Friday, November 21, 2008

Friends lost

I was surfing my facebook page after my classes were done on Friday and was looking a a friend's page who I had lost touch with long ago. On his page there was a link to a group thread titled "RIP" and I followed the link. It turns out the thread was dedicated to FFS alumni who had died. The first three names I knew had died, though the other nine I had not. I knew all nine people, but was only close to three. I lived with Lee Grivas and Kelly Gorham for nearly two years each and Chris Gulliano was on my basketball team and shared many classes with me.

I doubt that I would have ever crossed paths with any of them ever again and they were not in my lives, though I still felt a sense of great loss. The hardest part for me is that I don't know specifically how or when any of them died, though I have sent out some messages to try and get that information, I do not know if I will be able to. I do know that they all died at least two years ago and suspect that none of them died well or for good reasons.

Yesterday was the first day that it was hard for me to be here in Korea. I was at school when I found out and did not want any of my co-teachers or students to see me as distressed as I was, so I left work early. Though I know it was not the healthiest thing to do, I went to the bar and tried to down out my misery in vodka and waters. The bartender/owner was a Korean man probably in his mid-fifties who offered his sympathy (along with a little concern, being well aware that drinking was likely not the best thing for me). After a few drinks we started to talk about life and death and different perspectives. We ended up having a three hour discussion about life and what is important, then politics, then war, then finance and economics, and then life again. Though I am not sure exactly why, I felt much better after our talk. I do remember leaving the bar feeling much more confident that both people and life are inherently good.

I bought three red roses and burnt them on the rooftop of the apartment of a girl who I have been seeing lives. Though I have not been seeing her for very long, she was very supportive and it was nice to have someone here to help me through this. Though I am still sad for my friends, I woke up today with the distinct impression that it is a completely new day. Being here in Korea and getting news like that really should have been hard, especially because I have just arrived and have yet to get a cell phone and can't called any of the people closest to me, but it wasn't so bad.

I am headed to the national war museum tomorrow and the cultural district in Seoul tomorrow and will post something more "bloggy" then, but thanks for reading.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Except from email update

My expat friends here are all very nice and are all also very different. I have the Monday night football and beer crowd that are very fun to hang out with and have also made friends with people that are more into seeing Korea and the cultural experience than going out at night. It is nice to have both needs fulfilled as I feel the need to be one of the guys but also want to have people that are also interested in seeing more of Korea. I am going in to Seoul for the first time this weekend and we are all going to go the National Museum for the day. There are literally 20 museums in Seoul that I would like to visit, and I am sure that I will make time to visit them during my stay here. Being on the west coast of the island is nice, though the water quality and pollution levels are high here, Incheon is the port city and there are an abundance of cheap ferries that you can take to the south and southeast of the country. Korea also has a new ultra-modern railway, but it is considerable more expensive. Within the next month or two I am going to try to make my way down to Cheju Island on the south coast of the country to explore the national park there. I have also met a very interesting Canadian (CJ) here that is starting a magazine called Flash. CJ has ran two small magazines in Canada, which is nice as I would not where to begin. The purpose of the magazine will be to document and analyze the social changes taking place in Korea right now, focusing specifically on the youth here. Western culture is very prevalent among the youth and with the large amount of ESL teachers here, there is a great amount of first-hand exchange and this will be one of the major focuses of the magazine. As the magazine will be targeted to both Korean and native english speakers, CJ would like to center the magazine around photography rather than editorial. I really like the idea of this, though have no technical skills when it comes to photography. He assures me that this will not be a problem. I have spent a good amount of time talking to Korean women about their views on how they are treated on the societal level. As you know, the Confusian ideology which has been prevalent here for about 500 years typically treats women very poorly. It seems that Korean women are making great strides towards independence here and are treated better than I had expected. Having said this, they say that the newly found independence that they do have is predicated by financial independence. Because of the growing economy, women are more easily able to find good employment which seems to be driving much of this progress. The most interesting conversation I had was with a 40 year-old co-teacher who was talking about seeing the slow and then recently rapid progression of women's rights in her lifetime. Needless to say, Korea is a culture that is experiencing some growing pains right now but is also moving in the right direction. I am really looking forward to learning more about the people here and immersing myself as best I can. I am studying Korean for about 2 hours a day in my freetime and can know read it (as it is a phonetic language and alphabet). My pronounciation is getting better and I have spent some time learning the grammatical structure of the language, which is actually very straightforward. I unfortunately have an almost non-existent vocabulary, but am sure that I will start to build it up in the near future. Conguation may be another story, but one step at a time.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Expat Community

Bucheon is a city of about 900,000 people. As best as I can tell there are roughly 200 expats living here. Though that does not represent a significant portion of the population, the group seems both active and tight knit. Being a foreigner, especially one that does not speak the local language can be very intimidating. Over the summer I read Exile and The Kingdom by Camus which is a series of short stories about various people facing a variety of exiles and the subsequent effect that this has on them. After three days of not having any significant lingual contact with anyone, I cannot say that I did not start to feel a sort of kinship to the characters that Camus created.

On Saturday I decided to explore Bucheon in hopes of finding some other native English speakers. They all seem to congregate in the shopping center of the city which happens to be just three or four blocks from my apartments building. My experience in the states is that people usually make bonds and friendships based on comminalities. As an expat, there is an instant shared experience with all other expats. I have met about 10 expats here so far and have plans to meet up with another 4 this week. I have found, to borrow from a tagline from Radiohead, meeting people is easy. My experience with expats this weekend has extinguished my greatest fear about coming here and I feel much more at home.

I also had my first full day at school today. It feels good to be working again and I am getting excited about teaching English to my students. I had a nice conversation with the school principal today who has asked me to start an after school English club. They are the last public school in the city that does not have one and from what I gather the different clubs compete for the honor of being the best in the city. Much like in the states, some students are very enthusiastic about learning while others express little to no interest. This club should be a good opportunity to spend time with those who are truly excited about learning the English language as it is completely voluntary.

I have a million more things to say, but, through a miraculous facebook find, I am headed out to watch the Giants game now and don't want to miss kickoff. I know I have promised photos but have been very preoccupied and have yet had a chance to take many. I will do so in the near future. Until then, no that I miss you all but am well and in very high spirits.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

First impressions

I arrived at Incheon International airport late last night and was brought to my apartment. It is a nice one bedroom apartment with a reasonably large kitchen and living room. Complete with a balcony and washer, the accomodations are better than I had hoped for and also more spacious than what I have become used to in NYC. I am living in a resedential area filled with very tall apartments buildings (most over 20 stories high) and have a nice view of the commerical center of the city.

Bucheon seems to be very busy. The scale of everything is very large and the commotion of the city seems to be magnified by a seemingly endless amount of neon lights and advertisements. Everything seems very foreign to me, but there are many reminders of home and of US influence here. There are, as expected, numerous McDonalds and Starbucks but also more obscure US establishments like Baskin Robbins and Bennigans.

I have had little time to explore the city so far as I have just arrived but look forward to doing so this coming weekend. I am also just two blocks from the subway to Seoul and hopefully will be able to connect with some other native english speakers this weekend who can help guide me there. I was able to do some shopping this morning for food and drink before going into school. As everything is in written in Korean characters, aside from fruits and vegatables, I really have no clue exactly what I have purchased, but it has all tasted good so far. I will be going shopping later today with one of my co-teachers for basic necessities and then they are having a potluck housewarming party for me.

I briefly went to my school this afternoon which is just a few blocks from my apartment building. I will be teaching the intermediate and advanced levels to the equivilent of 6th and 7th graders. I will be eaching 21 classes a week, each of which is a different group of students. There are 7 other English teachers there, though I am the only native english speaker. I am definitely a bit of a novelty for both the teachers and the students. The teachers seem a little shy and reserved, though the students are anything but that. I will say that it was a little overwhelming being the center of everyone's attention, though presumably as they become familiar with me the novelty will wear some and I will feel less of an outsider. Having said that, everyone has been extremely nice and accomodating and also eager to converse and get to know me.

I will have the next week and a half to prepare to start teaching classes and will then be on my own in the classroom. I have asked many questions about teaching and lesson plans, though everyone seems to be more concerned with my acclimation and comfort than my actual teaching so far. I guess the best thing to do for now is just to go with the flow and let things unravel as they will.

Viva la Kim Chee!

Monday, November 3, 2008

T - 6.5 hours

In just a few hours now I will be brought to JFK airport to leave NY on a lengthly flight to Incheon airport outside of Seoul. It has been a great week of seeing friends and family that I will not see for the next year. In fact, it will be quite some time before I see anyone that I know. I wish that I could say that I am racked with anticipation or fear or excitement, but I feel a bit emotionally detached from the whole situation. I feel that I should be sad to be leaving so many people and things that I am close too, but I more than ready to go. I think that leaving would be much harded if I did not feel so sure that this was the right thing to be doing.

It isn't so much that there was anything particularly wrong with NY and I have trouble explaining why I feel so compelled to move on, but those of you who know me best surely understand. I don't have any specific aim in going to Korea aside from experiencing something completely new. And I can't say that the idea of a clean slate and new life aren't exciting to me. I also feel that, really for the first time, that I am doing something completely on my own and of my own valition. I guess that a lot of people got that satisfaction after graduation or after getting their first job, but up to this point that feeling seems to have completely eluded me.

I have read a few guide books and done some wiki searching and have read things that should get me ready for my transition, but I honestly do not know what to expect aside from adventure. And in the spirit of that, I think that I am just going to try and relax as the imminent future becomes the present. I am going to go lie down with my Kindle (thanks mom, best present ever) and get some shut eye. I will post as soon as I figure out my internet situation.

My best to you all.