Saturday, May 29, 2010

Six Months in Korea, Temporary Escape

Tonight, I fly out to Bangkok. Six months in Korea have left me a broken shell of my former self, and I can hardly wait to struggle through my day, hop on a plane, and fly off this cursed rock for awhile.

Korea is easily the most annoying country I’ve ever had the opportunity to spend time in, however I’ll attempt to focus on the good points, which, bizarrely enough, generally involve near fanatic Christians.

These people have been so kind and attentive to me, that I hope some day I’ll have a chance to express my gratitude in return. Most of these Christians are my fellow co-workers, and they almost shower me with gifts on a daily basis, they are always sensitive to my moods, and will make a Herculean effort to ferret out what’s wrong in stuttering broken English if I appear less than my jovial, radiant best. They are easily some of the kindest, most selfless people I’ve ever met.

My experiences in Korea have been limited, but there have been interesting points to consider.

I’ve attended a Korean traditional wedding, which sadly, is fairly rare nowadays as the Korean youth attempt to mimic everything American. It was very interesting, and rather short, but it involved a great number of traditionally clad, costumed drummers madly dancing around the entire wedding party beating a great rhythm out on traditional Korean drums. They spun long tassels perched on their hats by rotating their heads to the beat.

The bride was Chinese, and she was not supposed to smile, but she couldn't help breaking out in laughter as she passed me and our eyes met, we were the only two foreigners there, and it must of seemed to her that any Westerner would have found her elaborate costume, and heavily painted face an amusing sight.

A chicken in a box was also somehow involved, and I was almost expecting a ritual slaughter, but it was merely presented to the new couple. On being taken from the box, the chicken promptly staged a daring escape and a long chase ensued, involving all the costumed drummers until she was finally run down and deposited, indignantly, back into her cage.

I’ve visited the Korean Folk village, where traditionally costumed Koreans, live in traditional Korean dwellings and engage in traditional Korean activities all day. I witnessed them making rope, candles, threshing grain, planting rice and mending fences. In the centre of all of this inexplicably stood a mini theme park and video game arcade, the noise emanating from here spoiled what would have been a very tranquil setting.

I’ve done my best to teach about one hundred and fifty Korean children, ranging from four to eighteen, with almost no resource materials in a terribly disorganized and chaotic setting. Some of them are incredibly snarky, some of them are really great kids. When I leave this place I’m really going to miss a few of my favourite students.

I’ve been lost in the mountains only to be rescued by passing Korean motorists upon finally descending to some unidentifiable road, in an unidentifiable town. Much of Korea looks exactly the same, and the roads are unnamed. My benefactor was so taken by my manner that she went out of her way to go to my school to tell Mrs. Lee what a nice person I was.

I’ve done all night pub crawls both here and in Seoul, stumbling back home, Korean style while the sun peeks over the mountains. One night in Seoul I was lost and hopelessly incapacitated by Korean traditional wine.

My state of mind was such that I couldn’t find the station where I was to wait for my bus. I had to take a thirty-dollar cab ride home. Usually these nights involve my fellow teachers in this area, but I’ve lately been going out with Koreans, my co-workers.

One, who is named Jin, is a nice guy that is trying his best to break his culturally ingrained programming. He keeps taking his accounting certification, and failing, but he has no real desire
to pursue the dreary life of a number cruncher, and I’m afraid I’ve kindled his imagination with stories of my exploits as well as radical ideas such as straw bale building. He comes from a wealthy family, and I suspect he is the ‘Black Sheep’. I like him, and I have some hope in rescuing him from his terrible, eventual fate. The Koreans are in awe of my drinking ability, modest as it is among standards in the West.

I’ve dined in traditional Korean restaurants, one under the shadow of the Korea's largest Buddha, whose giant visage peers benevolently down on you amid the mountains.

Some experiences, as minor as they are, will stay in my memory forever. I was walking home from dinner one night with Julia, a car’s headlights was illuminating the surface of the local river. Coils of mist were flowing down the river, offering a mystical, truly Asian scene. I managed to take my attention away from the neon lit internet cafes and restaurants, the identical condos, the car headlights, and for a moment I had a clear experience of ancient Asia, and a scene in which I saw clearly had inspired their art and philosophy through the long ages.

So it goes.

Now it’s back to the Kingdom for a couple of weeks, to wander amid the squalor, golden palaces, elephants and the constant shock that is Bangkok.

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