Student: Sensitive tongue…
[I type it in.]
Student: [in Korean to a classmate] You know, can taste food well…
Me: Oh, i thought you meant for kissing!
Student: Oh, no, no, no, not me! I’m not like that! <turns away and hides her face>
I teach at an all girls’ Christian mission high school. My 2nd graders’ first essay topic is men (or women, if that is their sexual preference).
The co-teacher was absent in class 2-2. Here’s the list of brainstorming ideas they suggested for a men-themed essay:
type (ideal type)
body – six pack, foot size, shoulder span, waist size, horse muscle [apparently it refers to thighs], Adam’s apple, tight bum, chest hair (none preferred), leg hair (none preferred)
face – size
personality – heart, humorous, honest, kind, generous
skinship [the Konglish term for physical intimacy]
friendship (how many friends? relationship with friends)
relationship with women?
manners, chivalry [my suggestion]
height (tall?) – leg length
hair – how much?
Think about this for a second: there are 258 of us planted in every corner of Seoul, all doing the same thing: teaching English in public schools. We’re like a formidable army, and we’ve got our bases covered. I’m continually mesmerized and inspired by this thought, and it’s what keeps me going when things get tough in my neck of the woods. Because i know there’s someone in this city who’s going through the same things i am.
Other than the bland food and lectures, i think i enjoyed our orientation way more than i should have. I learned something new during my time there: i get along better with a slightly older crowd. I disliked the majority of the people at my university, except those in a graduate level course i took in my last semester. I’m one of the youngest in our bunch, and before i got to orientation, i was a bit concerned that i wouldn’t be able to talk to you guys, but what do you know, i’ve never had an easier time talking to people.
So i’m taking this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to those of you who have either made me smile or laugh (or both!) at KHU and continue to do so now. I knew the journey would be difficult, but what i didn’t know was that i’d have so many wonderful people with me on it.
Good luck to you all, and remember that i’m smack dab in the middle of Seoul (Yongsan-gu) if you ever need me.
Filed under seoul, teaching
A lot has happened since i got here on the 25th—some good, more bad. There are so many things i have trouble with when it comes to Korean culture, and i’ve already been a victim of them for the past four days. That’s the thing: it might just be the “culture,” but when it’s something you are so unfamiliar with, it feels like a threat. Anything unfamiliar is a threat when encountered against your will.
If i had to pick the one thing that is making me most miserable right now, i would have to say that it’s the complete disregard for privacy. I think i’m always so tense and tired because i know there are people monitoring me from every corner, trying to find out everything possible about me. The administration office manager, who lives across the street from me, asked me the other day why i wasn’t home at night. My lights were off, she said. It was quite a nasty shock, but at least she had the decency to let me know that she can see my window. One of the English teachers who picked me up on the day i arrived here with the other Native English Teachers has been taking care of me and helping me sort out administrative details like getting my Alien Registration Card and finding office supplies for me. I have nothing to do with her—she’s a 3rd grade teacher and i don’t teach any 3rd graders—but she’s over 50, unmarried, lives close to me, and has nothing better to do. Sometimes i’m touched by all the things she voluntarily does to help me get settled in, but other times, i can’t help but suspect that she only does it to get information out of me. Every little thing i tell her, even the most mundane details, spreads through the entire school like celebrity gossip. Lunchtime is basically catching up on everything that the entire staff found out about me the day before. Gossip here is such a threatening invasion of your privacy, and not only do i feel uncomfortable being dissected and broadcast that way, i don’t like having to partake in it.
My last post generated a substantial discussion on Facebook (i only wish it would have taken place here), which got me thinking about a phenomenon the Korean at Ask a Korean likes to call culturalism: “the impulse to explain minority people’s behavior with a ‘cultural difference’, real or imagined.” A culturalist encounters a clash between him and an individual of another culture and chalks it up to cultural difference. ‘He’s from a different culture, so this clash is only inevitable.’ But it isn’t so. It’s not inevitable, because we’re really all the same. We’re all human, which means we share the same core values. Isn’t that all that matters? Why must we break down this commonality into unnecessary and cumbersome classes of ethnicities and nationalities and cultures?
In theory, a unified humanity would be best, but in practice, it doesn’t exist. We all know this. Of course it can’t be denied that despite us being one species, different cultures exist, and they clash. Some of the issues i’ve been dealing with since my arrival here in Seoul are due to exactly that: cultural difference. Many advised me before i left the States and continue to advise me now that i’m here to go with the flow and try to assimilate to Korean culture, because i am the visitor after all, and i should respect the Koreans’ ways. But i can’t do that, because i don’t believe in culturalism. Like i said, we’re all the same, which means we are capable of working towards the same goal. It’s because we’re all human that we owe at least one thing to each other: respect.
When someone takes a culturalist attitude towards me, whatever interpersonal transaction that might transpire is immediately broken or nullified, because, once again, i am not a culturalist. And when they refuse to drop their culturalist attitude, i continue to be unable to interact with them in any meaningful way.
It’s only been four days, and i already hate Seoul. Where do i even start? I’ll limit this one to the people:
1. Middle-aged people stare or glare at me for no reason.
2. No one wants to give directions, and those willing to don’t know how. It’s like they can’t think like someone who doesn’t know the city very well. One girl my age gave me the wrong directions. Intentionally. But i knew what she was doing, so i called her out, to which she reluctantly mumbled something like, “Oh, i think it’s that way, then….” She probably hated me for being American. Fucking bitch.
3. They lack imagination here. Either that, or people here are even more conformist and clueless about the rest of the world than i thought. They can’t imagine that a woman’s favorite color could be grey. A saleswoman actually questioned me for buying a grey, “men’s color” toothbrush. I think imagination and diversity go hand in hand. This country is so startlingly lacking in diversity that you almost can’t blame the people for being so narrow-minded. Doesn’t mean it isn’t irritating.
4. People here don’t know how to mind their own business. Let’s just leave it at that.
5. Strangers, especially the older ones, blurt out unnecessary and unwarranted comments at you as you walk past. Ugh, reminds me of Paris.
I know, i’m only 22. Who am i to know what it means to get old, right? But i can’t help feeling old and afraid when i…
…listen to the washing machine perform its usual final rinse. It’s not gonna sound the same in my Korean apartment.
…gather things to pack, growing wearier and hating myself for being so picky and demanding and attached to familiar objects. Why can’t i just up and leave with a couple of books and a few changes of clothes? Why do i need all this other shit to be content?
…catch my dad smiling at me and suddenly remember all the times i was a bad daughter. I don’t like feigning indifference when i’m on the phone with my parents, only to cry my eyes out afterward, because i really miss them.