Monthly Archives: May 2012
Do any of the rest of you have those days when you wonder when you’re going to feel like a real adult? I’m 28 years old, married, and on my way to becoming a mother, and some days, I swear I feel like I’m still 12 or possibly even younger. I used to think that finishing college, getting a job, finding a boyfriend, etc., etc., were what made you an adult. Now I’m convinced that pretty much nothing makes you an adult – even paying bills and having a steady job. I have a steady job. I pay my bills every month. I have a car – a big one! I’m married, saving money to buy a house, and need to pay my property taxes. So why do I feel like such a child sometimes?
I think part of it is the fact that I haven’t got myself a “career” yet. You could argue that teaching English is a career, but it’s usually accompanied by a teaching certificate and being beholden to lots of obnoxious government regulations and No Child Left Behind. I’m not beholden to much of anything, except the strange whims of Korean parents and whatever my boss asks me to do when I get to work. (In case you’re curious, he rarely asks me to do anything out of the ordinary, which is fantastic.) I basically just do my job, grade my papers, and go home. By the sheer fact of not totally sucking at my job, my boss thinks I’m the second coming. I guess that’s a plus, right?
Maybe the problem is with me. I’ve always equated the way I feel about myself to what I’m doing with myself and how others perceive me. Maybe that’s the big part of my problem: I’m always worried about what everyone else thinks. I always think that my grandparents are disappointed because I didn’t go to law school like I’d always talked about. (C’mon, it’s freaking expensive, and nobody is getting hired right now.) Maybe it’s because all of my cousins have “better,” more respectable jobs than me and surely make more money. Well, they make more money than me before taxes, anyway. The saving grace of working in Asia is that the cost of living is ridiculously low, compared to the West.
Still, I like to do well. I like to feel as though I’m doing something with myself – something important. Something that gets me some respect. Something that makes other people jealous. Call me snotty. Call me an elitist. I like to feel better than people around me. So sue me. I like to mollycoddle my superiority complex. Right now though, it could really use a drink of (liquid?) confidence.
I’ve been thinking about going back to school and possible things that I could do with myself. I’m far from dumb, but I’m no Nikola Tesla or anything like that. I’m not going to set the world on fire with some scientific discovery or some amazing new novel that defines a generation. At best, I’ll probably do a decent job writing this blog and maybe punch out a few short stories loosely based around drunken college exploits that are never sent to a publishing house. Writing is basically my major talent, and I doubt that it’s going to be enough to net me a decent living. Aspiring writers are a dime a dozen.
So what’s a girl to do? Well, here are some of the careers I’ve contemplated and the reasons that I’ve shot them down.
1. Court reporter
Court reporting is a fairly high-demand job, and it pays well. You don’t need a college degree for it, but you do need to give up anywhere from two to five or six years of your life in order to become truly great at it. Nobody ever really pays attention to those ladies – and they are usually ladies – in the corner of the court room, typing away on that funny little steno machine. But they have to expend tons of money and years of practice to get really good at that thing. The failure/dropout rate for steno colleges is something like 93-95%. Not exactly encouraging, if you’re talking about dropping $10,000-$20,000 on a course.
I thought about doing this one, as I’m interested in the legal field but didn’t feel like going $120,000 into debt to get my law degree. Becoming a pro stenographer seemed like a good possibility that didn’t cost nearly as much, but I never really got excited about it. I don’t want to drop a bunch of money on something that doesn’t seem that interesting or exciting to me.
I’m what you might call an armchair economist. Believe it or not, I love reading econ books. Well… I love reading them, provided that they were written by Ludwig von Mises or someone else in the Austrian school of economics. I will admit that I haven’t had the balls to tackle Hayek yet, as I hear his writing is, even for Ph.D. grade economists, thick as pig shit, in terms of slugging your way through the material. But I do enjoy thinking about economic principles and the outcomes of certain actions.
You know what I don’t enjoy about economics? Math. Math is pretty much essential for an econ degree of any sort, and not just any math, but freaking calculus. I can understand calculus, but I’d prefer to just leave it alone. Getting involved with calculus is getting involved in a serious relationship with an abusive alcoholic: it’s going to beat the shit out of me, both physically and emotionally, and we’re both going to walk away from it all with sour memories and foul, black hearts. For this reason alone, I almost instantly gave up on the idea of becoming an economist.
3. Engineering of some sort
Engineering seems to run in the family. My grandpa was sort of an engineer. He was a darn good electrician anyway, and I’m reasonably confident that he knew just as much about electrical stuff as the average electrical engineer today, even if he didn’t know the CAD and calculus garbage. Two of my cousins are successful engineers who love their work. Surely some of that inclination is in my blood, right?
Meh. See #2 above. Math strikes again. As I’ve said, the thing is, I can understand math. I just don’t like it. It’s not fun for me. It’s like being slapped repeatedly on the lips with a dead opossum: gross. I wish that I could love math, because I would no doubt have done something more useful with my life, like become an engineer or an economist or a financier of some sort. But I’m not, so I didn’t, and I probably never will.
Teaching seems the natural course of action, given that I’m a teacher. Let me tell you, if you miss that initial certification in college, it’ll sure as heck cost you to go back and get it later. I’m thinking about teaching in international school, which I can do on a provisional license, available exclusively from the state of Massachusetts for those without a teaching degree. I like teaching actually, and I’m not half-bad at it.
The thing about teaching is that the pay is crap, and nobody is hiring right now. Schools in my home area are closing left and right. Regulations in the US are insane. Also there’s one other slight problem: I don’t really believe in the much-proclaimed benefits of public education. Like many anarcho-capitalist-type libertarians, I basically believe that public school is a prison for children that spends 12 years of their lives training them how to be good little slaves, indoctrinating them with government-approved dribble and sucking out the ability/will to think for themselves, outside the statist quo, as Jeffrey Tucker would have it. How can I stand in front of kids every day, teaching them things that I blatantly, unapologetically don’t believe in myself? It doesn’t seem right.
So I have a moral dilemma there. Also, the pay. The pay really sucks. And even though the students suck, do you want to know who sucks more? The parents.
Lovely notion. I’d starve.
6. Going into business for myself
My dad had his own business. My grandpa and his dad both had their own businesses. My uncle and my mom were part of those businesses. My other two uncles were successful in business for themselves. Maybe I’m cut out for some sort of business venture, too! After all, most folks in my family aren’t widely renowned for their love of taking orders and rule-following. Quite the opposite, actually.
But what would I do? How would I start up? I guess that’s where that entrepreneurial spirit comes into play, right? I’ve tried to think of different businesses that would be a good fit for my home area, but so far, nothing has come up. I used to want to start a bookstore, but I think a new one just went in, and besides that print media is dying on the vine. Why would someone go out to buy a book when they could download one to their Kindle/iPad/iPod/i-whatever and read it instantly?
I suppose I could open a restaurant or something, but I sort of hate dealing with the public when it involves eating. I’ve done too many of those jobs in my student quest for beer money, and people suck. It’s a proven fact. I suppose I could open a Big/Tall/Fatty’s Last Chance store, since there a lot of fat people in my hometown, but then I think, “Hell, they already shop in the portly section of Wal-Mart, and it doesn’t get cheaper than that.” The rich fat people all go over to Springfield.
Alas, I think exercising my entrepreneurial spirit may take a bit more time and thought. Maybe a good idea will come to me in a weird pregnancy dream…
This would be okay except, oh yeah, you have to deal with cranky, sick people and overworked, stressed, cranky doctors. And other cranky nurses, who are just as put-upon as you. The pay is good and there are plenty of opportunities to get hired, but honestly, I hate doctors, nurses, and hospitals. And biology.
I really should have done this when I had the chance. I went to the university with the best undergrad J-school in the country, Mizzou. I coulda been a contender. I know so many people who studied journalism, and I’m a far better writer and thinker than 98% of them. What the ckuf was I thinking?
I’d like to go back and get a third degree in journalism, but again, cost is prohibitive. Also husband and baby. Heh. Those make it hard, too. I still think I’d be good at it, though. I might not be so good at toeing the mainstream media line, though. I’m not awfully good at being told what is and isn’t proper to say in public, so that could be my undoing, but I still think I’d be a damn good writer.
9. Copy editing
The journalism idea brings me to my latest and possibly most suitable idea yet: copy editing. I was the copy editor of my high school paper. Everyone else gave me their papers to basically tear apart and then toss back to them with little better than a sneer of contempt at their bad grammar and ridiculous run-on sentences. I was probably the rudest copy editor the school ever had. I didn’t make too many bones about my feelings that seniors in high school who lacked a grasp of basic English were unworthy of my time. Interestingly, I still think native speakers without a proper grasp of English aren’t worth my time. Face it, folks: your ability to write and speak good English is a direct reflection on your intelligence and education level. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to your face to make you feel better about yourself.
Damn. That felt good.
I love details. I like catching mistakes in writing. Of course, copy editing also involves reading through indices and bibliographies, searching for errors, both syntactical and informational. It’s tedious, it can be boring, and it can be annoying, especially if you’re working with others who don’t understand the need for precision in writing. And let’s face it – most people today don’t understand the need for precision in writing. In any case, if you like looking for mistakes and correcting tiny little errors, it’s probably a great job for you.
The bad thing about becoming a copy editor is trying to build up experience. That can be tough. Most places that hire really want editors with experience, but you can’t get it if no one will give it. I think the trick is to start small and work your way up, building a good portfolio and reputation for yourself. The good thing is that you can take certification courses and classes for pretty cheap that will get you up to speed on the basics of the main styles (AP and Chicago) and give you a basic run-through on publishing essentials.
I’m thinking this one might be a winner. I can easily do some cert work over the computer while I’m here in Korea. It’s cheap, it shouldn’t be that tough for me, since I like grammar and details and the systems of languages. It could open doors, since there are plenty of jobs out there for decently qualified copy editors. Apparently, people who have a fair command of the English language are hard to find. Perish the thought!
Whatever the case, I’m not quite sure which direction I’m headed in yet. I know what I’m good at, which would be writing, editing, and generally anything that involves languages. Math and science, much as dearly respect those who are good at them, just aren’t my callings. Besides, I enjoy writing-based activities, and you’re supposed to do something that you enjoy, right? Doesn’t that make it slightly easier to drag yourself out of bed in the morning and sit through another day of work?
I know that I’m not the only one who feels lost sometimes about the direction that their life has taken. Life, I’ve discovered, often takes us to places that we never imagined. I mean, I always figured that I’d be a lonely, bitter old cat lady with a house full of antiques and shoes who sits out on her porch with a handle of whiskey and a magnum pistol in her lap, just waiting for a trespasser to come too close. Instead, I’m a wife and almost-mother, still slightly bitter, who can’t drink whiskey (hence the bitterness) and lives in a country where guns are outlawed for citizens. I always thought I’d be done with law school by now, pushing a BMW, and on my way to a six-figure salary. Heh. Not so much.
Whatever the case, I know that I’ll get things figured out, but sometimes it does get frustrating, waiting to get to that point on the road when you can finally hit the gas and get the heck out of the hole-in-the-road town in which you currently find yourself. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when I get to that next fork in the road, but until then, I guess I might as well just sing loudly and badly along to the radio and hope that someday I’ll finally grow up.
I know this is a whole discussion topic on the Internet, but seriously, pregnancy dreams are messed up! Different sites and books claim that the increase in nutty dreams has to do with hormone levels, the fact that you’re getting up a lot to pee, because the baby kicked you in the liver, etc. Honestly, I slept like a log last night and didn’t get up once (unusual, at this point), and I still had some crazy dreams. In fact, last night was the craziest yet.
I had a dream that I was back home. That hasn’t been anything out of the ordinary. It’s not a big secret that I’m homesick for my family and for the US, and I’ve been dreaming about my family a lot. This dream was like a big, stupid mini-saga. I started off in an airport, bound for a Japanese study-abroad program in Fukuoka, which is quite near Busan and where the nearest Korean embassy is. Thus, Fukuoka is the site of lots of visa runs for foreigners in the southern part of Korea. Anyway,the mad thing was that I’d already been living and working in Korea. Who in the world knows why I was back as a student and about to embark on a trip to Japan?
I was about to take the flight over to Japan. I had met the other students that would be studying with me, seen the dorm room layout, etc. Then I saw the price of the study abroad excursion – a whopping $7,000! Why I hadn’t bothered to notice this before the ticket was bought is beyond me, but I freaked out at the price and decided to stay home. It was mildly reminiscent of that time I freaked out and didn’t get on the plane back to Korea.
Anyway, I wound up back at my grandparents’ house. I had been home for two days when my uncle showed up. He had announced to my grandmother that he was moving to a big house in the country, and he was getting rid of pretty much everything in his current house in town so that he could get new things for the country house. Seems normal, right? Not so much. You know those Halloween trash bags, the ones that people use to put their yard leaves in and then they use them as Halloween decorations? I looked out the back window, and there were exactly 42 pumpkin-style trash bags full of old, used Halloween decorations sitting in our back yard.
“Margaret,” he said, “since you don’t have a job, I didn’t think you’d mind taking those old Halloween decorations to the dump for me.” I just blinked and looked at him.
Finally, I was like, “Seriously? You want me to take forty-two bags of your old Halloween decorations, which is preposterous by itself, to the dump? Get a life!”
“Well, Margaret, since you don’t have a job yet, I thought you might want something to do. I’m so busy moving to the new house that I really don’t have time. Look, I already brought them over to you. Don’t worry, it’s no big job. The dump loves to get things like this.” Then he smiled and walked out before I could tell him he was insane.
If you knew this uncle, you would know how insane the idea of him having more than two Halloween decorations is, let alone 42 bags of them. He’s very neat and tidy, and he makes his own trips to the dump whenever he has to throw something away. I walked out to the backyard, and there was a whole bag that was full of scarecrow dolls. I mean, that’s nuts.
Then my friends from high school all came over for a slumber party, for some mad reason. It was then that I discovered that we had a neighborhood werewolf who had been trying to eat the denizens of Mound Road. I told all of my friends that they were welcome to stay, but they had to be inside by dark, and had to lock all the doors really well and make sure not to invite the werewolf in. Apparently in my dreams, werewolves are like vampires and wait for an invitation.
Of course, one of the friends invited the man who was a werewolf in. Also, Khloe Kardashian was there, and I wasn’t entirely convinced that she wasn’t a werewolf. (I should be nice. Khloe is the only Kardashian I can stand even a little.) The man came in, but he announced that he was just looking for his wife and wasn’t going to eat us. I was not convinced by this, but he never did devour us, so there you go.
Also, an Asian mother and her son showed up at our front door. The mother insisted multiple times that our house was the university to which her son had applied and been accepted. I repeatedly told her that she was crazy and to please get off of our front stoop, which she wouldn’t do. I finally said, “Yes ma’am, this is Kyungnam University. I’m the dean, and there was a mistake with your son’s application. He is a default moron because you are his mother, and I’m revoking his acceptance from this moment forth. Now please get the hell off of our front porch.” They just sat down and stubbornly stared at the door. I shut it, let the werewolf out, and decided that he could eat them.
And then I woke up.
I remember an old Roseanne episode where her sister Jackie is pregnant and complaining about a strange dream involving a dragon and the baby. Roseanne says to her, “Oh yeah, you just have to reach into the dragon’s mouth, pull out the banana, and the banana turns into the baby.” She was so right. How could I ever have doubted Roseanne? So wise, so sarcastic.
Anyway, this is pretty much the norm for me. Today I woke up about ready to burst into laughter at the 42 bags of Halloween decorations (it was really funny). A couple of days ago, I woke up near tears because I’d had a dream that a different uncle was never coming to visit my grandparents again, and I thought he was being cruel and terrible, and I wanted to see him. He visits the family like, one every two or three months. Like I said, crazy dreams.
Hopefully tonight, my dreams will have fewer Halloween decorations and werewolves and more normalcy. But I won’t hold my breath.
I usually save these posts for when something in my day has gone horribly, horribly awry, but honestly, it’s been a good week. No near-misses (or direct hits) in the Moose, students have been manageable, and we have a three-day weekend. No, Korea doesn’t celebrate Memorial Day, but we do have Buddha’s Birthday, conveniently on the same day, so it’s like Memorial Weekend, but without the insanity of the kids finishing up school, the amazing BBQs, or the public pool opening. So it’s just like the US, if the US sucked. Oh, looks like I found my bitter spot! Now we can get started!
1. First graders
I’m not gonna lie – I have a newfound respect for any teacher brave enough to tackle children under eight years of age. My youngest class is now a group of first graders, and I would give anything to just stick them in a pig pen and forget about them. They’re terrible.
But Marge, you say, small children are precious and funny and… You can stop right there. Anyone who thinks a classroom full of children who can barely tie their shoes or read a simple sentence is cute and adorable seriously needs a reality check. The hard truth is that, while young kids can be sweet and entertaining, the honest truth is that when in a group, they’re noisy, dirty, and unruly. One or two is manageable. More than that, and it’s a recipe for full-blown chaos.
Think I’m joking? There are two boys in my class. One of them is generally controllable, but I’ve nicknamed the other one “Werewolf.” Why would I nickname a child after my least favorite of all horror movie creatures? He bit the other boy during class one day. He couldn’t see the board and, rather than ask the other boy to move, he decided that gnawing on the back of his buddy’s neck was the appropriate action to take. Then he had to go and have a talk with the director about making bad peer-to-teen life choice behaviors. My reaction? “Seriously?! You seriously just bit your friend? You are either mentally challenged, have the manners of one of the unfriendlier barnyard animals, or your mother isn’t feeding you enough! Which is it?” He just grinned. I moved away from his mouth.
The other thing about first graders is that when they’re stupid, it’s beyond painful. Yeah, I know, it’s not PC to call kids stupid. The honest truth is that some of them are. Some kids – and adults – are just fucking stupid. My second graders (they were first grade when they started) aren’t dumb. This class is just dumb. Some classes are smarter than others. This class can’t find their butts with both hands. I teach them the same things for weeks on end, and they still can’t remember it. The now-second graders mastered the alphabet in two weeks and could read well after a couple of months. Three months on, and these meatballs still mistake “house” for “horse.” Sometimes I just want to hit them with the letter I until they’re so traumatized that they never called it “E” again.
The other thing that sucks about them is that they show up early for academy. Are they actually excited to go to school after school? (See? They’re dumb.) They go to their classroom and proceed to yell, squeal, hoot, holler, and then come to the office, where I’m trying to get my lesson plans done and homework checked, just so they can annoy me. They know that they aren’t allowed in the office when we’re working, but just to be perverse, they stand at the door and stare at me or try to sneak in and, like Chris Farley in Tommy Boy, make their voices sound weird in the office fan. If I’m writing a test or homework on the computer, they crowd around me, sometimes climbing into my lap, and try to see if they can read what I’m writing. They usually end up screaming in my ear until I dump them to the floor and tell them in loud, angry Korea to buzz off and pipe down. Kids. They suck.
2. Leaving the door open when one enters/exits a room
Something about kids and leaving doors open. I think kids all over the world do it, but Korean kids seem to be especially bad about this. None of them seem to have mastered the art of closing a door behind them.
I know, this sounds very old-mannish of me, and it is. That’s probably because I was raised by an old man. That old man drilled into me from the day I came into his home that air conditioning and heat cost money, bugs belong outside, and if the pets escape, I’ll have to be the one to catch them. Constant tongue-lashings were typically enough to get me to mind. Not so much with my Korean students. I give them repeated tongue-lashings about shutting the main door when they come in as well as my classroom door, but they never remember. Maybe it’s because I’m the foreign teacher, and they think that nothing I say is important. Maybe it’s because they’re stupid. Maybe it’s because they don’t understand my English, though I’m extremely skeptical that my fourth and fifth graders don’t know the word “door.” Whatever the case, kids need to learn how to shut the door behind them. Don’t they know that besides it costing money when they let the hot/cold air out, they could get raped by a clown who follows them home?
Never heard of rhinitis? Yeah, neither had I until a few days ago. I’ve had a runny nose – like, sinus infection bad – for the past few weeks. I’ve felt fine with no other symptoms of cold/allergy/infection. Turns out, being pregnant can give you a pseudo-cold called rhinitis. Basically, your hormones go insane, and your mucous membranes decide to start producing ungodly amounts of snot. Just another one of Mother Nature’s wonderful gifts to the pregnant woman. This ranks up there with varicose veins, incessant urination, and bad gas. Mother Nature is a bipolar, demented old bitch.
4. Keynesian economics
This more properly belongs on my political blog, but dammit, I hate it when people think Keynesian economics actually work. Or that Paul Krugman deserves that damn Nobel Prize. Paul Krugman is an intellectually disingenuous blowhard, and the notion that anyone, individual or government, can spend itself into prosperity is complete and utter bollocks. Spending money to get rich, particularly when you’re already broke, is like fucking for virginity. (Pardon my French.)
Krugman has been sounding off about how the so-called European austerity has failed. That’s complete tripe, and you’d have to be foolish to believe it. There has been no real austerity in Europe. European austerity basically means that they have made bare-minimum cuts while raising taxes, which impedes the private sector from growth. Trust me, impeding a private sector that barely exists in the first place will not get the ball rolling. Germany is the only country that has any damn sense at all, and the main reason that they’re doing as well as they are now is because they drastically cut back on their social programs in 2004. I remember; I was there. The progressives/socialists/whatevers were moaning and wailing, but it’s saved Germany from being as bad off as the rest of the EU.
Bottom line is that you can’t get something for nothing. Government spending always happens at the expense of the people. In the words of some libertarian bumper sticker that I saw: I’ll keep my money and my guns; you keep the change. Don’t raise my taxes to bail out some morons in the banking, government, or other miscellaneous sectors that failed in the market. Let them fail. Let the market correct itself. It will correct itself eventually, no matter how much cash we throw at the problem. Unfortunately for Europe, that day of reckoning is not too far off. Citigroup has forecast that Greece will exit the Euro on January 1, 2013, and they are now basing their economic moves and plans on that fact. Keynesian economics are a failure. Let’s get over it, move on, and not repeat the stupid mistakes here. (And for the record, this hardly my best economics survey, but I’m just ranting, so cut me some slack.)
5. Korean pastries that look amazing and taste like shit
This happens more than you might imagine. Koreans are really good at presentation. It’s fairly common to find some amazing-looking pastry in the window of one of the bakeries. You waltz in and think, “Ima eat that!” They wrap it up for you, you take it home, unwrap it, and marvel at its prettiness. Then you take a big bite, and your face instantly betrays your emotions. Disappointment. Betrayal. Anger. Resentment. They do everything they can to lure you in to the store so that you’ll buy this pastry, which may as well be named “Grandma Kim’s Tasteless Bread for Suckas.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been disappointed by a pastry or bread in Korea. It’s always the best-looking ones that’ll fool you. You think that, with it’s fruity decorations and fluffy cream filling oozing out that it’s going to be a trip to Never-Neverland for your tastebuds. Dreams of a dazzling taste experience usually evaporate pretty quickly when you realize that you’ve bought a one-way ticket to Tastebud Hell, and it’s hard to recover from that one.
Now I just assume that everything at the bakery tastes like cardboard covered with cheap Korean chocolate until it proves to be something decent. I’ll let you know when I can count those confections on more than one hand.
6. Drain Gnats
Korea is dirty. I don’t care what anyone says to the contrary. This country is filthy. I NEVER had drain gnats anywhere I lived until I came here. We’re on the first floor, and our bathroom has a mostly open gray water drain for the shower and tub, and those buggers love that thing. I have done everything. I have done boiling water, baking soda and vinegar, and even bleach. Nothing gets rid of them for more than three to four days. Basically, our bathroom sucks, and I would like a refund.
I should have posted this one with my Keynesian bit.
Remember when progressives were called liberals? I do. I guess it’s better that we call them something other than liberals, because the term “liberal” makes me think of classical liberals, like Jefferson. You know, a person whose opinions I actually respect. Progressive has such a nice ring to it – as though anyone else is mired in the past, clinging foolishly to the ideas of some outdated philosophy. What it really means is “bleeding heart Keynesian who thinks that legally stealing my money via the government and redistributing it to some pet cause is smart.” These are the same people who post and worship Krugman articles on Facebook.
I get why people become progressives. I tend to think that they have good intentions. The problem with good intentions is that the road to hell is paved with ’em. They look at intentions rather than results. I could list a lot of things that demonstrate this fact (Superfund – US environmental policy/Johnson’s War on Poverty, etc.), but I’d rather just get it out there that I hate socialism and progressive ideals and move on.
8. Crazy Republicans who think that Mitt Romney is any different from Obama
He isn’t. Do your homework, realize it, and vote for someone else. Like Ron Paul. Or Gary Johnson. Hell, vote for Roseanne Barr, whom I believe is running for the Green Party position. Anyone but Mobama. They’re the same.
And oh yes, do stop trying to legislate morality. It doesn’t work.
Yeah, I’m on a political tangent tonight. I get off on a lot of those lately. I’m sorry, for those readers who don’t appreciate my libertarian ways. I just find myself incredibly disgusted with the way that the US particularly and the world generally is going these days. I’m thankful that the Austrian economics/libertarian/freedom movement is gaining traction and credibility in the mainstream, but there is so much that needs to be done. I think most people can agree that things are not going well with the world right now. In any case, I apologize if politics are not your thing. My husband gets pretty tired of listening to me rant, understandably.
In any case, I am quite happy that I’m on the cusp of a three-day weekend. We’re off to Busan to sit on Gwangali Beach and get some tan lines tomorrow. I hope everyone’s Memorial Weekend is full of family, friends, beer, swimming pools, BBQ, and all of those other wholesome American things that I miss so very, very much.
I’d also like to give a salute to the veterans, since it is their holiday. I may not approve of US interventionism, but I support the troops, past and present, one hundred percent: bring ’em home! And if you have a friend or loved one who is serving or has served, give them a call this weekend and say, “Thank you.” I don’t think that our veterans receive enough respect from the general public anymore for their sacrifices. Too many people now blame the troops for the actions of our government, and that’s not right. So if you know a serviceman or woman, let them know that you appreciate what they do. And in the words of Pete Seeger & Co. on his re-release of an old hippie hit: “If an army invaded this land of mine – bring ’em home, bring ’em home – you’d find me out on the firing line. Bring ’em home, bring ’em home. Show those generals a fallacy. Bring ’em home, bring ’em home. They don’t have the right weaponry. Bring ’em home, bring ’em home. For defense, you need common sense. Bring ’em home, bring ’em home. They don’t have the right armaments. Bring ’em home, bring ’em home… So if you love this land of the free – bring ’em home, bring ’em home – bring all troops back from overseas. Bring ’em home, bring ’em home…”
After one week as a driver and car owner in Korea, I’ve come to the conclusion that driving in Korea is like driving at the Indy 500 – you need training, experience, and balls the size of a horse’s head. Seriously, it’s a demolition derby out there! Not that I didn’t know this, but surviving in the backseat and attempting not to kill everyone in the car when you’re behind the wheel are not exactly the same thing. Long story short: I need more practice before I’m a fully competent Korean road driver.
On Friday night, I totally scraped a parked car on the side road near my academy. Cars park on both sides, which basically creates a one-way road that isn’t. I came up to the turn, and cars were turning in, not bothering to wait for me to move. There was a car on my right that was illegally parked on the corner, and I scraped it with the Moose’s butt while trying to get out. Oh, the humanity. Of course, the Moose barely has a nick on him, but it gave the other, older, shittier car a decent little swipe.
The owner, a young girl, had been shopping in HomePlus, and she looked more baffled by the fact of a great white waeguk stood before her, groveling and apologizing, than by the scrape itself. I gave her my number, and her dad called me yesterday. Of course, since none of us were speaking the same language, it made communication moderately difficult. I was in a bit of a panic, since I didn’t even have my insurance card (it came today), and already I’d caused property damage. Believe me, this sort of thing doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in one’s ability, even though I’ve always been a great driver. Interestingly, the only other “fender bender” I ever had was – wait for it – a swipe whereby I’d misjudged the distance. Perhaps my depth perception is slightly off. Whatever the case, I spent a good part of the weekend fretting about it.
Oh, but it doesn’t end there. I also had a doctor’s appointment to have another blood test and sonogram for the baby. Our hospital is in Changwon, and the Moose was too big to park in the parking garage. (Story of my life with the Moose, thus far.) I parked it in the street, where everyone else was parked. This area lacked any towing signs or “No Parking” threats. Of course, when we came out, the car had been towed to the city garage, where we had to pay $30 to get it out of Moose jail. Friday: not a good day for the Moose. Or me.
The rest of the weekend was spent trolling around Changwon, avoiding parking tickets, truckers, taxis, and any other collisions. Back home in Morgan County, Illinois, this wouldn’t be a tall order. In Changwon, a city of over a million people, most of whom drive about 20km/hr over the speed limit, weave in and out of traffic, don’t signal, and honk like crazy, this is harder than it sounds. Driving here is downright stressful, and you have to be on your toes at all times. It would help to have two extra sets of eyes. Maybe three or four, actually.
Basically, there are road hazards at every turn. People stop in the middle of lanes and nearly cause massive pile-ups. The bus drivers rule the road for no other reason than they’re bigger than everyone else and not afraid to basically shove you out of the way. The scooter boys zoom around, unseen until they’re already past you. Oh, and pedestrians are oblivious here. They will walk out into eight lanes of oncoming traffic without so much as a second look. Frankly, if you’ve never been a city driver, it’s a bit much.
I know, I know: I sound like I’m complaining. I guess I am. I was overconfident. (My husband says that this is pretty much my state of being.) I was sure that I’d be fine from the get-go, but so far, I’ve been nothing but stressed and worried that each drive might be my last. To some extent, I do feel safer in a big car, but the downside to it is that it’s hard as hell to park the thing, and the lanes are so small that the Moose barely fits. I’ve had to shelf my confidence in favor of caution, care, and constant attention to EVERYTHING going on around me – and I mean everything!
I’m sure that I’ll get the hang of things. Knowing your way around well helps, and while I do know Changwon, having the turn lanes and wonky intersections better memorized is always a plus. There’s one intersection near the Masan road that is so fraught with danger that on weekends, there is a wrecker that sits in the big median, ready to tow anyone who collides. I’ve seen it in use at least a dozen times.
I still love my Moose, and I’m going to learn to be a better driver and parker if it kills me. I think my husband and I are going out driving tonight, just to get some practice on less busy streets. As for the little scrape, well, it all turned out well. The girl’s father told my boss that we’d call it even at $120 payoff – no insurance involvement, so it won’t mess with my premium, although premiums don’t go up here for minor scrapes like they do at home. I think minor accidents are just assumed.
My boss even went so far as to tell me that I was lucky. I asked him how in the world he figured that was true, but he told me that Koreans believe if you have a small accident, you are protected from a big accident later. Therefore, having a small scrape in the beginning is a sign that I will have great luck later on when I really need it. He said you must view it this way. I think it’s the Korean way of saying, “Learn your lesson in a small way, and next time, you won’t have to learn it in a big, bad way.” Makes sense, right? My husband says I’m one of those people who has to learn by doing, which I guess is kind of true. Whatever the case, in just one week, I’ve already learned a boat-load of invaluable lessons about driving here. Allow me to impart some wisdom on you, particularly if you’re considering becoming a driver in Korea.
1. Think of the speed limit as a recommendation. Koreans do. Don’t go too fast at first. High speed cars are harder to control. Keep yourself in firm control until you feel really comfortable with what you’re doing and where you’re going.
2. If you’re driving a large car, you might want to avoid the underground parking garages. Chances are, the bigger cars will be almost impossible to park and get in and out. Save yourself the trouble and park in the street – somewhere in a no-tow zone!
3. Try and have some idea about where you’re going, if at all possible. The lanes can be screwy, and it takes a bit of practice to get them down pat.
4. Watch the other guy. Koreans are not known for their love of signaling. They turn without warning on a frequent basis. This is another reason why you oughtn’t to go too fast.
5. Avoid getting too near the bus lane. The bus drivers own the road and they know it. They will basically shove you out of the way when they merge. Politeness is not in their vocabulary.
6. Keep a keen eye out for pedestrians, especially around parks, schools, etc. People run out in front of cars here. It happens. A lot. Don’t be the guy who hit a kid who ran into the road.
7. If you aren’t comfortable pulling out right away onto a busy lane, ignore the honks behind you. Don’t make a move that you’re uncomfortable with, even if you feel forced by the other drivers. I have a hard time with this one, because other people stress me out. Don’t let them. You know what you’re capable of doing. Don’t get hurt or injure someone else just because the other guy thinks he has somewhere to be. He probably doesn’t.
8. Watch out for the trap cameras. There’s usually a warning sign about 200 meters beforehand, but it’s a good idea to drive the speed limit anyway, contrary to what everyone else here is doing. I doubt all of them are loaded, but you never know. I do know people who have gotten tickets from them.
9. Drive more defensively in a small car, if that’s what you’re in. People pay little mind to the little guys, and it shows. Be on your guard, because they aren’t watching for you.
10. I think this goes without saying, but for God’s sake, wear your seatbelt. Even in the backseat. This country has a high accident rate. Don’t be a statistic.
11. If you think you’re going to get away with drinking and driving, think again. The police set up random barricades here at night and breath test people. The penalties for drunk driving, I understand, are fairly stiff.
12. If you’ve got some extra money to throw around, think about getting a GPS. It will tell you where the speed cameras are, and it can also help you to navigate the roads. Of course, they also come with TV and radio built in, so they can also increase the danger factor.
Basically, if you learned to drive in the US or Canada, you need to be really careful here. At home, everyone mostly follows the rules, and the other drivers are predictable within a certain range. Korean drivers consider the rules to be more like guidelines, and they are NOT predictable. You have to be a more vigilant driver here. Period.
To anyone who wants to get a car and drive here, I’d say go for it. Getting a car is easy and mostly painless. The insurance will probably kick your ass unless you’re over a certain age, but if you can afford the monster… If you can, you might want to practice with a willing friend, Korean or waeguk. I definitely think it’s possible to become a good driver here, but you have to practice.
My boss told me that everyone, when he or she first starts driving on Korean roads, feels stressed. It’s normal and expected. Take it slow and easy, and try not to lose your cool. Hope for the best, but anticipate the worst. And if you scrape someone – God forbid – hope that the person or persons are nice. I lucked out on my brush with an illegally parked POS car. I hope that, if you’re thinking about driving in Korea, your luck is just as good and preferably better than mine! And remember: be vigilant!