Saturday, November 26, 2005


Ground Level Korea

All Reet, some more stuff.

The last month has been a rather impoverished one, and for the last couple of weeks, I've been mostly hunkered at home, saving Won, and NOT writing. It's pretty horrible, but I'm just trying to weather it during a time when I really, really need to be writing more. I'm starting to get pissed off at myself about it, actually. But, in the last couple of days, I do seem to be hammering out a few words here and there, a trend I desperately hope continues. I suspect this is all a result of the lag between actually moving away from my wife and daughter, and into a very new environment, and actually coming to the realization that I've done so. But, there are some encouraging signs in that respect: I've made a few friends, done a few things, settled, as much as is possible, into work, am starting to actually pick up phrases in Korean (though that, too, might fall under the description of impoverished), and am in the process of figuring out the order of the alphabet. This is a little bit of a slog, because the alphabet is divided into vowels and consonants, which means I need to learn the order of two separate parts of the alphabet to get the whole thing done. As usual, the consonants are easier. The vowels still give me lots of trouble, though I have made some headway in that direction, recently. Mostly, whenever I see a word I don't know, I look it up in the dictionary, and am gradually starting to understand the order as a whole. Practical measures such as this tend to work better for me than rote.

And some fine moments in class. I seem to always have one class that gives me fits. Right now, it's one evening class, starts at 7 pm, entirely populated by humans in the 11-13 age range, who clearly enough aren't too keen to be there. In fact, most of my really troublesome classes are at 7 pm, the last hour of work with the school aged children (I have an adult class afterwards 3 nights a week, but that's actually quite fun). I do think the lateness of the hour might be a contributing factor. But, two moments of late stick out: one with my 'Worldview' class, which is the most advanced textbook short of the adult class, in which one student, a boy, who has taken the English name Jennifer (he's lately requested that be changed to Silver), asked me what the German word 'Einzwei' meant. It took two explanations before he twigged to the fact that it's two words, and, laughing at himself afterwards when he found out they were numbers, said "If I went to Germany, I'd be a two year old again." Well, I can relate. The other moment happened in my Adult class, when, reviewing past and present perfect tenses, I reached that point at which I ask the class if they understand, at which point one of my students, Chung-Geun, reflected for a good half a minute, clearly struggling to say what he needed to say, and finally answered, "I don't know what I don't know." The language student's koan, I suspect.

This weekend, I'm off to see a traditional Korean wedding with my Korean teacher, and, as usual, feel like I haven't studied enough. For better or worse, however, I should have something to report regarding Korean wedding customs. And the next, I'm treating myself to my first ever trip to Seoul (at least, if you don't count that first fly-by on my way to Gangneung), where I'll be visiting Bonghwai-Lee (I think that's inverted in deference to my Western-ness, especially as he insists on my calling him 'David') and Eun-ju, whose daughter I taught waaay back when I was doing the pre-school gig in Sydney. I've made contact with the mind behind Korean Bug, who says he's 'in monk mode,' so I may or may not get to meet the fellow on this trip, but it's still a possibility. He's also put me in contact with Zane Ivy, who, apparently, has his ear to the ground re: spoken word venues in Seoul. He's got a fair web presence for both writing and art if you google him. With a little luck, I might have something to report here, or elsewhere, re: the spoken word scene as it exists in Korea. In the meantime, I have J. Scott Burgeson's book, "Korea Bug," to get stuck into. I'm in the intro, which is basically a chronicle of the ex-pat newspaper and zine scene in Korea since the early 1900's. Already fairly fascinating reading, not just because of my interest in the subject (which, yes, does help), but also for the sneaky way it gets at those odder quirks of Korean culture most likely to put Americans off. I related immediately when he cited an article in a 1970's rag that worked under the title "The Noodle" that comments on the sometimes disconcerting closeness one may encounter when dealing with Koreans who are members of the same sex: it is much, much more uncommon to see a man and a woman holding hands in public than it is to see two women, or two men, doing the same. Put the two men into army fatigues (military service is compulsory for young men, here), and the effect gets odder. But, in personal relationships, figuring out where the hell such boundaries are can be frustrating and can lead to misunderstandings. I did get a very big kick out of this excerpt, however, in which an American and his male Korean friend discuss an evening they had together in the past:

Dubois: John, remember when we went to hear Billy Graham speak?
Kim: Yes, it was a beautiful evening, as I remember we held hands most of the way home that night.
Dubois: You know, that's a strange custom you Koreans have. Actually, I stopped holding your hand because I thought people would think I was a Homosexual. Isn't that funny?
Kim: Yes, it is. I thought you stopped holding my hand that night because you were.

Spot fucking on, let me tell you. I've been having some quiet difficulties with my friend Seung-gil on precisely this front, and I thoroughly dig the commentary provided in the above exchange. I think I'm gonna like this book lots.

Anyway, as always, lots to do, lots I should write, lots I should do to the sidebar, etc., and about 500 other long-neglected tasks knocking at my virtual door, as always. I will have a few new experiences to post up in the near future, though. Just wish I had more time to type them up...or made better use of the time I do have. But if you're patient, and check back every now and again, I promise I'll do the same.

Ok, tonight I have a going-away party to go to, should fix myself up some dinner so I don't succumb to the temptation to eat out, and time's starting to become a factor, so I'll end it there...but with promises to check back wichall soon.


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