing complaints and searching for a new, better Hogwan to transfer their child to. Hogwans are very transient in nature as children are often uprooted and replanted to new schools for petty reasons. It’s a very interesting system. There are some parents that do work and in the Bundang area they are usually doctors and sometimes cocky and hard to please. However, I’ve had a few really wonderful parents to work with. I’m so thankful for them. There are a lot of politics within the Hogwans (private schools in Korea). For the most part, I’ve learned to conform and just do my job while loving the kids and trying to do what’s best for the children. I will say that I’m excited to be in a more professional setting as I move to an International school this next year. Oh, there’s so much to say about Hogwans. Maybe another night I’ll share more thoughts.

I’ve gotta clean up a little and read.

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