Monthly Archives: September 2012
One of my great cinematic regrets is that, back in the 90s, Cate Blanchett lost the Oscar for Best Actress to Gwyneth Paltrow. Cate Blanchett is one of my favorite actresses, and Elizabeth was one of her best movies. I don’t particularly mind Gwyneth Paltrow, but I don’t think, as an actress, she’s anything exceptional. She always plays the same character: a stuffy, beautiful, innocent busybody. I tend to think that she’s mostly playing herself, so I can’t give out too many props for that. Anyway, Elizabeth was a bloody brilliant movie, and Shakespeare in Love was, in my estimation, uninspired, cliched, and frankly boring. I watched it and was sorry I’d rented it. Who needs yet another rendition of “Romeo and Juliet?” Honestly. Has that story really not been beaten to death with a stick?
One of history’s great mysteries is how this fact managed to escape the Oscar panel. (Or perhaps it was Gwyneth’s inside connections that won it for her.) However, in reading a Wikipedia article about Elizabeth I after watching the movie, I noticed that there was a portrait of her with her right seemingly hidden behind the front panel of her dress. Why did this strike me as strange? Well, it’s not especially uncommon to see famous male historical figures making exactly that gesture. They stick their right hand inside their waistcoats. Napoleon did it.
George Washington did it. Stalin did it. General Lafayette did it. The gesture in and of itself hardly struck me as odd, save for the fact that it was a woman doing it.
I’ve read and heard several explanations for why Napoleon did this. The first one I ever heard was that he was bothered by stomach ulcers. I suppose that wouldn’t be a small wonder. Conquering Europe is stressful business, after all. However, over the years, the one I’ve heard repeated most often is that it is some sort of Masonic hand gesture. Conspiracy alert! Don’t judge me; I love conspiracy theories.
I’ve heard lots of people dismiss this one outright as some daft, silly thing dreamed up by people trying to see things that aren’t there. That could be true. I’m objective and willing to admit there are multiple possibilities. However, the Masons do have hand gestures which they use to identify themselves to other Masons. There are symbols that would only have great meaning to someone involved in the fraternity. How do I know this? Easy. I have family in the Masons.
Contrary to popular belief, the Masons are not Satanists, at least not to my knowledge. Now, I’m not saying that the upper echelons of the Masons didn’t get up to no good at some point during history. Most organizations have had their shadier moments at various points. Hell, even supposedly do-gooder organizations like PETA and Greenpeace have their skeletons. But by and large, every Mason I have ever known personally (and I’ve known a few) has been a nice guy who mostly just liked to have something to do once or twice a week in the evenings. The Masons I know do volunteer work and raise money for hospitals and things like that. Believe me, they aren’t out to kill babies and control world events. They might do each other business favors now and then, but it’s not quite the sundry stuff that some of the conspiracy websites would have us believe.
Do I think it’s odd that many of Western history’s greatest figures seem to be part of this group and have a serious affinity for making arcane hand gestures to one another in portraits? Not really. There is plenty of evidence that many historical figures have belonged to fraternities and things of that nature. The only thing I found rather odd was that Elizabeth herself was making the gesture.
I find it odd for two reasons. The first reason is that modern Masonry as we think of it today doesn’t have a recorded history prior to the early 1700s, and they were active predominantly in London. Incidentally, fraternities of a hermetic nature besides the Masons were becoming popular at that time: Golden Dawn, the Rosicrucians, etc. I’ve found that a lot of the literature and texts between them is the same and, it would seem, they shared members in many cases. A favorite example might be the infamous Alister Crowley, “the wickedest man in the world,” who was a member of both the Masons and the Golden Dawn. My point with this is that Elizabeth predates Washington, for example, for a good 150 years, in terms of the portrait. This would lead me to think that the Masonic order, if the so-called “hidden hand” really is a Masonic symbol, has been around much longer than 300 years.
The second interesting point is that there are very few female Masons. It does and did happen from time to time, but by and large, the Masons were and still are a fraternal order, which means no girls allowed. There is no specific rule that states this, but it seems rather to be an unspoken one. The Masons I know have admitted that there have been female Masons, but they never seemed overeager at the idea of admitting ladies into the Order. I suppose though, if there was ever a good female candidate for an “old boys’ club,” it would have been Her Majesty. After all, she wasn’t exactly known for being a shrinking violet.
So what is the hidden hand exactly, and what does it mean? Well, if you believe that it really is a Masonic symbol, it comes from the 13th degree of the Scottish Rite or the 7th degree of the York Rite – also known as the Royal Arch Degree. During this degree, the Mason learns some of the more complex secrets of the Order – including, apparently, the true name of God. (It’s Jahbulon, in case you were curious.) Anyway, the symbol comes from a conversation in Exodus that God and Moses apparently had. In a nutshell, one puts his/her hand over their heart. The heart represents intention, while the hand represents action. May your actions reflect your intentions. Bear in mind of course that, according to most of these mystery societies, this kind of thinking can run both directions – for good and bad.
If you ever care to read anything about the mysterious fraternal organizations, there is a lot of emphasis on intentions and will. It seems to me that many of them believe that you can influence your surroundings with your will. While some people might find this to be a load of crap, I do think that there is something to it. After all, will and intention can carry a person incredibly far. As I said, this line of thinking can obviously work both ways. However, I don’t think that this line of thinking is inherently good or bad. Only people’s intentions can be good or bad. Of course, the outcomes don’t always result in what the person in question exactly wants. Ever heard that expression, “Be careful what you wish for”?
In any case, this is supposedly the answer to the question about why so many famous historical figures like to hide their right hands in their jackets. For the record, the whole thing could be a lot of hooey, but as I said, I don’t believe in coincidence. I gave up on that a long time ago. There is no such thing as coincidence on the world stage. Do I think the whole thing points to a worldwide conspiracy run by devil-worshipping Masons and their ilk? Nah.
Oh sure, it’s possible that, at one time, these guys (and a few gals) were into something more, but I don’t think that modern day Masons swing that way. If I’m being perfectly frank – perhaps to the point of being rather insulting – I find it hard to believe that most (not all) of the Masons I’ve met would even grasp the higher levels of the so-called Craft. I bought Albert Pike’s old treatise about the Masonic Order, and to be honest, it’s hard to slug through, and I’m reasonably committed to slugging through things of that nature. Suffice to say, it’s thick and boring if you don’t like learning about symbolism, semiotics, etc. It’s not light reading.
Anyway, I love old mysteries like this. If anyone else has a realistic alternative explanation, I’d love to hear it. Until then, though, I’ll be rather content to think that Elizabeth got herself into the Masons. If there was ever a woman in history capable of it, it certainly would have been her!
A short while ago, I wrote a post detailing the ridiculous searches that direct people to this blog. The top ones still remain “Winnie the Pooh tattoos,” “Kate Gosselin,” and “Where to get laid in Changwon, South Korea.” Perhaps I’m just annoyed that people don’t wind up here for my witty banter and intellectual illumination. Perhaps I just really hate Winnie the Pooh. (I do. I really do.) But you know, if you want to succeed in business or, for that matter, writing, you have to give the ignorant masses what they want. So I’ll give these folks what they want. I will tell you exactly where to go if you want to get laid in Changwon.
Let’s start with the less shady options. Assuming that you’re a foreigner, I would recommend starting at a foreigner bar, such as O’Brien’s or I.P. Most everyone in Changwon hangs out at these two establishments, with some diversions being made to For Foreigner Bar (Hongdae Bar), Kevin’s Bar, or Westin Avenue. You can read all about the atmospheres of these establishments in my old post, “The People You Meet in a Changwon Bar.” This should give you a fair run-down of what your options are, as far as legally getting laid on a drunken rampage goes.
Just going off of the old style of bar-hopping, I would sow the seeds for conquest at I.P. Hell, try sowing with several different people. Wait for the night to progress. By the time everyone heads over to OB’s, they’re usually so wasted they’d shag a sheep. That’s the time to move in for the kill. Of course, the unfortunate truth for you chaps out there is that OB’s always seems to be a sausage fest. Everyone knows that guys have to work harder to get laid than girls anyway, and sausage fest scenarios don’t make that any easier. I would strongly recommend decent clothes, perhaps a nice (not overpowering) cologne, and not being a total creeper. Staring at women’s breasts will not help you. Being a pretentious hipster who doesn’t bathe regularly will probably not help, either.
Staying in touch with the legal route and continuing with the assumption that you’re a guy, you could also dip your nib in the office ink. I know plenty of guys who got hooked up with a girlfriend or two via work or work connections. This works well if you have foreign co-workers or Korean co-workers. Frankly, it seems like foreign guys are more likely to hook up with Korean girls. I don’t know why that is. Maybe they just want to get their K-Belt before they go.
The thing you have to remember about getting down and dirty with your co-workers is that you have to see them every day. If it turns out to be a one-night stand situation, well, that’s freaking awkward. Plus, you’re around children all day, and in my mind, that just adds to the awkward-ick factor. It could work out swimmingly, in which case you’re working with your significant other. That can be good or bad, but if you met at work and hit it off, there is reasonable evidence to suggest that this scenario probably won’t change.
Unless you break up for other reasons. Then you have to go into work every day and stare at someone who used to tie you to a chair and eat whipped cream out of your nooks and wobbly bits, and that’s no fun. Especially if they dumped you for another co-worker. You might want to take that into consideration.
The last thing that you could do is less legal: buy a hooker. Yeah, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, and that’s that Korea is full of prostitutes. It’s technically illegal, but I’d be shocked if anyone ever actually got arrested for having sexy time with one. There are massage places in the same buildings as hagwons. Technically, you could finish teaching and possibly head upstairs for a rub and tug. Just look for the spinning barber poles! Sometimes they come alone and sometimes they come in pairs. Hell, sometimes they’re even advertising legitimate barbershops… But mostly, they’re advertising brothels without explicitly saying, “GET PUSSY HERE!” The only ones that should be taken at face value are the ones with pictures of women with long, flowing hair on them. Those poles are usually pink, yellow, and soft colors, as opposed to the red, white, and blue barber poles.
Sometimes they’re located in basements. Sometimes they’re located in the top floors. Sometimes they’re massage parlors. Either way, you can get service there. I don’t promise that the hookers will be lookers. I certainly wouldn’t know from personal experience, but I’ve heard tell that hookers can range in appearance from young, college-aged girls looking to meet their expenses without doing “Arbeit,” all the way up to older women who look seriously old and past it. I know where at least a couple of these places are in various buildings in Jungang Dong, and I’ve never seen a truly gorgeous hooker at any of them. Most of them either look rode hard and put away wet, or they just flat-out aren’t attractive. To be fair, the person you’re hooking up with at the bar might not be that attractive either, so I suppose that might not matter.
The end result here is that you really shouldn’t have to ask where you can get laid anywhere in Asia. If you’re in Thailand, you’d have to be stupid not to know how to get laid at one of the bars. In Japan, there are hostess bars and places where you can go to have them do all sorts of sundry things to you. Except sex. Weirdly, some of them will do just about anything but, from what I understand. China, well, I don’t know, but I’m sure there’s lots of prostitution, since it’s still in Asia, last time I checked. In Korea, it’s everywhere, and it’s right in plain view, so if you can’t figure it out, well… I’m frankly surprised you were able to boot up your computer to use Google.
No, morally I don’t condone prostitution, although economically I see nothing wrong with it. I think it should be legal, to help eliminate problems like pimpin’ and human trafficking, which is just disgusting. I doubt Korea will be doing that anytime soon, though. Refer back to my post on face if you need help figuring out why they wouldn’t do that.
Anyway, good luck getting laid in Changwon. I guess if you can’t find it here, you can always go to Bangkok…
Utah Phillips, God rest him, said it best: “Little kids are assholes.” Anyone who thinks this is not true has never spent any time around children. Yeah, yeah, there are tons of parents who think their kids are sweet, perfect little angels. Well, I got news for those people: no kid is an angel all the time, and most kids will turn into devil spawn when given have a chance. Think I’m wrong? Go observe a lower level elementary school class for a day or two and see if those kids don’t treat each other like shit.
I know that it’s not nice to say that one hates children. I don’t hate all children. I have some terribly cool students at my academy that I honestly want to adopt. They’re cute, they’re nice, and they play well with others. Sometimes this is just down to a child’s personality. After all, everyone is different, thank goodness. Even in Korea, land of conformity and kimchi, people still maintain different personalities. However, there are also kids I’d like to kick in the face for being noisy, manipulative, lazy, rude, intentionally hurtful little shits.
However, I have a pretty good handle on my classes, and they rarely get out of control. I owe some of that to my boss, who always backs me up whenever they need discipline. As the foreign teacher, I’m not allowed to physically discipline students, a fact which I bemoan at times. I do, however, dish out detention and the dreaded sentence writing. I make them write anywhere from 25-100+ lines in English, depending on their age and the crimes committed. They hate that.
The real problem I have at the moment is with our g.d. unholy neighbor kids. They are evil little shits, and older one sounds like Nelson Muntz. You think I’m joking? The older one is between six and eight, and the little one can’t be past kindergarten and probably isn’t even in school yet. The older one has been standing outside making fun of his little brother for the last 30 minutes. “HA-ha! …. HA-ha!” It was funny-ish the first time, but now I just want to smack the stupid out of this little hellion.
These kids are holy terrors. As far as I can tell, they pretty much never sleep. This seems to be somewhat typical of Korean children, as it seems like their parents often don’t set strict bedtimes for them. I have seen Korean parents bring their kids to smoky bars full of drunk people for birthday parties that last until 3 a.m. I try not to judge people for things like breastfeeding or bottle feeding, cloth diapering or disposable, but I sure as hell will judge for what I consider to be generally crappy, negligent parenting that produces children whom everyone hates and who will probably turn out to be entitled, dysfunctional members of society with no sense of right or wrong.
Starting from the time they get up in the morning, these kids are all over the place. It would be one thing if they were out on the playground making noise. That’s fine; the playground is for being loud and acting like children. I can’t complain about that. The problem is that these kids scream like banshees, run all around the house, throw things, slam into walls, and bang doors and windows. They do this on the weekend from approximately nine in the morning until whenever the hell their idiot mother finally makes them go to bed, which can range from 9 p.m. until 1 a.m. Those kids have been heard screaming and running around the house until we go to bed. Does anyone else think that’s ridiculous for two kids whose maximum age doesn’t top eight?
I could be wrong, but I think the mother and father work pretty much full-time, and that leaves the kids home alone by themselves. I think some people’s first reaction might be to tell me that some parents have to work out of necessity. This is true, but it is blatantly unsafe to leave kids that young home by themselves for extended periods of time. It’s a safety hazard, not only for the children, but also for the rest of the apartment complex. What if the kids start a fire? What if they fall out of the window? You might think I’m being dramatic, but recall my story from an earlier post about a kid further up in Wolyeong Village who fell from a 26th story window to his death. This is no laughing matter; most Koreans don’t install bars on the windows, even when they’re on the high floors.
Children at that age need supervision, period. It’s not safe for them to be home by themselves for half of the day or more. It’s not safe for them to be running around outside by themselves a lot, either. Yes, Korea is generally a safe place, but there are crazy people here, just like anywhere. Some of my now-middle school students told me of a creepy, middle-aged man who tried to get them to come with him. When they refused, skeeved out and worried, he proceeded to follow them for a few blocks. Fortunately, these girls were old enough to know what to do and had strength in numbers, but would a five-year-old behave similarly? I guess that depends on what the parents have taught him/her and how that child is likely to react in those types of situations. Remember, every kid is different.
It really drives me nuts when parents don’t mind their children. When the children are allowed to play unsafely and generally make a ruckus and disturb everyone around them in the apartment building, it is not okay. These kids are not being taught basic social courtesy or respect for others. While some may laugh and say that kids don’t need to know those things, I wholeheartedly disagree. My cousins and I were all taught how to behave from a very early age, and we were expected to mind, by God. We knew the limits, and for the most part, we respected those limits. We were good kids.
Although there have always been kids who were allowed to run around and act like they own the place, I feel as though there are more and more of those kinds of children now. More parents are being forced to work longer hours because of the crap economy and the rising cost of living and having children. Kids are home alone more, and when parents get home, they’re too tired to worry around with discipline and behavior. For many of them, it’s a fight just to get food on the table and keep the house clean.
The thing is though, that children who are not made to mind and have respect for others will grow up thinking this is the norm. Children who allowed to get away with bad behavior will develop the mentality that bad behavior is normal and acceptable and that there will never be consequences for such deeds. Unfortunately, lack of consequences is becoming more the norm in our society, but I don’t support that, either. There have to be consequences. Otherwise, it is natural for people to begin believing that they are “special,” that their case is the exception in society. “Everyone else has to respect me, but I don’t have to return the favor.” Sorry, Charlie. Life doesn’t work like that, and society doesn’t function properly, given those rules or lack thereof.
Some people might consider societal norms restrictive or arbitrary or some such thing. Well, they are sometimes. Norms exist in order that society can function somewhat efficiently. If everyone broke the rules, society would devolve into chaos. Norms exist for the comfort not just of others, but also for ourselves. We don’t like it when other people’s kids yell, scream, and damage our property. Similarly, other folks probably won’t appreciate it if we do the same to them.
The bottom line is that proper behavior and socialization is necessary, if you want your kids to become reasonably functional adults. Some people think you should just let kids be kids, and I concur. However, there is a time and a place to let them run hog-wild, and it’s not at 11p.m. in a second-story apartment on a school night when the neighbors are trying to get to sleep. Take them to the park or on a hike or to one of the indoor play land areas during the day. Let them play with their friends at the playground. Take a family trip to the swimming pool or the hockey rink. Hell, go for a walk, if you’re broke as a joke! Just don’t let them ruin my day or evening. I don’t appreciate it, and kids who behave like insane rugrats will end up being disliked by everyone around them, and you, as crappy parents, will be blamed for the situation. As it should be. Don’t be a shitty parent. Take responsibility for the kids you created and presumably wanted. I can tolerate Nelson Muntz and his brother for a little bit longer, but if they ever wake up our daughter once she gets here, there will be serious hell to pay!
In the real world i.e., the West, where I grew up and have spent the majority of my life, the Chicken Dance is something stupid that you do at summer camp on all-camp activity night. In Korea, however, I have started using the term “chicken dance” to refer to something else entirely: the concept of saving face. “Saving face” isn’t a concept that is entirely unknown in the West, but we go about saving face in ways that are quite different to how one might go about it in Asia generally and Korea specifically. This week has been full of minor annoyances that come as a direct result of Koreans trying to “save face,” and honestly, I’m pretty much over it.
In the West, saving face generally amounts to trying to salvage a situation once there’s already a problem. The same could be said for Korea, but you have to have “good face” in the first place in order for there to be anything to save. But Marge, you might be asking yourself, isn’t that life? Well, sort of. The thing is, Asians have a very different idea about what face is than Westerners do.
In the first place, Confucianism, which is still strong in Korea, pushes the idea that the exterior reflects the interior. This basically amounts to most everyone in Korea going to great lengths to look his/her best all day, every day. The women wear gobs of makeup and appear dressier in public than their Western counterparts. The men wear nicer clothes and definitely more suits. Everyone likes to be seen with popular name brand hand bags, puffy winter coats, and the biggest cars. To not do so would be, well, losing face. You don’t want to be poor, do you? (Never mind that, much like in the US, a good portion of these things are gotten on credit.)
The problem is that there’s more to face than just looking decent. You also have to know how to avoid confrontation. Koreans don’t like confrontation. Relating to the workplace particularly, they don’t like it pointed out when there’s a problem, even when everyone and their brother knows damn well that there is one. Everyone tiptoes around the issue, hoping to God that someone else will fix it before it either becomes an emergency or moot. The downward spiral from “emergency” to “moot” can happen in the space of about 15 minutes. It’s incredible.
The thing is, nobody wants to be seen as stepping on someone else’s toes, for that would cause the other party to “lose face,” and by causing that person to lose face, you have lost face yourself. This is about the point that most Westerners think, So how does anything ever get done, if everyone is paralyzed with fear at making someone else look bad? The answer is simple: it doesn’t. Nothing ever gets done here. There are so many social rules to follow, most all of them unspoken, and so many potential pitfalls to tumble into, especially when dealing with superiors, that nobody ever wants to step up to the plate and offer up alternatives or ideas. That could potentially set you up to make someone else look bad, even if it makes you look good. (You want to be humble, right?) Conversely, having ideas can backfire on you and, should that idea go wrong, everyone else will scapegoat you. Like hell. Believe me, there is no room for individuality or, for that matter, logical or creative thinking where saving face is involved. The herd mentality rules supreme.
Does this sound obnoxious yet? Trust me, it is, particularly in business settings. How does business ever get done when nobody can be forthcoming or even remotely direct about what is going on in negotiations or even simple day-to-day tasks? The honest answer is that I haven’t the foggiest idea. It is frankly amazing to me that any Korean company, like Samsung, has achieved any amount of international recognition. I’m amazed that they ever managed to design something that works, frankly.
I was at IP one night, talking to an American guy who was working at one of the big companies here in Changwon. He told me a rather interesting story that highlights both saving face and another major problem in Korea: suicide. There are about 40 suicides a day in Korea, ranking it first in the world for suicide. But I digress.
This American chap had a team of Korean workers under him. I have no idea what they did, and it’s not pertinent to the story. What is pertinent is that when something went wrong, company policy required them to fill out reports detailing what had gone wrong, who had been involved, etc. It was the job of the American boss to look over these reports and tweak the daily doings so that they could improve the scenario. The problem was that the Korean workers never filled them in on time and, if they were ever completed at all, the reports were riddled with errors and lies. The American boss caught on pretty quickly and called his team in for a meeting.
During this meeting, he called the whole group out, not one person in particular. He told them that dishonesty and inefficiency would not be tolerated and that he expected better in the future. Feeling content that things were sorted, he dismissed the team and let them get back to being productive.
About an hour later, the team reassembled to go over something, and the American boss noticed that one of his Korean workers, whom we’ll call Mr. Lee, was missing. When he asked one of the other team members where Mr. Lee had disappeared to, the worker uncomfortably answered that Mr. Lee had taken a detour to the roof of the building and decided to practice his high-dive. In short, the guy had “passed himself away,” as the always-lovely Evie from Girls Will Be Girls would say.
I don’t blame the American boss. How could he have known that a relatively routine talking-to would result in the guy jumping off of a building? But this is how seriously stressed out and overworked Koreans take losing face. I’m sure that the guy perceived that he had lost face and would possibly be facing inquiries and a potential firing. Life would be intolerable under such conditions.
A less extreme example might be shown by looking at the goings-on in my own academy. Let me be totally clear and say that my boss is a rockstar. He’s seriously the God of Korean bosses. He actually makes sense most of the time. After all, you have to forgive some cultural differences. This little tic of saving face is not limited to him, however.
This year, the Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) holiday is a bit, well, jacked. Chuseok falls on Sunday this year, which means that we only get Saturday, Sunday, and Monday off – a measly three days. It’s best if Chuseok falls on Tuesday or Thursday, since that gives you a five-day weekend. Anyway, the first full moon after Chuseok is also a holiday. Funnily enough, the first full moon this year falls on Wednesday, which creates an inconvenient “sandwich day” on Tuesday when everyone ought to go to work.
Now, Koreans work a lot. They don’t work efficiently or intelligently, but they work a lot. That said, nobody in his right mind wants to come in for one stupid day of work between two holidays. My boss doesn’t either, but he doesn’t want to admit that. I’ve asked him numerous times about the sandwich day, and his first reaction was that we’d probably be working because a bunch of our middle schoolers won’t be done with testing until after the holiday. Still, has time has worn on, he seems less resilient about coming in on that day. When I asked him again, knowing that my friend would be in town and I wanted to make plans, he seemed less convinced that we’d be working. Not wanting to appear lazy (in my estimation), his answer was, “Well, let me ask the other directors on this floor what they’re doing. If they close, we’ll close.”
Ah ha. There’s the rub: we’ll do what everyone else is doing. So he managed to catch the director the big math academy next door. Her response? “Well, I’m not sure. What are you guys doing?” And then they hummed and hawed around (the chicken dance) and came to no appreciable conclusion, since neither of them wanted to admit that they’d rather lick a cactus than come to work on Tuesday. They concluded the informal meeting by deciding that they’d follow the other academies in downtown Masan.
So my boss got on the horn with his director buddy at the GnB down the road, which is one of the bigger rackets in this neighborhood. What was his buddy’s response? “Well, erm, gee, I don’t know. I guess it depends on what the guys down the road at Jung Cheol are doing.” Jung Cheol is the biggest academy in Masan, in case you were curious. (I know you weren’t.) In a nutshell, after all of that chicken dancing and scratching and pecking around, nothing was accomplished. Nobody knows what they’re doing, and they’re all afraid to call off for fear that they might be the only ones closed. Wouldn’t want to lose face by appearing lazier than other academies! You think this is some kind of sick joke, but it’s true.
Every culture has social cues and norms that are implicitly understood. Korea has more of those than the West. Westerners, in comparison to Koreans, are brutally direct, particularly in the workplace, and that applies to Americans most specifically. Koreans have no problem telling you that you look like a fat ass or that your face is melting due to old age/lack of plastic surgery, but they will generally skirt the issues at work or really when anything is important. You’re just expected to understand, which makes being a newbie here more than a bit difficult at times. By contrast, I feel that expectations in the West are more direct, which is helpful when you don’t really know the expectations in the first place.
Many foreigners here are left with the impression that Koreans expect them to be mind readers. This is sort of true. They expect the same of Koreans, but it is marginally easier when you’re at least dealing with your own culture. The lack of planning and subtle social cues that Koreans drop don’t really do the job for most Westerners. The Koreans can’t understand why the foreigner didn’t pick up what to them amounts to an obvious cue, and the poor little waeguk ends up thinking that Koreans are insane, never mind disorganized flounders who can’t tell up from down. Which is kind of true sometimes.
For my part, I’ve gotten used to many of the aspects of “face” and trying to save it in Korea. I’ve learned to pick up on a lot of the Korean social cues. I can read between the lines when my boss says certain things. “Student A is taking a break” means “Student A quit and probably won’t be back.” Sometimes the student is legitimately on a break, but most of the time, they never reappear. “My father’s surgery was expensive” translates to “I’m fucking pissed as all hell that my culture requires me to pay for my father’s expensive-ass back surgery, which he has required four of given his seeming inability to keep his back brace on.” My very favorite is that my boss is a semi-closeted smoker. I know he smokes. The students all know that he smokes. The parents all know that he smokes. However, “the parents wouldn’t like it” if they “knew” that he smoked. Somewhere around week two or three he sheepishly asked me not to mention it to the students because it “wouldn’t look good for [a teacher] to smoke.” So I tell my daily (okay, thrice to ten times daily) lie when they ask where Mike Teacher is. “Oh, he’s in the bathroom.” “Oh, he’s talking to the art teacher.” Sometimes a student will get bold and say, “I think he is smoking, Teacher.” At that, I just stare blankly ahead at my computer and say, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t think he smokes.”
See how this works? We all know that A is true, but we all say that B is true because that makes everything look better. Supposedly everyone feels better about it, too, because as long as no guilt is actually admitted, B is “true.” It’s true because we say it is. Truth is in the eye of the beholder. God help the person who tells the objective, rational truth. Korea is no place for logic or reason.
Think you could make it here? I’ve been here for four non-consecutive years, and sometimes I just can’t with the face and the procrastinating and all the myriad bullshit that seems to pile up around a person. Korea will warp your mind, if you’re here long enough. My grandpa told me once that I’d never understand the Asian mind, and he was sort of right. I understand it, actually. I understand their motivations, and I see the history and the cultural reasons for their behavior. I still think they’re nuts sometimes, but I get it. It still make me steaming mad sometimes, but I get it.
That said, I’m still glad to be from America – where people have no qualms about talking money openly and directly (don’t fuck with my cash, man), people will lie to your face about how your clothes look (“Girl, you look fierce in bright orange leotards!”), and if you screw up, you’re pretty much going to hear about it. And you know, there’s a whole hell of a lot to be said for honesty, even if most people by and large don’t appreciate it.
We just got back from my 32 week doctor’s appointment, although it was more like 31 weeks and 5 days. Everything looks good – organs are developed, my blood pressure is good although I’m gaining weight like nuts now, and there appear to be no problems with the baby… Except that she’s freaking huge. She’s almost the size of a 34-35 week baby.
The doctor started moving around her magic sonogram wand, and her eyes got huge when she did the cranial measurement. “Oh wow, the head is 34 weeks. It’s very big.” Because the picture was blurry today – she blamed it on abdominal gas (gross) – we went downstairs to get a more powerful sonogram from the big machine. The tech said her head is 35 weeks. Her eyes were equally big, and she appeared equally as stunned as the doctor. The doctor later announced that she weighs just shy of 5 lbs. (about 2.1-2.3 kilos) and that she is very big for her gestational age. She then started telling me that soon, I will need to start exercising like a mad woman. Basically, she wants me to go into labor at 37 or 38 weeks – preferably 37. I laughed and told her that had never happened in my family. Usually, the babies go to 40-41 weeks. She made a face and said, “In that case, she will be huge, and I recommend C-section.”
My husband has said all along that he hoped we’d have a big baby. I agree; big babies are generally healthier and have better chances of survival outside the womb. That said, he doesn’t have to give birth to the little (big) bugger! I can’t really express how legitimately surprised the doctor looked. I guess most Korean kids aren’t born that big. She’d get over it if she saw the kids that are routinely delivered in my family! We don’t grow ’em small.
Anyway, the next few weeks are going to be interesting. Quite rightly, I’m already having a hard time getting out of bed and chairs. I’m getting to the point where I need a lift up to get out of certain places. It’s kind of sad and hilarious at the same time. To loosely quote the late, great Erma Bombeck, I’m unlikely to leave a comfortable chair before I go into labor or it catches fire. Whichever comes first. I guess that’s not surprising, given that the baby has gained 1 lb. in the last 10 days. I’ve read that the average fetus gains about a 1/2 lb. a week until delivery from about 30 weeks on. If that’s the case, assuming I go to 40 weeks, she’ll be about 9 – 10 lbs. Excellent. No wonder the doctor wants me to go at 37 weeks.
Now that the doctor has started talking about delivery and such… I’m getting all nervous again. I’m actually not that terrified about the delivery, partly because I’m just not (I’m dumb), but also because I know that I’m going to be ready to have this all over and done. I’m getting really uncomfortable, and I think the baby’s squished, too. We’ll be ready to part bodily company, I’m sure. Anyway, now I’m in that mode where I’m terrified that we’ve forgotten something or we’re going to accidentally kill her or something. I guess most new parents feel that way, but still. New babies. Mildly frightening.
Alright well, since she’s already gigantic, I’m going to go feed her a load of meat leftover from last night, since it’s noon and I’m starving. I’m always starving. I’m pregnant. And from the look of things, she takes her fair share of my dinner, so I’m not going to feel too guilty about it!
Did you all know that typhoons, hurricanes, and cyclones are all the same damn thing, just in a different ocean? Frankly, I never did until I came here. I guess I must have slept through that part of science class in high school. To be fair, I slept through a lot of classes in high school. Whatever the case, hurricanes are Atlantic Ocean storms, typhoons are Pacific Ocean storms, and cyclones are (I think) Indian Ocean storms. We get typhoons here in Korea, and this particular typhoon season has been an active one. We’ve already had two, and a third is on the way next week.
I come from the land of corn and rednecks, where tornadoes and flood season tend to be our main woes, along with disgusting winter blizzards and ice storms. This year has been one plagued by a horrible drought, but that’s fairly unusual, in my experience. I wasn’t home, of course, but as far as I could tell from what my folks relayed to me, it was the worst since I’ve been around. (That’s about three decades, give or take some. Yes, I’m going to start lying about my age and, should I ever choose to get it, Botox.) What I’m saying is that typhoons and hurricanes are a new thing for me. The only way hurricanes ever affected me in America was by dropping rain on the heartland and possibly giving my some giggles when Kanye West goes on a tangent about W. not caring about black people in the wake of Katrina. Now, however, my apartment is just up a mini-mountain from the ocean, and typhoons are very much a part of life at the end of the summer.
Korea has had its fair share of bad typhoons, although the worst in recent memory was in 2003, Maemi. Yes, the damn thing was named after the cicadas, though I can’t imagine why. One would think typhoons slightly more annoying than chirping bugs, but maybe not to Koreans. In any case, Maemi hit Masan/Changwon hard, and most of my students still remember it as scary, wet, and a good excuse to get out of school. Apparently downtown Masan was flooded out, and the ocean road had huge waves crashing onto over it.
I’m going to take a minor diversion here and retell a short story about when I was in Germany. A Turkish girl lived across the hall from me in the dorms, and we got on quite well. She asked me if I’d ever been in a tornado, and I must’ve lit up like a Christmas tree, because I had – quite recently, in fact. The year before, my hometown had been hit by a tornado right after I came back from France. It hit with literally no warning and fucked some shit up in a serious way. Tornados are crazy like that, which is why I tend to think they’re more dangerous than typhoons – you never know if or when they’re coming. Anyway, she found it sincerely odd that I got so excited about such dangerous weather. She told me it must be an American thing, because every American she had talked to about weather had a similar reaction when dangerous storms came into the conversation. My husband attributes this to the bombastic, naive character of the American people, which I suppose is fair. Americans are risk-takers in ways that most Europeans simply aren’t. I guess we really do live up to the cowboy reputation, at times.
Whatever the case, big storms don’t scare me, as such. I don’t like earthquakes, and I’m scared of tsunamis, but we don’t get those in Korea, so no worries there. (Japan protects us from them.) I’m the sort of idiot who will go outside to film a tornado, as long as I can sit on the porch. Driving through thunderstorms with hail and rain doesn’t bother me, and I’ve driven through two feet of snow after a blizzard to get home when everyone else was stuck inside. I drove for 17 hours across Kansas through a blizzard with a couple in the midst of a breakup-level fight and lived to tell the tale. Basically, I walk the thin line between brave and stupid… I’m probably stupid.
Bringing this back around, we’re due for another typhoon on Monday or Tuesday, this one named Sanba. Typhoons Bolaven and one I already can’t remember hit the southwest coast a few weeks ago. Bolaven was Maemi-sized and did some fairly serious damage in the Jeollanam-do area, but we didn’t get much over here to the east. The public schools closed, but I really don’t know why. We got a bit of wind and rain, but nothing that would even be on par with the worst Midwestern thunderstorm. Needless to say, I was disappointed. For one thing, I had to go to work in the rain. For another, well, c’mon, when the weatherman tells me something exciting will happen, dammit, I expect some destruction! Nothing. Not even a broken window in the apartment complex.
This new typhoon is going to hit the bulk of the southern coast, from Mokpo to Busan, or so it would appear as of today. The typhoon is still several days out to sea, so there is time for it to change course or lose strength, but frankly, I’m hoping for a three-day weekend. Yes, some people will tell me that I’m awful for wishing destruction and possibly death on people, but you know… I just honestly enjoy craptacular weather. I think storms are exciting and interesting. I like going to sleep when there’s a thunderstorm outside. I like hearing the familiar call of the tornado siren. I enjoy watching lightning flash across the prairie. Why wouldn’t I enjoy big old waves battering the beach road and wind rattling the windows? It’s not like I was dumb enough to rent a place next to the ocean. If people want to live that close to something Mother Nature whips into a frenzy with her shit-disturbin’ spoon, that’s their business. I’m happy to be on the hill, thank-you-very-much. No floods up here!
Anyway, I’m hoping for some excitement, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Korea just doesn’t deliver, when it comes to bad weather. Actually, as far as excitement goes, Korea fails in comparison to most places I’ve lived. Germany had its moments of boredom, to be certain, but we still managed to find trouble to get into. I guess the bottom line is that my American heart craves adventure and, yes, a bit of danger mixed in there once in awhile. I’m not sure all Americans are like this, but most I know enjoy the occasional shake-up, which seems to be in contrast to those from other countries. In any case, I hope that Sanba can deliver better than the last two. If I’m going to get myself all up in a dander about a storm, something better happen!
If you live on the Korean peninsula and want to track the typhoons we get or just get an accurate weather forecast in English, I highly recommend the Korean Meteorological Association.
My husband went out to grab us a snack before bed (I’m always, always hungry now), so the house is quiet. He spent all day yesterday rearranging the house and making one bedroom into a nursery for our baby. Now that it’s cooling off, we’ve had the windows open to air out the house. The jugong is surprisingly quiet tonight, save for the crickets and the occasional sound of a hacking, spitting ajosshi. As I was sitting here, pulling up Halloween decorations for a site I like to pretend that I don’t use, I realize something: the cicadas are gone.
They seem to have vanished, disappeared into thin air, like a villain from a Harry Potter novel. I haven’t seen a single carcass, save for when we had those really unexciting typhoons that did little more than down some limbs. There is no evidence whatsoever of their departure. Like the inhabitants of Roanoke, they seem to have just dematerialized into the ether. This can only mean one thing: fall is coming.
It has been rainy this weekend, but instead of the rain leaving the town feeling damp and sticky and humid to the point of being nearly unbearable, it only seemed to feel cooler. The rain itself no longer felt as warm, though I have to admit that it was far from cold. The breeze was blowing most of the day, and as I stepped out into the afternoon air to walk to the car, I realized that I really didn’t need to be wearing shorts. Capris or even jeans would have been okay. There was a distinct lack of that summery feeling in the air.
I know that I wrote posts about fall last year, but you know, fall is my favorite time of year, and I’m going to write about it again this year. Fall always feels like coming home to me. I dearly love summer, with its warm temperatures, excellent tan lines, and excuses to wear strappy sandals. I also love that time of year when the leaves start to change and you can smell a particular smell in the air… It’s the smell of moisture, leaves, apples making their own cider once they’ve fallen to the ground, and elephant ears at local fall festivals. It’s the smell of warm apple cider on Grandma’s stove, baking pumpkin seeds, pumpkin pie, and crisp morning air.
Something about fall just makes me happy. The only thing that I hate about it is the fact that, at the end of this beautiful time of year, winter lingers after. I don’t like truly cold weather, and I hate snow any time after Christmas. But I try not to think about that. I try to focus as best I can on the here and now, and the here and now of fall is really the best time of year for me.
I like pulling out my sweaters and wearing them with shorts and sandals. I like pulling out my boots and wearing them with corduroys and jeans. I like being able to wear a stylish jacket to work and not come in sweating myself stupid and forcing a premature trip to the dry cleaners. I love Halloween with a zest that my husband finds frankly strange. I love Thanksgiving, because it’s like Christmas but without all the materialism and having to fake your love for a gift that you hate. In short, fall is a season for fantastic fashion, delicious food, and fun holidays that are centered around having a good time with family and friends.
Fall always makes me homesick, too. Whenever I’m away from home in the fall, my mind always wanders back to the bluffs around the Illinois River, which are about a 15-20 minute drive from my house. I have no idea why this is, but for some reason, when I think of home, that’s what I think of. I know that I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s almost an overwhelming vision that I associate with autumn in the Midwest. Farmers harvesting the crops, hues of brown, yellow, and orange further illuminated by the late afternoon sun, and beautiful trees all along the river roads that run along the bluffs. To anyone who has ever said that the Midwest can’t be beautiful, they have never seen that view.
Perhaps there are other positive things that I associate with fall. Going on a “haunted hayride” with my friends in high school. Trick-or-treating with friends when I was in grade school. Haunted tours now that I’m older. Having a date to the homecoming dance in high school. (Believe me, that was a big one for me, as I was a pariah in high school, love-wise. … I think my first date turned out to be gay. I was a fag hag before I even knew what the term meant.) Having a cup of hot apple cider in a barn at an apple picking event. My old pumpkin orange American Eagle sweater that I am confident I still own. Grandpa handing me a rifle, forcing me into a deer stand, and demanding that I shoot a squirrel for Thanksgiving gravy. In case you’re curious, I almost got one. I grazed its tail, which only served to piss the thing off, and it spent the next 10 minutes chattering at me before finally running off just as I was about to get another shot off.
It’s not that I don’t have bright and fond memories of other seasons, but the color of the memories of fall just seem somehow brighter to me, in spite of the fact that fall represents the darkening and eventual death of another year. I know a lot of people who hate fall for that very reason, but I can’t let it get me down. The “golden years” of the year don’t bother me. Get it while you can. Enjoy the last of what’s left. It’s getting into the groove of a new year that I always had a hard time with.
There are some ingredients missing from a good old American fall in Korea, as one might expect. Proper Halloween celebrations are one thing. They treat it like Valentine’s Day. I suppose, to the untrained eye, Halloween looks a bit like Valentine’s. The thing is though, that Valentine’s Day sucks. It’s a naturally exclusive holiday, whereas Halloween is for everyone, young and old. They don’t know jack about a decent costume, and carving pumpkins here is an uphill climb. Hell, finding a pumpkin can be an uphill climb, if you don’t know where to look. Cider in Korea means 7-Up, so you can guess how much luck a girl might have finding a cup of the hot, appley variety. I really miss having apple cider with bacon and pancakes for breakfast in the fall. Or oatmeal.
Still, Korea does have some incredibly beautiful mountains, and one thing Korea has in spades is foliage. The mountains are simply gorgeous in the fall, and I fully intend to force my husband into a couple of driving excursions up and down the local mountains so that I can take shameless amounts of pictures of the scenery, much like a Korean would. I guess I’ve been in Asia too long.
The last great thing about fall this year is that our daughter will be born in the fall. Her due date is November 16th, although my husband seems to hope that she’ll come earlier rather than later. I think that’s unlikely, but I have to admit that I would be overjoyed if she showed up on Halloween! I think she will be a November baby, though, and probably a Scorpio. (Half of the people I’m close to are Scorpios. It’s rather ridiculous. I guess I have an affinity for moody, broody types.) That will be all the more reason to celebrate fall this year.
In any event, I’m enjoying the subtle change of seasons. I love fall, and ready for the holidays and the harvest. Yes, it’s always a bit of a comedown to bit farewell to the warm, jolly months of summer and all the revelry they bring, but I find a bit more revelry to be had in the fall.
As I’m sure everyone in the US and the rest of the world is somewhat painfully aware, election season 2012 is upon us. It’s pretty much all Americans hear about on TV for the six to nine months leading up to November, although speculation about everything starts well before that, especially for the party with primaries. Frankly, the whole thing is a media circus, and the circus stays in town for about a year or more. It’s like living with elephants and a donkey show next door for an indeterminate period of time.
Now, I enjoy following politics. Well, not politics, but I enjoy having a political opinion. I think politics in and of itself is ridiculous, but I like to think that I have a reasonably well-developed, sensible opinion about the state of the world today and how we might go about alleviating some of the problems facing the world generally and the US particularly. I’m a freedom-loving, government-intolerant libertarian, and I don’t care who knows it. The big problem I have right now is close-minded, war-mongering, fiscally irresponsible, ill-informed Republicans and close-minded, war-justifying (now that Bush is gone), fiscally irresponsible Democrats harping about the election – all over Facebook.
I expect it on the news channels. That’s the main reason I only watch them if something major is happening, and even then, I assume that the facts are being loosely interpreted. I get what I need and then close my Internet browser and move on. Frankly, I’m happy that I’m not home, having to listen to Obama and Romney try and convince the public that they’re somehow different from one another. As far as I can tell, they’re both socialist, freedom-hating, war-mongering idjits. It baffles me that people can’t see this, but I guess if you get all of your news from Fox or MSNBC, you would be inclined to think that they’re somehow representative of two different schools of thought.
The ignorance and apathy issue bothers me, but I can get over it, to some degree. What I can’t get over is people who have opinions but who are still mostly ignorant get one their high horses and ride across the pasture that is Facebook, allowing said horse to crap out nuggets of half-truth for the world to read. Let it be said that I stopped reading a long time ago.
I’m sick of hearing that Romney is going to save the economy from Obama. I’m sick of hearing that Obama is Jesus or John Lennon or whatever. I’m sick of hearing that Democrats love peace. I know Democrats who intend to vote for Obama again in spite of the fact that he has carried out unconstitutional military actions against Libya. They ranted against Bush when he had Congressional authority to send troops to Iraq. I’m sick of Republicans saying that Obama is a socialist and that Romney can fix it when, in fact, Romney Care was a precursor to Obama Care. Come the fuck on, people. Are you really this stupid?
The other thing that goads me is how quickly people are willing to insinuate that, because I don’t agree with them 100%, that I must be stupid. Interestingly, this happens far more often among liberals. One of my buddies left a rant up today stating in no uncertain terms that Dems are statistically smarter than Reps. Interestingly, if we’re going by IQ, libertarians have the highest overall IQ, as a group. But I digress. Flinging insults about someone’s intelligence just because they don’t agree with whatever your opinion happens to be is a poor argument and nothing more. I also hate it when people hold up an intellectual (Paul Krugman, just to pull a name out of thin air) and, because said person has a Ph.D. or a Nobel Prize or some such, state that they must be right because they’re smarter than us. That’s baloney. Anyone with eyes and a few brain cells can observe and process reality. You don’t need a Ph.D. in economics to know that the bailouts aren’t working.
Essentially, I’m tired of being talked down to by people who have pet causes, usually social ones, and then treated like an imbecile because I don’t agree with the way they want to effect change. Dammit, wasn’t Facebook created so that we could overshare pictures of our kids and/or cats? If I know you well enough to be your friend on FB, I know your political leanings. Chances are good I’ve debated with you about politics at some point. I really don’t need to hear you tell me that I’m an asshole for opposing any and all gun control or socialized medicine or market controls or unconstitutional war or whatever. I’m sick of hearing the two major parties and their apologists make up lame excuses about why something is different this time.
Attacking Libya was different because we were doing it to protect their human rights! We don’t need Congressional approval because Obama’s heart is in the right place!
Congress has the right to redistribute your money to people and entities you don’t know or support, but it’s your duty because some people are poor or because if we let this company go bust, the economy will tank.
You know what I have to say to ham-fisted arguments like this? Piss off. I refuse to insult someone’ s intelligence as part of my argument, but coming to me with a weak, poorly researched position and expecting me to enjoy it or even believe it isn’t silly? Nay, it’s insulting.
Now, I could solve this whole thing by deleting my FB profile for election season, but I don’t really want to. I’ve been posting ultrasound pictures of our unborn daughter for my family, and keeping my folks abreast of baby news is really important to me right now. Facebook is a great means of communication, given that I’m far away from my loved ones. However, I do think I’m going to start filtering the political posts. I just can’t take any more ignorance on my boards.
In a nutshell, I will be relieved when it’s all over. Obama will win, Romney will retreat into wealthy obscurity, nobody will give Johnson the time of day, and us libertarians will be left beating our heads against the nearest wall. Yup, it’s just business as usual here! Regardless of the outcome though, I will be incredibly grateful when I can stop reading about racist Republicans, do-nothing Democrats, and Robama. … Robama. It’s sounds like a weird robot name for a Korean kids’ animation. If only that were true…