Back to Start.

And Then I Became This Weird Conduit for Subversion…

So, May was filled with all kinds of good stuff.

My classes successfully raised all of the money necessary for an amazing  activity for KKOOM (Korean Kids and Orphanage Outreach Mission – and also planned the event, marketing, publicity, fundraising, and research to accompany the project.  (by threat of F, anyhow.  I am discovering that a lot of parents paid for a passing grade, which makes me super uncomfortable, but since it wasn’t my intention, I have to let it go…) (SUPER SN: Also – I had to do a  lot of stuff. It was stuff that would take me five minutes to do but would take me 15 minutes to teach.  When I could, I tried to teach, but near the end, it was sort of not reasonable.  I fed them pah-dalk (green onion fried chicken) instead…).  I felt like SOME students in SOME classes learned something. I finished all of my classes in tact and with only one major change to the curriculum. I managed NOT to color my hair (but I did chop bangs and fix the layers).  And as a whole, I only managed to make 4 students cry. WIN!

This weird thing also happened, where I realized my office became the place for students to spend downtime. Some of this was necessary for the students working on projects, but sometimes, there were just a helluva lot of students loitering.  Now, I understand this is due to the snacks I keep lying around.  Sometimes, if I am starving and you are just standing there, you get a free lunch.  And sometimes, if you loiter long enough, I buy coffees for everyone loitering.  And sometimes, I just yell at you for loitering.  So, it’s really caveat emptor on reserving a seat in my office.

This might also be a super Korean thing, because if you develop a relationship with someone, the understanding is that this person will treat you with favor.  Except, I do anonymous grading in my classes. And, if I learn your REAL name (your given Korean name vs. your randomly chosen English nickname), really WATCH OUT, I just call on you because I know your name. There is no real advantage, but my students are probably just testing my boundaries.

Then, I also realized I have only boys in my mentoring class. Not really sure how I ended up with 8 freshman boys just self-selecting into my little group, but there they were all bushy-tailed and eager to play Yahtzee and eat Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn. As I began having 1:1 sessions, I saw a pattern emerge. My mentees had selected me for 1 of 3 (or all) reasons:  1) They heard free food was usually in my office; 2) a sibling or elder had recommended my class; 3) they started their mentoring session by saying “I want to do _____, but my parents think I should do ____.”  OR “I don’t know what my career passion is yet.”

I think I was supposed to be wise or sage or at least be a better “nuna.”  Instead, I sat there baffled with the first young man. I wanted to tell him to try everything until he figured out what he liked.  But I remembered I was in Korea and that was impossible. Instead, I told him that finding your career is like falling in love;  you have a general sense of what you’re looking for, but you don’t feel it until you find it. I wanted to tell the kid today to fuck his parents’ desire and just follow his talent and passion, but then I remembered: I’m in Korea.  So, instead, I told him he could develop a great career that combined his parents’ desire for stability and his want for a more creative path. I told him I’d help him figure out what he likes besides his creative passion.

All of these comments are UN-Korean, where hierarchy and parental deference is paramount to true satisfaction, and where it is subversive to plan for an alternative life.  Happiness is about fitting in, belonging, agreeing. My heart aches slightly at advising these young gentlemen to try to conform, when I’m not sure conformity is right for everyone.  But I’m in Korea. And I’m basically an epic-fail at managing the culture clash.

So, maybe I encourage a tiny bit of rebellion and subversion.  Maybe I share my own truth and my own need for adventure too freely. Maybe, I’ll never be Korean…




And Then, I Taught Manners

My parents taught me good manners when I was a little girl. That means, be polite. Speak kindly to adults and children alike.  Say “please” if you want something. Say “thank you” when someone does something nice for you. Play fair. Tell the truth. Don’t try to hurt other people.  Reward others for hard work and effort. Don’t judge a book by its cover (though this makes no sense because we always picked bedtime stories by the cover).   These are excellent rules when other people have similar values and manners.

However, where my parents failed to instruct me  is regarding what to do when people are completely oblivious to your manners, say, because of a complete culture difference and language barrier (OR PERHAPS: extreme stupidity, borderline personality disorder, or subpar IQ/EQ). What am I supposed to do, when I tried with good intention to adhere to the cultural norms and be “respectful” and the only result was I got more confusion and usually a lot of dishonesty?  I understand that it is a normative standard here to tell polite white lies in order to avoid conflict, but it has gotten to the point of ridiculousness. I have yet to have a conversation with my boss where he gives me the same answer twice to the same question. And generally, my entire personality is frowned upon, because I am a woman, I am educated, I speak freely when I think strategically,  and I value my juris doctor/law license (mostly because it was hard, it hurt to leave social work, and I’m still paying for both).  At what point, do I decide my own comfort is not something I’m willing to forsake in order to appear “culturally sensitive”???

Since I’ve been in Korea, Korea has mostly tried to “change me more Korean.”  To some degree, Korea has succeeded.  I’m lackadaisical most days; I know what is essential will get done, and what doesn’t get done can get finished urgently if necessary, and if not necessary, then whatever it is probably isn’t important. Hopefully, it’s not important.  I sometimes abuse the hierarchy rank system to force people to fetch me coffee (but I also buy a lot of freaking coffee for students and staff).  I take for granted my personal safety when walking down dark alleys at 3AM. I pretend I’m going to sing at norebang, but then refuse to hold the microphone. I learned to act cute and say “Oppa!  Sarangayo!” (this was actually quite effective over the winter break…)  And I am completely obsessed with slapping on face creams and making my eyes look bigger.

But, Korea also wants to destroy me in the ways that I find myself to be distinctly American. I value conciseness, efficiency, diversity, adversity, and conflict.  I see change as progress, not destruction.  I believe in equality, which means EQUAL, not token. I laugh without my mouth covered.  I like to be tan. I don’t feel bad that my friends have children and are unmarried.  I do not feel compelled to be married.  I don’t take time off work for a government authorized menstruation day (but I should in Korea….)  I’m tired of tip-toeing in Korea so that Koreans don’t think I am an obnoxious American. Koreans will treat me however they wish, regardless of my ability to conform to their norms. And that treatment is unequal, inefficient, and often lacking in truth or integrity.  My parents may have taught me to be quietly obedient, but I have taught myself to carry myself with authoritative self-regard.  I’ve worked diligently to teach others that I require equal respect, that I command the attention of any room, and that what I have to say is thoughtful and purposeful.  I’m done apologizing that I am not Korean enough. I’m ready to remember what it means to be American, even in Korea…

However, I don’t have to act Korean by treating those around me with the same ill-regard that I receive.   After all, **I** was raised with good manners.




And Then Another Month Went By…

OKAY, I am a really crappy blogger. And I’m actually pretty bad at being accountable for my pro-procrastination tendencies.  This morning, The BF said, “Why are you always getting on me about being consistent and following through? Have you done ANYTHING in Korea you said you were going to do?” OUCH.

So, for the record, YES, I’ve done SOME of the things I said I was gonna do.  I ate exorbitant amounts of soon dooboo jjigae (soft tofu soup). I volunteer (semi) regularly at an orphanage.  I am not spending more money than I earn (though I’m not really saving any money when I keep booking new vacations to various islands every break). I am no longer afraid of public transportation.  But, yes, The BF is right – I’m not doing most of the stuff I said I was going to do, and his not-so-subtle reminder that I have problems being self-accountable has lit a recent fire under my over-sized ass.

This past month, I started planning stuff again – planning for the future and planning specifically for my OWN future and making conscious decisions about what is most important to me.  This means that my choices don’t always make sense to 99% of the people I know – but I understand my own intentions and my own desires better than ever. Now, I just have to eradicate the firmly placed belief that I cannot afford to try anything new. The BF: “WTF? If you fail, you’ll just be as broke as you are right now. Better at least see if you can earn the life you want first.” I hate when people are right more often than I am (especially this really unconventional person).

This also means I (along with my two business classes) have been planning a full-day event for Korean orphans and I’ve been teaching my students how to solicit donations and funding.  This is a novel concept in Korea – where bribery is called “favor” and relationships mean “guilt-funded.” My students were incredulous when I told them we would raise over 1 Million won (about $1000) for this event, but we are nearly halfway to our goal now.  I feel the old GRRR start to growl, and remember how satisfying it is to plan an event that also has a social impact (see “Diversity Queen 2008”). In addition, I have begun planning my exit route from Korea, a place that has the potential to become a black hole of stagnation. It’s easy to get comfortable with the lifestyle here, but the longer I’m here, the more risk I have of losing sight of the things I ultimately want.

I also did a 5 day fast, started counting calories obsessively, reduced the number of cups of coffee I drink, and started taking yoga at this expensive studio across from my office. Taking an exercise class in a language you don’t understand is basically as hard as it sounds.  Coupled with the fact that a lot of yoga should be done with closed eyes or looking toward the ground or ceiling, and you have your classic recipe for clumsy disaster. Last week, the instructor asked every girl in class if they wanted to be my friend and translate into English for me.  A sixteen year old high schooler got the job:

16 Year Old HS Girl: “Um, teacher says, um, you should use contraction to lose your weight. She really is caring for you and wants to help you lose your weight. She wants you to find a nice husband before you are too old. She said to our entire class! So, she says, work hard to lose your weight. Practice yoga everyday.”

Meanwhile, I can understand “Now left, now right.” But I have no idea which left or right body part should be moving, or to where it should move. As an even greater bonus, I think I appalled one of my students by showing up during her yoga class. I’m pretty sure she was freaked out.

Today, I posted my birth plate in hopes of helping to locate my birth family. This has been a process of stop-starting, and I haven’t received much help from my agency here. Now, I just wait and see what happens. I am currently living in the city of my birth, and I am also comfortable finding nothing. Only time will tell if I am also comfortable finding something.

The last goal I had set for myself was to begin writing my law school memoir (and to make it funny). Since I am unimportant and irrelevant to most people in the world, getting it published is a non-issue. I want it written before I forget all the stuff that made law school hilarious…

So, I’m still here in Korea, working, living, searching… and procrastinating. Let’s hope next month, I’ll have more things checked off the “To Do in Korea” List!

Korean Bridge Birth Plate

And Then I Never Lived in a Bomb Shelter

So, seriously people: STOP BELIEVING EVERYTHING ON THE NEWS AND INTERNET.  It’s like everyone in America thinks I’m living in a bomb shelter. I don’t even know if bomb shelters can protect you from nuclear disaster.  I don’t even know what nuclear disaster is. Actually, I’m not entirely sure I know what a bomb shelter is. I assume it’s like a totally decked out storm shelter. That you live in for infinity or something.

ANYHOW.  I’m not living in a bomb shelter.  I’m living in a dorm room (AKA my studio apartment), just like I was a semester ago.  If South Korea is under some NEW threat of impending disaster, I’m not sure my colleagues, students, or neighbors are aware.  It should be noted that unlike me, they can all read the Korean news and understand the Korean television reports. So, it’s just from United States news sources that I am being told I might die or something. Quote from the office chogiyo (assistant): “Um, American friends – they think we are in danger?  Here, we are not even very stressful about it! We don’t even care!” Then, she giggled.

So, a few tidbits:  Korea is still a country at war.  It has been for several decades (See: KOREAN WAR).   A cease fire agreement has kept the war on paper, as has bolstering by American military presence (which is a whole controversial blog entry of its own). Koreans are used to the threats made by the North. That doesn’t mean they hate all North Koreans. In fact, most Koreans still just call them Koreans, since, ya know – they are KOREAN. Many Koreans still have family members in the North, with whom they cannot visit or communicate often.  It’s still a sad fact and most Koreans do hope the nation reunifies someday.

Don’t misunderstand, I’m not trying to downplay the significance of this guy being a new leader, young, and temperamental (and perhaps MENTAL), and I’m sure the work of web hackers, the US increased military presence and the untested resolve of the new South Korean Leader and American Cabinet members, all ADD UP to something… but I’m just a lil ole lawyer living in Daejeon – I have no idea what it is.  I don’t think it’s worth many hours of sleeplessness or nervousness trying to predict what a young, untested, and potentially mentally ill leader of North Korea MIGHT POSSIBLY DO.  So, until the US Embassy says, “HEY, GET THE FUCK OUT OF KOREA YOU STUPID LAWYER!!!” I’m going to continue to teach classes and eat a lot of soon doo boo jjigae, IN CASE I end up having to get the fuck out of Korea and never eat delicious $2 Korean tofu soup ever again. ALSO – I better send some care packages of beauty products home to myself – IN CASE. And ramyeon – IN CASE. And maybe some kim for kimbap – IN CASE. And nail polish – IN CASE. OH!  And those stupid gum chew candies I love… IN CASE.

BUUUUUUUTTTT, if you want to aid the cause of a lonely lawyer living in Daejeon, please send baked goods OR Cinnamon Spice/Hazelnut Dunkin Donuts Coffee or any Redken hair product my way.  I basically accept all cash or wire transfers also.  JUST IN CASE. =P

Ginger Bee
Hannam University – LGC 50-0214
133 Ojeongdong (70 Hannam-ro)
Daejeon, Daedeok-Gu 306-791 ROK

And Then, I Remembered I Had a Blog…

So, for a girl who loves to write, I have no idea why I find it so hard to write.  I think because I have to be so incredibly verbose and type and write for work.  And also, because eating rice and soup and organizing my make-up collection takes up a lot of my spare time. (Which reminds me I missed buying a new beauty product on my last payday… maybe I need to shop today instead of write lessons?)

Korea is still Korea and I have been spending a considerable amount of time trying to decide if I should renew my contract.  With the job market still patchy for lawyers in the States and with many of my law school colleagues opening new firms (which is not really a good sign for the economy), I probably should stay put for now. I miss the States so much most days, but I also know – I get into a lot of trouble when I’m home… That shopping addiction adds up much faster in dollars than in Korean won.

I have finally been granted the privilege of teaching a course in my area of expertise.  (Did you just hear my bitterness???)  I’m low-man on the totem pole here because I’m 1) Not a Ph.D; 2) Don’t have tenure or a tenure track position; 3) Not a man; 4) Not white.  After everyone else int he department gets their fill of courses, I take what’s left.  It doesn’t help my case that there are no advanced law degrees in Korea – so it feels like a Bachelors Degree to my boss.  It also doesn’t help that they love to use my perfect American accent for advertising.  I love my returning students, but some of these freshmen are wily.  I *think* it’s just a transition to learning proper English, but there is a difference between “can you?” and  “YOU MUST.”  I don’t respond well to students telling me what grade I should give them on projects they have yet to hand in.  I also don’t appreciate students asking me if I am a half-blood/mixed-blood/bad-blood or from a  poor family that didn’t teach me Korean.  Aiyah. KOREA: You are still in good form.

I am eager for the blossoms and the springtime to come to Korea!  It’s really the best place to be – beautiful days, cool nights, and cherry-blossoms everywhere.  I’ll have visitors soon from my Adoptee Family and that will help me stop being so lackadaisical and cranky.  I’m ready to sit on the beach at Haeundae and listen to waves and smell the sea…

And Then I Lived In Korea For A Year…

It seems impossible that I have now lived in Korea for a year (well, with those two long vacations back to The Desert). But it isn’t impossible; it’s reality – MY reality.

I remember with vivid clarity the anticipation of what it would be like to move to Korea – having so many expectations and also having none at all. I’m not sure what I wanted at that time, except I know I needed life to be simpler. I seem to complicate simplicity so easily, but I’d spent years jumping from one beautiful, albeit sinking, ship to the next, hoping that one would sail me to the Next Best Thing Ever. When I left America a year ago, mostly what I needed was a place and some time to stop jumping altogether.

When I came to Korea, I did not come alone. All of the people who encouraged me, supported me, guilted me, threatened to expose me as a whiny baby, loved me, laughed at me, and who stared at me incredulously (Not BF) and then told people, “she’s not really moving to Korea, don’t listen to her…” – these people, my friends, family, loves, and Wagger-Grace, Border Collie Extraordinaire, all came with me to Korea – some in spirit and some in my inbox (and some – Wagger – came by leaving about 2 pounds of Border Collie Extraordinaire fur on all of my belongings).  But mostly, the people that love me came with me by creating the version of me who got on that plane, who knew nothing terrible could really happen, and that whatever happened next was entirely in my control. Thank you – I don’t think I was strong enough a year ago to know I could change my life.

When I came to Korea, I also did not find myself alone.  I may have left my family, my LSA family, and my urban family behind, but I landed into the nest of an Adoptee Family. I cannot express how much I still think of these people everyday. I will never forget walking up and down the rows on that Korean Air flight asking each passenger if they were Jenny (I found her eventually). I’m not sure how we all were able to find connections betwixt and between, but I feel like my Adoptee Family from Inje are permanently imprinted as part of me… of part of who makes me who I am NOW.  I still incredibly miss Family Dinners. Nothing will ever be as good as Family Dinner…. As I begin to have mini-reunions with my Adoptee Family, I realize there is something there that lets us pick up from a good place… a familiar place.

Maybe too familiar.  I recently saw Tommy in Gangnam and as I was on the escalator into the subway, he was on the escalator coming up. TOMMY: “Oh, hey.”  ME: “Oh, hey.  Did you see Mina?” TOMMY: “I assume she’s at the top.” ME: “OK. See you up there.” So much for an emotional reunion filled with excitement. The rest of the night we laughed and caught up and drank wine and it felt like eight months had not elapsed since our last dinner. Except, I was tanner and Tommy has better hair. 😉 So, I was glad to start my second year in Korea, with someone from my Adoptee Family, and with CJ, part of my new KUF (Korean Urban Family) to celebrate her birthday (I’m not exactly sure how old she is in Korean age, so I will just assume she’s my age – 29).

Things in the Desert are changing with rapid pace.  Things in my old life are falling away, dust is settling.  I realize now that I spent a lot of time holding my breath, afraid that the air from my lungs would disturb something I loved: predictability. I stayed the same so that I could stay frozen to a moment in a time – but moments are fleeting, so instead, my life became a recycled version of former moments.  I was restless. I was static.  But I knew exactly what to expect.

Maybe now, I can’t predict the future, or even tomorrow, but… I think… maybe I’m not supposed to know everything that happens next.

And Then I Held Like… OK, Basically, I Held ONE Baby

I’m back to ROK, and back on ROK time.  I was happy to miss all of the Valentine’s Day hoo-ha on both continents, but felt bad because I think Hallmark really needs the business.  I’m happy for all of my friends and family members in love – just be in love the other 364 days too. PLUS, some people who shall remain nameless are clearly using V-Day to compensate for things.  Let us all just remember that Facebook, mine included, is mostly an advertisement for how we want our lives to look to other people, and not actually real life. #thatisall

So, after ditching me two days in a row, my lovely friend decided the best way to make me happy was to take me to hold babies and then feed me exorbitant amounts of oh-ri gogi. I also ate a turkey sandwich at the train station, which always makes me happy (turkey is hard to come by in ROK).  A train ride to the orphanage gave us 50 minutes of time to gossip about boys and all of my shenanigans and her wannabe shenanigans.  Except we gossiped for 56 minutes. So, yet another adventure where I miss my train or train stop in Gimcheon.  To our credit, the intercom announcement thingie WAS broken.

I was happy to see my favorite babies.  OKAY, my favorite BABY.  I just love her little badass attitude! She was in tip-top form and was busy being independent, but I convinced her to sit on my lap for two hours. I also taught her how to fold tissue, blow her nose, and once my other fave came back from activity, we all played peek-a-boo, and one of the babies watched and giggled heartily in this extremely endearing way.  I love his laugh.

As much as I want to keep Baby Badass, she does have a mother that visits frequently.  Her mother’s intentions are to take her home when she remarries to another Korean man (yeah, lady, that seems highly unlikely). I hope that happens. If it doesn’t, I hope her mother will help make Baby Badass legally free for adoption so that she can have an opportunity to be raised somewhere that is not an orphanage. (Note:  This story prompted a lengthy intellectual conversation about what the word “orphan” means with some coworkers. The bottom line is that if you LIVE in a fucking institution, whether or not your parents have INTENTIONS is irrelevant.  A functional orphan is an orphan, whether or not the technical legal status of the child or the Webster’s Dictionary definition is applicable or appropriate.)

I’ve also eaten lots of jigae and settled into my first office. Before, I had a closet.  Now, I have an office.  I’m excited that some of my favorite students will be in my classes… and that I have the first week of curriculum done.  I am so ready for the first week, I’ve decided to visit Seoul for the next few days and have a mini-Inje reunion with Tommy and Mina =)

With so many changes and so much heartbreak in the Desert, I am ready to invest fully in my life in Korea. Some times, we have to break in order to rebuild.