Back to Start.

Tag Archives: twinkie on a soapbox

So, Korea has gotten under my skin, not in the good way, but in the sneak-attack-make-you-apathetic way.

Today, almost everyone I know is celebrating because America is finally catching up to reality.  I am proud again to be a member of a profession which helps to propel and compel social change (or at least tries to eliminate some of the roadblocks). US v. Windsor enforces what most of MY PEOPLE already knew:  EQUALITY means EQUAL.  And, furthermore, is for every citizen of the United States EQUALLY.

But I must confess: In Korea, I don’t proclaim and shame as much as I do in the United States. I am humiliated and heartbroken and ashamed of this fact. At home, my sister calls me one of the most gay-sessible people she knows and I remember being angry at friends for calling me an “ally” instead of just a person with basic reasoning skills who understands fundamental fairness.  And  I’m not sure why I lost my sense of logic and reason in Korea.  I’m not sure why I let Koreans steamroll me on equality issues.

It’s not only Marriage Equality.  It’s race equality, nationality, religion, sex, gender, class. As a sociologist, social worker, feminist, equalist, and attorney, Korea basically ignores, disdains, or shames the topics I have dedicated not only career, but my very existence to overcome.  I chose my battle holistically (granted, not always strategically), but I have always known my reputation for GRRRR on certain social equality issues precedes me, often to my delight and simultaneous horror. I’ve been lucky (or fucking stubborn), but I’ve been able to push through my agenda more than once. I’ve not been afraid to create enemies or burn bridges when I know I’m right.  And fairness and equality and equity are always right.

So, why have I lost myself here?

A few weeks ago, a student asked me what I thought about an article regarding gay marriage in America. I asked him what he thought, and his reply was “It is disgusting.” I could’ve shamed him, I probably should’ve, I had the hierarchical advantage and he appeared open to listening. But I didn’t.  Instead, with much exhaustion, I told him to think for himself about what fairness and equality meant and I went to my office and cried.  It is tiresome to be constantly surrounded by such a large and vast blanket of ignorance over issues which have simply not made their way across the sea yet. I cannot even imagine what it must be like for someone in Korea who cannot even fight for their right to be equal (or open or free) because the topic has not even been identified as an issue for discussion.  Koreans are convinced no one in Korea is born gay.

I find myself fighting mundane and stupid issues constantly and I realize now it’s because I am helpless and oppressed to make positive change for the issues that truly matter to me. I was in Gumi last month, and for the first time in a long while, I was overwhelmed with helplessness about the orphan situation in Korea. Even with my fiercest, most difficult, most damaged CPS kid, I never gave up hope that that child could have a better future. But in Korea, I’m often skeptical that a better future awaits many of the children raised in group home care. My fight feels futile, and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so wholly incapable of fighting.  My GGRRRR has become a whispered gasp.

So, here I am without answers or a bow to put on this post.  Except to say, I’d like to spend the rest of my time in Korea focused on the battles that matter.  I’m tired of fighting for copier paper when Koreans still tell little girls that they can’t get a good job unless they are pretty.  I find it a waste of my intellect to keep asking for adequate housing, hot water, fair billing, or a venue for concerns when the TRUE thing I desire is to be treated like a person of value – something I cannot compel by force of action, screaming, or writing long emails filled with loathing. I can’t make Korea stop being hierarchical and collective and demand it move forward with progress, analytic thinking, and equality.

But, I can command it in my classroom, in my office, in my home, and in my presence.  And I can remember to battle, to proclaim and, if necessary, to shame.  I can be a Twinkie on a Soapbox again… I guess I just have to find a box…

TO BE CONTINUED…


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.

 

 

 


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


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.