So, I am having an incredibly difficult time leaving America. I have not lost a credit card, I have not found a job, and actually, nothing incredible has happened while I’ve been back Stateside except I interchangeably call America AND Korea “home.”
When I first left Korea after my program at Inje University, I LOVED KOREA. I think the experience in a program specifically designed for Korean adoptees was insulating, plus, the atmosphere in the Busan area is incredibly warm. It was a definite softball way to acclimate to Korea, learn some culture, make some friends, and drink some soju. I acquired a strong affection for Korean ramyeon, shorter skirts, Gwangalli beach, bingsu, and all things aegyo. I came home excited to share my new affection with all of my Desert Dwellers, and about 500 different kinds of cosmetic products.
An extremely difficult summer fraught with about 100 extenuating circumstances, plus my first bona fide job offer in two years resulted in a knee jerk reaction to move to a city that did not make a great first impression, and to a University that gave me a definite bad feeling. I ignored these gut reactions because a) that’s what I do when I try to be reasonable b) the extremely difficult thing made me want to run far far away; c) I was broke.
My ultimate lesson in life is to learn to trust my extreme first impressions, and not rationalize with reason, logic, and good common sense. When I go against these instincts, bad things happen. Without going into a lot of detail (see all my prior posts from this past year) I now basically HATE KOREA. Daejeon has made me hate Korea, my current job makes me hate Korea, my boss and work environment make me hate Korea. I’m not sure I understood oppression, discrimination, or the feeling of despair so clearly until I moved into this situation. The level of lying and deception in the job recruitment process was so disgusting, I can’t believe how foolish I must have been. Or desperate. I have to remember how broken I was when I decided I HAD to move to Korea. A few people peeled me from the floor to make sure I got on the airplane last summer.
Except now, I’m not broken. I’m feeling rejuvenated and back to my old self (in all the good and bad ways). My mind is working a million times over and I have opportunities to create a different life, and I actually feel motivated to begin again looking for new work in a new city. Despite a million and one complications, I’m happy in my relationship, I know who my core friends are, and I have developed better communication skills with the people who I love.
But, despite these many strengths, the recovery process from two years of stapling together a financial living is very difficult in consideration of my law school debt. Bottom line: My bottom line is still in the red. Staying in Korea will give me a TINY bit of savings, but it might be enough floating money to get me to the next place. RATIONALLY, staying in Korea is the best thing financially and reasonably.
EMOTIONALLY, INSTINCTIVELY, VISCERALLY – I feel I should turnaround as soon as I land. I could spend three days and pack everything to return to a land where I speak my native language, find comfort in the familiar, and love people. I’ve been encouraged by more than one person (and The BF has threatened more than once to burn my passport) that if I feel I’m done in Korea, I should just come home and not waste another year feeling hatred and misery… as the saying goes… life is short.
The hardest thing, though, is that I cannot imagine NOT being in Korea. Something about Korea IS familiar and easy and I live every day with only my voice in my head, making decisions based purely on my (sometimes delusional) ideas and feelings. My plans for the future will still be there when the future gets here, and the people who love me will (or should anyhow) still love me. And it gives some things time to settle into the right place… and some love to normalize instead of fester. SIGH.
I said earlier on FB that the rock is hard and the hard place is rocky. I’m not sure what the right thing is…. I guess I just have to take some time to feel like I’m in Korea and try to have only my delusions and my voice guide my choice.
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 – http://www.kkoom.org) 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…
The days turned into weeks and then October happened. I have no idea how. Everyday feels the same here, and yet, time is moving along steadily. I stay busy, but have become totally routinized… I am remembering now why I liked owning my own business and why living a transient life for the past two years actually seemed pretty cool =) RIGHT until it wasn’t cool anymore… (I don’t want to mention being stuck in the elevator again, but yeah, that’s where the story ends).
It’s hard to express how much I am not enjoying my current city. I’m not being a debbie-downer by acknowledging the truth of the matter (almost added the rules for hearsay right there), which is that I am bored, misplaced, oppressed, and hateful when I think about Daejeon. It’s extremely conservative here at my school, and I am finding myself to be more liberal than I expected to declare myself. On the flip side: my students are amazing, inspiring, thoughtful, and young. I sometimes forget how hard it was to be 20 years old. I also really like my department dean, though I do believe it’s difficult for him to adjust to having me as a staff member. Of course, I’m pretty sure every boss I’ve ever had since the beginning of time, including my parents and Not BF, have said the same exact thing. He is a kind-hearted man who seems to have high ambitions for our department. I also think he is very student-centered, which I appreciate. So, I’m just gonna have to grin-and-bear Daejeon to the best of my ability, which is not always very gracefully or happily.
During Korean Thanksgiving (Chuseok), I ended up having a 6 day weekend, so I decided to visit Gimhae, Busan, and then head to Gimcheon to do an orphanage stay. SO WONDERFUL. I loved seeing old friends and I loved seeing the sun and the beach and feel the cool sea breeze and warm sand. I also loved having a super soft mattress at a little hotel on the beach =) I think what I need to do is commit to visiting Busan more often, as a means of pressing reset and keeping myself focused. I was so much happier to be in Korea after my visit!
The orphanage – I might need an entire additional blog entry to discuss Korean social and child welfare and why it’s an EPIC FAIL, in my meager opinion. Of course, I have yet to find a system which I do not grade an EPIC FAIL, so I think I might do a comparative study of child welfare systems as an academic paper. I’m also interested in Korean adoption law, because it seems they keep changing the rules – with complete arbitrariness. I realize now, that by remaining silent, those of us with relatively “normal” adoption stories have failed current orphans; we allowed a vocal (and disgruntled) minority to change a lot of the laws that helped enable overseas adoptions. I’m not really sure how to turn things back.
What I am sure of: children deserve affection and attention. The kids at the orphanage in Gimcheon were bright, polite (relatively speaking), energetic, creative, and super cutie patooties! The hardest and also BEST, part of the visit was the baby room filled with 12-20 month olds. They were adorable, by far my favorite age group for kids. But, sitting on a lap is a hot commodity. These children are socialized to learn they will not be held, to not EXPECT to be held. They are taught early to self-comfort, to play independently, to be distrustful, and to see adults as incidental. Yup, basically they are taught to foster reactive attachment disorder. BUT, they are also taught that developing those independent-comfort skills means survival. Anyhow, sitting in the baby room means lap war. If a baby is on your lap, expect a line to form. Expect a battle of king-of-the-hill-style “I call shotgun” racing-to-be-held to happen. Expect the child you want to hold to avoid you. If you think about it too much, it will hurt your heart and your brain. These children are generally content and relatively happy, so take heart in knowing they are not pitifully broken. However, I still made an extra effort to hold every single baby at least once or that it doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt to have to put one down so the next baby could have a chance to be hugged.
For Korean Thanksgiving, I felt grateful, thankful, appreciative. I don’t take for granted my life, my good fortune, or the happenstance accident of my birth. I strongly advise, encourage, and demand that people who feel frustrated by their life, or who lack gratitude, should volunteer at their local orphanage (in America it’s called “crisis nursery” or “group home”). I promise, it will change your perspective, and hopefully, someone else’s life =) Happy Chuseok!
Something shiny is over there!
Yup. I just now started doing 11 things at the same time, including: starting a PowerPoint for tomorrow’s AM class, outlining Thursday’s class, beginning a semester outline for tomorrow’s afternoon class, dialing to call my mom (the magicjack is not working), uploading pictures, starting a new blog on my writing site, grading papers, making tea, cleaning the bathroom, and writing this blog. WHEW. Now, none of them are finished, but I did manage (importantly) to change the profile pic on Facebook.
So, I decided I’m probably not gonna love where I am in Korea. This might be because I miss the beach, or because I miss the sunshine, or because I miss all the things that are bad for me at home (yeah, we all know who he is), or because for the most part, working according to someone else’s rules and opinions is not really that much fun. And I’m getting really tired of people telling me it can’t be that bad, because guess what? When I’m having a conversation with someone in America, only one of us is in Korea deciding that I don’t like it here in Korea. Wait, what? You are in America? Then it’s probably me who gets to decide if I’m not having fun in Korea.
However, sometimes my annoyingly well-intentioned, intelligent, reasonable friends have good meaningful points that seep into my self-righteous rightness from time to time. I don’t know how. What I do know is that I was once a terribly reasonable person, and I can reinstitute reason for a few months/years. To that end, here’s a list of things that are going well in Korea:
1. My hair is growing out. Yes, it’s because I got three bad haircuts in Korea last spring and I’m scared to get my hair cut. And it might also be because Not BF told me it would be IMPOSSIBLE for me to resist cutting it when I got back to Korea. Quote: “You’ll never make it. You will cut. You just keep cutting.” I think he knows reverse psychology does not work on me. But a CHALLENGE always does. I’m gonna win.
2. I got paid.
3. Wagger-Grace has not died of broken-heartedness in my absence. Shit. I hope that’s not why my dad was calling me yesterday. Dad, if you read this, just lie and say Wagger-Grace is alive and well and happily eating lots of people food. And, just to make me feel even more secure, also lie and say her dog ear is all better, she learned a new trick, and she has regained her sprightliness.
4. I have eaten so much ramyeon I may be completely made of msg and noodles. Ramyeon is delicious.
5. Etude House had a 30% off sale today.
6. My friend Lynne made me homemade soup because I felt sickly.
7. It is not 100 degrees outside.
8. I go to visit Inje Dey-hahk-gyo in two weeks and have a 5 day break from my 16 hour work week.
9. I have a 16 hour work week.
10. I finally finished The Girl Who Played with Fire (except now, I have run out of English books. I’ll have to read my textbooks for fun).
11. I do not have to read/hear/listen/see any campaign propaganda except on Facebook, where I just block people left and right. Pun intended.
It might not be much, but it’s a start… I know more challenges are to come as I begin the next goal in my Korean Adventure… With all my might, I regard myself as an observer in Korea. And it appears it will take all my might and resolve to remind others that that is my perspective, my philosophy about my current status, and my desire. Not all returning adoptees want to be “remade” or reintegrated or re-Koreanified. Right now, I’ve been kind about my stance. Soon, I will dig in. (All of my loved ones just sucked in their breath). But for now, I’ll just observe, breathe, and take a nap whenever I can…
OKAY, I must return to the 11 Things I started 15 minutes ago….
So, I wanted to write an amazingly positive post about how much Korea and I were becoming good friends, but it seems Korea might not want us to be friends. After the ajumma pushed me, I decided to take cover in my dorm. I finally got hungry enough (and sick enough of instant noodles from 7-Eleven) that I found a kimpab nara restaurant. Thankfully, it was one with little paper menus for you to check what you want (like a sushi bar) so I could take the requisite 7 minutes to read the menu and decide I wanted to eat sogogi kimbap and mandu ramyeon (it tasted delicious-er than I remembered!) I brought an English-printed book to help reinforce that I do not speak hangukuh (spoken Korean). The ladies were kind but curt, yet I was thankful that I had at least learned how to sound out hangul (written Korean) in order to feed myself.
My office space continues to be covered in black, gritty mold. I finally moved at least my computer to another crowded work area so that I don’t have the teary eyed coughing fits (which might be psychosomatic) that seem frequent in my assigned office. AND I do really like, appreciate, and am impressed by my students. At the very least, I can say that my job itself is going to be fun and hopefully beneficial to both me and my students. I find it challenging and rewarding to work with college-aged students and also think that I have something unique to offer – though I constantly fear my much-ingrained American personality may serve as a detriment instead of an asset here.
However, walking home from my office the other night, I was happily eating an Isaac Toast hot chicken sandwich (spicy chicken patty on butter grilled bread with cheese and honey mustard), when suddenly, this huge, ginormously winged butterfly flew into my hair. I batted it away and heard a little screech (which might’ve been me) only to discover the butterfly was a BAT. Yup, a BAT flew into my hair. I was mortified. BUT, it didn’t get my Isaac Toast, so I call that a success =) If I start foaming at the mouth soon, hopefully I won’t get Old Yeller’ed due to bat rabies.
Tonight was another difficult experience in downtown Daejeon. After an evening out with some people I met through one of my Adoptee Family in Gimhae, we decided to relocate. Daejeon is having summer monsoons, and we found ourselves in a warm downpour. We were five foreigners: me, three Canadians, and an African-American male. The boy couldn’t flag us a cab for several minutes, and we watched as at least three cabs turned on their light for Koreans, but refused to pick us up. I had vivid flashbacks f a night in Seoul a decade ago when several cabs refused to pick me and another adoptee up late at night. It was not fun. It’s hard to explain to others the intense resentment I feel as an adoptee in Korea, and less so as an American, but it is part of daily life. I am in the constant process of dual goals: trying to adapt and appreciate a new culture while simultaneously being prepared for rejection and hostility. So, sometimes, my bed calls me more strongly than Daejeon does.
Sigh. I do want to be friends with Korea. I guess sometimes, you just have to try harder. Tomorrow, I must finish my semester overviews, but Sunday I plan to get on a bus – any bus – and figure out Daejeon a little better.
So, it has been a rough start in Daejeon. After locking myself out of Global House more than twice, I finally got a key chain and a laminated card holder to put that little card buzzer thingie into. You’d think this would help with my getting locked out problem, but I also managed to lock myself out of my actual apartment (NOTE: Pick passwords you can actually remember).
The rain picked up as two different typhoons approached Korea (NOTE: just learned from Google that a typhoon is a pacific hurricane), and the wind became dramatic. Most Koreans were unphased, though not many people were just hanging out in the streets like regular. Also, it made doing any laundry impossible.
Anyhow, the area of Daejeon where I am located is pretty isolated (for Korea), so the “walking distance” places to go are much farther walks than when I was in Gimhae. The typhoons didn’t help with the exploring the first few days, and I’ve been hesitant to take cabs or buses, since, to be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t really know if I was going the wrong direction to or fro anywhere. If the beautiful weather we’ve had yesterday and today holds out, I will walk to the “walking distance” bus terminal area and probably feel all around more comfortable once I can get my directional bearings.
SIGH. It’s also been rough because there is a lot less English signage and fewer English speakers. Basically anywhere we went in Pusan/Gimhae, we ran into someone who could help us with even SOME broken English. And those that could not speak English just laughed at us, but were generally helpful. This was a happy occurrence since it was not what I remembered from my trip to Seoul in 2002. This has not been my experience in Daejeon.
So, on one of my first days in Daejeon, I ventured out to find some kimbap or something, and wandered around. At some point, I was perusing something outside a daiso and this ajumma (old lady) started asking me something. I smiled and shook my head, but she was insistent. She patted me on the arm and animatedly repeated whatever she had just said. I replied “Meeguk sahrahm imnida.” (I am American). She looked me up and down with furious blinks of her eyes. And then she pushed me. Not hard, but she definitely pushed. And she clicked her tongue and shook her head. Yup, that’s when I decided to eat instant noodlies and spend the rest of the weekend in my dorm.
I’d heard stories from other adoptees or Americans that occasionally, they had encountered some unfriendliness or hostility from Koreans. This is natural, since Americans have an (often deserved) international reputation for being ethnocentric, entitled, and generally rude. But, adoptees have also said they get some bias because Koreans try to shame them for not knowing Korean culture and language. (As a friend says, “Yeah, because as tiny babies we jumped up and said ‘Hey ship me to America where I will never speak Korean and know nothing about Korea!'”) I’ve been warned as a professional to be careful about with whom I share my status as an adoptee because there is a stereotype connected to being a Korean adoptee, and whether or not it’s conscious, many native Koreans will treat me differently. There is also this Korean need to “turn me into a Korean” which I find a bit overbearing, but is nonetheless impossible to avoid. Frequently, I hear “You will find your family and stay in Korea forever!” I think this is the reason why I so consciously resist learning the language (which, yes, I know is dumb of me).
I will never know for sure why this ajumma pushed me. It might’ve been simply because I refused to answer her questions. It might be because I’m American. Maybe, it’s because I’m an adoptee (BTW – it ANNOYS me a lot that “adoptee” isn’t a word according to spell check). What I know is that her push shoved me back 10 years in time to when I was 22 and overwhelmed in Seoul and basically wasted most of my cultural experience hiding in the ESWS guest house holding babies after I had a negative experience on the street.
And that’s essentially what I’ve been doing – hiding. Yesterday, I finally got tired of eating snacks and found a kimbap nara type place that has an entire menu in hangul, but at least gives you a paper ticket to mark what you want. Since I read hangul super slow, I was comfortable to sit with the menu and I managed to order mandu ramyeon and some sogogi kimbap while reading a book in English. Then, right after the Etude House girl had a long conversation with me in Korean, after which she gave me some face whitening cream and said in English “You need!” SIGH.
I’m safe, sound, and a day ahead in Daejeon! (Hm… that sounds familiar).
My leaving wasn’t the grand Farewell Tour as it was in February (mostly because this was just a visit home) but I still managed to see some important friends, my family, my doggie, and a bunch of now unimportant people (that is another saga for another blog title altogether). I appreciate all the small kindnesses people have shown me during this summer, this past year really, and the unconditional support of those in my life. I find it amazing that people will reach in for you and I promise that I will start reaching back more and more, even if it is from a farther distance.
Also – I’ve decided it’s worth the $200 to fly KoreanAir. There was nothing wrong with Asiana, but the food, service, and 3 extra inches that KoreanAir provides REALLY makes a difference on a 11 hour flight. Plus, the movie selection was better on Korean; I actually watched only one movie on the flight this time, which made time go R E A L L Y S L O W. (BTW: Please watch “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” it was a great film!). I also started and finished “The Lover’s Dictionary” by David Levithan – HIGHLY RECOMMEND to anyone wanting an innovative, non-linear, modern-romance-end-of-the-affair fast read. I love the writing style.
Once I got to Daejeon, I had trouble finding my ride, but managed to ask a taekshi (taxi) driver if I could use his han-ponuh (hand phone = cell). One of the other foreign professors was able to find me in front of a police station and drive me back to our apartment building, called the “Global House” I think because it houses international faculty and some grad students. So far, I’ve managed to lock myself out twice in the rain by forgetting my little key card thingie that buzzes me in through the front door. I think I became spoiled at Inje that I never needed a key. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the door to my apartment uses only a keycode and no key/card. I’m sure to lock myself out again and I’ll have to figure out alternative ways to get into the building and/or find a way to put that key card thingie on a key chain.
My ah-pah-teu (apartment) is about twice the size of my Inje Dey dormitory. It hosts a twin size bed (NOT a bunkbed!… great, now I AM playing Death Cab for Cutie) a full wall window, a teeny kitchen, a desk, wardrobe, and wet room (the entire bathroom is tiled as a shower and there is a huge drain behind the sink. At least it’s a western style toilet – I am already not happy about the number of squatters I’ve had to use!) It feels like a dorm room still, but mostly because I need to acquire some homey stuff, like a chair and a small table, or maybe a teeny cafe table. We’ll see what I can pick up/find soon =)
I haven’t done much exploring yet, mostly because it’s been raining a lot, but I walked around the neighborhood yesterday and found the essentials: Paris Baguette, Etude House, InnisFree, Isaac Toast, a Daiso (dollar store), and about five 7-Elevens. This means if I never find anything else in Korea, I could probably survive just fine… As long as I remember that key card thingie to get back into my house….