I leave tomorrow for a month long trip to the USA. As is always the case I’m stressed out and anxious, and one of the things that stresses me out the most is having the identical bullshit conversations with people about living in South Korea and Asia in general.
So, as one does, I made a bingo card of all my anxieties. This way even if I have a panic attack while listening to someone drone on I can still feel like a winner!
Did I mention I more or less quit my job?
“More or less” because when the time came to renew my teaching contract for another year, I chose not to so now I’m just wiling away the days until my last one, which will be Friday.
I’ve been at my main school since 2011. It was great teaching these kids. I even liked most of them, in particular the current crop who will be starting 6th grade next week. But I also need a break. Which I realize is such a luxurious, privileged thing to say. And I feel both those things and not necessarily in a bad way, but in a fortunate and thankful way. It’s been a privilege to work with and know everyone I met students and teachers. I worked for years. I saved money. Now I can take a few months off to do as I please. Savings along with my wife’s income should hold us and once my visa gets sorted out I’ll be able to freelance and teach private students. We’ll see what happens.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m a little stressed out. Having no schedule, no time when I need to be up, no place I need to be, that’s spooky. I fear I’m either going to become completely indolent, or worse, and this is actually more likely, I’ll become so utterly fussy that I’ll be vacuuming the ceiling every day at 3 o’clock sharp and other somewhat OCD compulsions and more or less driving people crazy.
Did I mention I graduated grad school and am now a “Master of Education”?
I’m glad it’s done. Now I can read all the books. All the books. But the degree might prove useful later on, especially when it comes time to find a new job. You’d think right?
One thing that always got me was when folks would say how they wanted to take a grad course while in Korea, but when I told them the time to enroll for my program they’d give me some long blahblahblah about how my school was a bad school and there are online programs and yaddayadda – and yes, fine, my school isn’t the greatest. It’s basically a local community college, but it really bugs me when I see people want to do a thing, talk about doing it, then when you point them to an opportunity to do it, they tell you how the opportunity is somehow wrong, and so they won’t do it. Meanwhile I got my degree and they’re still talking about getting theirs.
In other facets of my life I should apply that insight, instead of waiting for right conditions.
Did I mention our cat died?
Yeah, that sucked. But it was months ago. She was a big annoying cat who had like four owners by the time she was 4 years old – and I loved every fat ounce of her, but it turned out she had a heart problem. I like to think she had a decent three years with us. We still have another cat. Her name is Mona Lisa Overdrive. She’s also annoying. And I love her to pieces.
I realized my favorite thing about living in South Korea. And I don’t even think it’s a South Korean thing, as a hold over to being a country not the size of the USA thing. Like if I lived in Ireland or Italy, I suspect I’d encounter the same thing. It was also what made me like living in Queens, NY. I know, Queens!
Anyway, what I like is that the city where I live, Pohang, retains the quality where a single pedestrian who is probably elderly determines how the city is designed. It’s like if you took Betty White and made her a metric unit that measured urban accessibility. Okay, maybe not Betty White, maybe Jane Jacobs, but you get the idea.
Pohang is a kilojacobs city in that every neighborhood is self-sufficient. Within an easy walk of my house I have access to hardware stores, stationary stores, delis, grocery stores, a traditional market, and restaurants. It was something Joe Mitchell talked about in post-war New York where every neighborhood was a self-contained village. This single pedestrian is accommodated in other ways as well: lots of parks with places to sit down, a robust bus system, and cheap taxis. This is vastly different from the USA where the unit of urban measure is a family with an automobile, and therefore things can be spread out, the supermarket here, the school there, and your entertainment way over there. Public transportation is treated as a charity to be given to the unfortunate, and not as a tie that binds the city together.
Now, I am talking about a small city. I have no idea how Seoul compares, although even there I think it would conform to the model of Queens, NY as opposed to Detroit, MI. And like I said I don’t think this is necessarily a Korean thing, some kind of “Wow. Confucianism dictates that you treat your elders with so much respect!” bull shit, as it is related to country-size. The USA has “Settling This Vast Empty Land” as a foundational myth, and it shows in most of our cities.
Fortunately for me, Korea’s foundational myths don’t seem to effect urban planning all that much.
Once more ghost hunting became fashionable. People met online and discussed preferred methods. Mediumship wasn’t so lucky. No one could simply channel spirits any more. Electricity was the stuff of life, especially when coupled with water. Appointments were made. A clandestine meeting in a coffee shop, then a parking lot, finally ending in a neon-decorated motel’s VIP suite with a view that overlooked the all night express bus terminal. They took turns in the bath tub, the soap suds dissolving into the sound of hydraulic brakes. The hairdryer failed to spark in their wet hands. Maybe next time. Paracelsus for morons.