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
Hannam University – LGC 50-0214
133 Ojeongdong (70 Hannam-ro)
Daejeon, Daedeok-Gu 306-791 ROK
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…
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.
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.
It’s hard to believe how fast money spends in the United States. What was that? Money can’t spend itself? Huh? Someone has to push in the pin number of my debit card? Wait, it was ME?! You’re kidding!
So, I may gone a little overboard with the shopping excursions while I was back stateside. I am a natural pack-rat, and am finding myself pack-ratting a lot, when really I don’t NEED to bring seven pairs of leggings and five kinds of tea back to Korea. I didn’t even drink tea while I was in Korea. I have so many sundresses it’s truly insane (and, by the way, it will not be sunny and warm in Korea for many months). I’m not sure I REALLY need classification folders in five colors (but I really WANT THEM) or a brand new day planner in which to put almost no meetings, since I barely speak Korean so I have no one to meet.
But, a lot of my pack-rat shopping is about trying to make Korea feel more normal this time around. Even though I live in a tiny dorm room that never feels like home, I need to try to normalize my experience so that it is more livable.
Also, there is a shitload of things I said I would do, like: NOT procrastinate, work on legal research, finish my CLE credits, write fiction every week, and stop talking to my ex-boyfriends. Oh, and be on time to class, not write lessons the night before, and learn how to read Hangul more fluently. I didn’t do any of those things (and yes, BB taught me a really big lesson blah blah blah, we won’t talk to him anymore), and the big issue is that there wasn’t a huge detriment to me doing these bad things. Especially in Korea, where there is basically zero accountability because no one knows what I’m doing, and almost everyone in the world thinks your Facebook account is like your real life. (NOTE: It is not. Facebook is the advertisement everyone posts for what they want people to believe their life is like.) My life in Korea may look idyllically entertaining, simple, fun, and full of food, but the truth is: it’s just regular life (with a lot of delicious food). I’m pretty solitary in Korea and most days, it’s just me talking to me about stuff we’re SUPPOSED to be doing, like lesson planning, grading papers, writing fiction, and not talking to our ex-boyfriends.
So, as I wind down my Stateside Vacation with a trip to Southern California and a tiny 3 day layover in Hawaii, I remind myself that I don’t need to pack-rat my life as much as I need to fully unfurl it in Korea. But until then… I still need a few pairs of leggings and a couple dresses. And the classification folders…
I’m not an adventure junkie. I don’t scuba, sky-dive, bungee jump, or do any extreme sports. I don’t like to sweat. Mostly, I don’t like the outside, unless it involves a pool floatie or a beach. I’m deathly afraid of heights. Remember that LSA horse-riding thing? Yeah, it was probably the scariest thing I’d let myself do. It involved large animals, off the ground, outside, and sweat. That, and once my friend owned a restaurant, and he made me stand on a ladder to write out a menu on a chalkboard. SCARY. Truth be told, I’m risk-averse. I embrace it. My adventures are pretty cookie cutter. I’ve spent most of my life dreaming inside the box – even if begrudgingly.
What was that? What did you say? I abandoned my entire life and MOVED TO KOREA? Oh, yeah, that.
Most days, I find it difficult to believe I actually live in Korea. A year ago, if any person had told me I would relocate my entire life to ROK, I would have cynically and skeptically told them how wrong they were. While I have frequently changed life plans, none of my plans have involved international travel. Most haven’t involved out of state travel. None involved moving abroad. I couldn’t have dreamt of a choice more wrong for me.
But sometimes, wrong is right. My life, was simple, but stagnant. . The benefits and consequences of having a conventional life quickly began feeling mundane and repetitive; I was constantly restless, always seeking the next best thing ever. Life began knocking me off of my path of convention, slowly, in tiny ways – I lost a job, I lost a love, I took a different job, I lost a different love (yes, yes I know… the elevator). I was beginning to feel rootless – but more terrifying – I was also beginning to feel deflated. I wasn’t in love with anything in my life except the comfort of knowing what to expect. I wasn’t really invested in the life I had created for myself.
So, without knowing where I would land, or where the ground really was located, I jumped at the opportunity to move to Korea hoping to find a sense of gravity here. Every day I wake up in Korea, I start my day like a normal day, and at least once a day, I have to say “Oh yeah. I live in KOREA.” Something happens, which makes me realize, it will never be normal. Something happens, like an old ajusshi throwing a cell phone at my face, or having an ajumma give me a two-handed push in the street, or being told “if only you could learn to be more KOREAN…” Something happens, and I know, I’m not in the Desert anymore. I know: I LIVE IN KOREA.
Of course, it isn’t always when bad things happen. I also think, “Oh yeah, I LIVE IN KOREA,” every single time I eat soon doo boo jigae for 3000 won ($2.80). I think it when I see Korean men linking arms on the street leaving the norebang and Korean girls taking out a full size mirrors from tiny purses. I think it when I travel from Daejeon to Busan and watch the waves flow toward the skyscrapers at Haeundae Beach. I think it when I spend an entire afternoon in the underground bargaining, shopping, and buying purses. I think it when I see couples in head-to-toe matching outfits. I think it when I answer the phone and someone hangs up on me because the ONLY word I say in perfect Hangukuh is “yobuhsayo!” (hello!) And I think it when I hold the babies at the orphanage and remember how easily my life could have been truly Korean.
My birth may have been an accident, but I must stop living my life so haphazardly. Every year, I feel like a square peg, belonging no where and to no one. My adventures in Korea have only reinforced this reality. What I’m coming to accept is that as much as I have felt uncomfortable with convention, secretly I’ve probably hoped that the right unconventional choice will enable me to embrace a super conventional existence. I don’t think that’s how it works. It’s time for me to feel the edges of my box and understand that being square means I just have a larger platform to create change for myself, and ultimately – hopefully – for others. I want to begin dreaming bigger about the ways that I can be a catalyst for change, I must begin forcing myself to think on a grander scale about how I can marry my social worker heart, my legal training, and my analytic brain to be innovative. To feel satisfied, I have to feel useful, and lately, I’ve just been sorting through ideas of how that can happen. It’s time for me to remember what it means to make a master plan, except this time, I must make myself its mistress.
So, I’m back at start. AGAIN. Except, this time, I live in Korea*.
*OR, I will again after this PAID eight week visit to the USA… ^-^
1. Makes it impossible for me to remember to blog. I think it’s my job… I’m at the computer so much, I want to be away from typing most days.
2. Still a racist effing place. Can’t BELIEVE the level of institutionalized racism that exists here, the lack of understanding about what it REALLY means to be multicultural. However, I see in my students the hope of coming change… they are trying to learn, see the value in difference, and realize the world extends past the peninsula… Not sure I can always say the same thing about Americans who are pretty confident the USA is the center of the universe….Progress, still like watching your hair grow – it takes time to see the improvement.
3. Korean Tour Guides. I’m not sure exactly how these women get their jobs, because their English jokes are really uncomfortable, but a Korean student has now told me that these tours are NOT the same types of guided tours that native Koreans take, that the quality is low for foreigners. Sad. TT-TT
4. Jindo Gae (Gae = Dog). I WANT ONE. I almost brought one home, but my apartment is just too small, and Wagger-Grace promised she would never die if I never got a different puppy while she was alive. Sigh. I WANT ONE, but instead made a lengthy fact-pattern about Jindo Gaes which is making most of my students cringe.
5. Politics are everywhere. I’m beginning to realize I am not cut out for academia. The type of politics is the same here as at my other academic jobs, and I’m just no good at this game. I’m not making any vast proclamations, just noting that there are reasons why I decided to work for myself… maybe I’m just not good at working on a team or playing nice with others, or answering to any boss anywhere ever. That’s reasonable, right?
6. Mosquitoes are no joke. It’s 30 degrees at nighttime. WHY ARE MOSQUITOES BITING ME, BUZZING NEAR MY EAR, or … ALIVE????? Really? WHY?
7. Soup is delicious. Koreans think it’s boring, but I could eat the many common varieties of Korean soups everyday and be completely happy this winter. For awhile I thought I could live off soondooboo jigae. Then, I realized I could not. Then, the next day, I realized there are about five million trillion different cheap semi-homemade soups in Korea, and I could just try those. =)
8. My Korean eyesight. Just found out my eyeglasses prescription is SUPER wrong, like almost a full diopter in one eye, and a half diopter in the other. Since it’s highly unusual for your eyesight to improve before the age of 40, AND it only improves through retraining the eye to avoid bad eye habits, this means I’ve basically just been wearing the wrong prescription for… I think FIFTEEN YEARS. WTF? Also, my eye test was FREE in Korea. America – you might be on my s%^tlist. I can buy TWO pairs of glasses without insurance for LESS than one pair WITH insurance in the States. AND the frames will probably stay on my nose!
9. Fishing, Fish, and Seashells. I’m learning to re-like the taste of fish, since it is inevitable that you must eat it. I’m not sure how people with shellfish allergies survive in Korea, because it’s in the broth, in the sauce, in the stock, in the side dishes. So last weekend, I ended up going to this tiny fishing village, and catching mudfish with a bamboo fishing pole, and digging for clams, and doing a bunch of stuff that regular Ginger would hate. But, since I’m here, I just have to do it – everything and try to find the fun… so the rest of the Korea experience doesn’t swallow me whole.
10. Friends. My friend Erica and her son recently moved to Seoul, Pia came to visit, and I went to visit Gimhae. It was so great to see familiar faces, and be greeted by people who are already invested, interested, and understanding about my own idiosyncrasies Over and over, “Korea-style” takes its toll… it’s why I KNOW I will never be a lifer here. I HATE “Korea-style;” people say “embrace the culture!” but, there are some things that I have made an informed decision NOT to embrace (like most things having to do with male-female hierarchy, workplace (non)strategic planning, child/social welfare perspectives, and race-relations. You know, the stuff I basically built MOST of my career/life around up until I moved to Korea?) But, anyhow, I need to focus on reaching out to my own people, having them here makes it easier for me to be a better version of myself – my authentic self – whatever that means to me… in this current, Korean incarnation… TO BE CONTINUED.