Thursday, January 01, 2009


This year on New Year's eve I became my dad and went to bed before midnight, sleeping through the festivities with earplugs and a headache. And I felt at peace and warm and glad that I didn't go into Seoul or any crowd anywhere. The last week has been rather insane anyways in so many ways, and sometimes I wish I used this blog to record my personal life (I typed 4 pages in my journal yesterday) - basically I'm living at least four lives that I don't allow to intersect.

Before going to sleep I watched Tropic Thunder, which has some really great nuanced humor and Vietnam war cliches to the max... but has kind of a predictable structure that lumbers a bit at times. Still, I like it. And I didn't even recognize Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise at first! That's kind of impressive.

Think I have to go to the English bookstore in Itaewon in a day or two to get supplies for my English program. I haven't done any planning. The truth is out... I'm a horrible teacher. Well, I am when I don't have a plan. When I do, I'm OK.

I once heard someone compare Itaewon (the foreigner neighborhood in Seoul) to Mos Eisley in the first Star Wars, and that's kind of accurate. Everything feels stupider, gaudier, grosser, louder, drunker. Too many cultures in too small a space - too much American military - too many prostitute bars - too much English and too many people speaking broken English.

But there's an English bookstore there so I go from time to time.

You know, as much as there are times when I truly enjoy Korea, I was probably ready to leave after two or three months. It's been great for me financially, and my living situation is pretty sweet, but unless I'm fluent in the language (which ain't gonna happen) I'll always be this waygook (foreigner) here. Even if I spoke perfect Korean I would be that outsider, because Korea is all about homogeneity. I watched Korean TV (a rare occasion for me) tonight and I saw more clearly than ever how much Korean fashion is all about uniforms. You have your work clothes, your casual clothes, your formal casual clothes, your sports clothes, your hiking clothes, your very formal clothes etc, and you know within one second of looking at someone what they are doing based on their clothes. All art and dance has a factory quality to it. It's all about togetherness, group spirit, no boundary between corporation and government.

Seriously, the US has some huge corporations, but it has a lot of huge corporations and a lot of medium-sized corporations and a lot of small corporations. In Korea you have a few big corporations. Period. And they own the baseball teams, the department stores, the manufacturing, everything! And nobody has any problem with that. In fact, they like it. Because it's not just SK Telecom, the evil corporation that has mutant sex with the government... it's SK Telecom, the company five of your friends and family work for.

A Korean friend of mine was looking for a job. I told him if I was a Korean citizen I'd start my own business because there are so many opportunities for goods and services not available in Korea, so many needs of foreigners that aren't being meet, so much room for innovation. I told him a few of my ideas just about getting better English teachers, for instance, and he agreed that they made sense. I asked him if he would like to start his own business - wouldn't that be great, I asked? "No!" he shook his head.

To strike out alone? To leave the security of the vast corporate group? Koreans have such independent tendencies beaten out of them at an early age. I was on the subway once talking with a Korean-American teacher from California. An old man said something to my friend in Korean. "What did he say?" I asked.

"He said to shut up," he said.

Yes, a stranger told us not to talk on the subway! We ignored him, of course, but that's very typically Korean.

Okay, I don't mean to sound cranky. This is the type of entry I usually write and don't post. But I haven't posted much lately.

I don't think I'm homesick, because I don't feel any great desire to be back in America, but I would like to go to some other places now. I think I'm just bad at staying anywhere for too long.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...


1:33 PM  
Blogger kev said...

tropic thunder was a bizarre movie. i thought it was pretty bad, but didn't mind watching it. it looked like a real war movie most of the time -- the jokes were out of context, which i thought was interesting, but nothing made me laugh. except the panda. that was funny.

12:29 PM  

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