Tuesday, January 5, 2016

it's blogger's fault

Nah, not really. It hasn't been eating my updates. I can't blame it. Between working, having a girlfriend, job-hunting, trying to find short-term gigs, and staring agog at the news, I haven't blogged.

Anyway, it's 2016. I should have started a job this week, but Immigration decided to foul up the works. So I'm in limbo for a couple of weeks, hoping that everything works out. I've had lots of time to watch basketball and look at other short-term gigs. Too much time really. I am consumed with frustration at the moment. I just wanna be working and making a living and getting on with my life. I feel I'm running in circles at the moment. Looking at Facebook only makes things worse. Anyway...that's enough for now.

Adventures in Korean

This sort of post shouldn't be written. I should be using Korean with relative facility. I should still be learning vocabulary, but after 6 years of living in Korea, I should have some sort of ease with Korean. When I lived in Croatia, I was on my own capably using Croatian within a week - going to the post office, getting directions, talking to students.

I got off to a terrible start in Korea - which is to say that I actively tried not to learn the first two years. I would just fall back on the "foreigner card" and basically fumble around like a helpless person until someone bailed me out. And they did, because it was clear that I'm clueless. I really think that my failure to try to learn had some sort of a distorting effect on the language center of my brain because it's as if I'm trying to undo that programming now, and learning Korean continues to be a great struggle.

Since 2012 I've spent a lot of time and energy learning Korean. For financial reasons I haven't had a teacher. I have had to learn by reading books. Sometimes the people who've helped me have disagreed with the books I've used to learn which is disruptive when one is learning steadily, if not spectacularly. Also the conditions might not have been the best. It's very rare that I have sat down at a desk at home or in a coffee shop and, in nice relaxing conditions, tried to study the book. Usually when I was studying I was hanging onto the strap on the subway with one hand, my bag hanging from my shoulder, book in the other hand, trying to learn Korean.

When I use Korean I'll get most of the word right or I'll change the first letters of two syllables - or whatever....I'm so close. Close, however, is not all the way there.

And I'm not patient which just makes it worse.

I learned other languages - French, German, Croatian - very easily and so I'm not used to struggling at it. I feel like my Korean is like a gallant but ultimately losing sports team. They indisputably put forth effort, and it's admirable, but the results are still the same.

To illustrate my awkwardness with Korean, I just wanted to share a story. The first one happened over the course of a year. I had come back to Korean in 2012 and I worked for a woman at a hagwon (a school for getting extra instruction in English). Her name was Seongil Kim but never mind that. I called her Wonjangnim which is the Korean word for boss at a hagwon. So when the kids would ask why we had to study until a certain time or they'd ask why they had to something and the answer wasn't mine, I'd say "ask Wonjangnim".

I thought that was her name!

It sounds like a Korean name!!! Well, that's the story I'm sticking to anyway! I don't believe it caused any confusion. The kids knew her in that relationship also, so when I said wonjangnim, it wouldn't have confused them. Anyway, it was a couple of years later that it dawned on me that I had been referring to her title rather than by her name. Yep....a bit slow at times.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Honesty with personal property in Korea

So yesterday I nearly lost my wallet. I went to the toilet at a cafe and then after completing my #2 apparently my wallet fell out when I went to pull up my pants. I didn't find that out until two hours later when I wanted to leave and I tried desperately to find it. I hadn't been anywhere except for the bathroom – I had just been sitting at the table working on finding and applying for university teaching positions – so I didn't think the wallet could have disappeared. So I was really mystified when I went to look for it and couldn't find it. Anyway, fortunately, it turned out that it hadn't gone far. Some anonymous saint had turned it in to Security. I was fawning and practically hyperventilating when I realized the security man had my wallet. Once again though, I'm just so glad that Koreans are honest with stuff. I had no money on me so it'd have been a pain getting home. I'd only just gotten my D10 visa, so it really would have been a pain in the ass to get those things again. Anyway, so thankful for the honesty of Koreans (I've also twice left my laptop on the subway and recovered it at a subway station booth both times).

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

New visa

Well, I finally have a new visa. It's a job-hunting visa (D-10). You're not supposed to work when you're under it, and so I'm not. Cough cough. Oops, I seems to have acquired a cough. Oh dear, what a bad cough I have.

So anyway, currently I am applying for university jobs which is what I've been wanting for a few years. I might have to leave Seoul, but I'd be happy to if I could get a nice university job. Anyway, I feel somewhat pleased in that I survived my boss not paying me in the wake of my father dying away. I wasn't forced by her cruel actions to leave the country. I have enough connections and enough determination, along with a very supportive girlfriend and some good friends, to help me get beg, borrow, and steal. So I've survived....now to get a regular job.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

An unexpected blessing

I was not having a good day. I had been forced to stay at work longer than I had wanted to and so would have to use more sick time in order to go to the bank. I got on the subway and fell asleep just before we got to the station at which I had to transfer and consequently missed it, which meant I would be late. After missing the stop, I tried to identify the best way to get to my destination and it was a bit complicated. I ended up getting further away from my destination and so even though the doctor’s office had told me that it was alright (and I knew that it was), it annoyed me to no end. So I ended up being about 30 minutes late and was not in the best of spirits by the time I go to my appointment. That said, the appointment went off just fine and I learned that I do not have any pressing medical issues. However, it had not been the best day and I was not in the best mood as I descended the stairway from the appointment in the hospital and I heard the velvet tones of a B-flat clarinet. This was a bit surprising. Why would there be a live clarinet playing at the hospital? I was particularly interested because I played clarinet for a long time and really loved playing it. The sound I heard was awfully soothing and it was a perfect tone. As I descended the stairs, I saw an incongruous sight. In the lobby area there was an orchestra set up. It was bootheeled amid the chairs between the snack stand and the front entrance. The strings were flat (sorry, from having played in an orchestra, the tendency to evaluate the pitch of the various instruments is second nature ☺) but the clarinet soloist was wonderful. He had polished his clarinet so the keys and valves glinted gaudily. More than that though, his tone was assured, his phrasing competent, and his musicianship very good. The piece they played was a concerto for two clarinets by Stamitz and even though the quality of the playing was not particularly good from the orchestra at large, it was nevertheless enjoyable and heart-warming. I was not the only one enjoying it. There were probably 100-120 people watching the performance and most of the assembled were there for a good length of time. Some appeared to be patients, some seemed to be the family members of the ill. Obviously it’s not news that music soothes the troubled mind, but discovering an orchestra playing in a hospital lobby after an unpleasant day certainly put a nice bow on a day which until then had been a bit of a gag gift.

It’s funny how one’s day is turned sharply by something as simple as a musical performance, but sitting there, basking in the community orchestra certainly drastically improved my mood and had me leaving what is typically not the most pleasant place, with a smile on my face.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Serpice-uh center WIN

Here in Korea, they have service centers where, if your Sony phone or if your Samsung phone, or whichever product you happen to have bought from your local friendly multinational conglomerate gives out on you, they'll fix it. I have a Samsung phone and when I recently accidentally locked it I went down to the nearby service center and took a number. I was the only non-Korean there and after sitting in the waiting area about 15 minutes and having nearly reached my number, one of the receptionists came out and told me, in that adorable, halting, it-sounds-like-a-question-but-it's-actually-a-statement-way-that-Asians-speaking-English-as-a-second-language-do "we will help you in under 10 minutes". Fine...thank you! I've waited at DMVs, car-repair shops, and in every manner of office and have very rarely had anyone come out and let me know how much longer I'd be waiting. Actually, if they did that, I'd think they had a bit of a wicked, sadistic sense of humor given how long I've often had to wait for things and I might have punched them, ha ha. Seriously though......so I do wait under 10 minutes for what is, I'm sure, a completely pedestrian conversation simply asking what is wrong with the phone. I'm by myself though, and so the conversation isn't that pedestrian. It turns into a tortured 5 or 6 minute (actually, I don't know how long it was....I felt the walls of the universe creeping in, time was moving so slowly and there was so little exchange of information) summit, neither of us speaking meaningful amounts of the other person's language and consequently relying on dreamt-up, hoped-for, imagined body movements which we might be able to construe as revealing the other person understood what was being said. Honestly, this was another moment when my lack of Korean speaking knowledge really annoyed me. I could understand a few words she said but then couldn't respond....anyway. Finally however, because the lady couldn't help me too much, she gave me to understand that another company representative would take care of my situation.

So in the meantime, I go back to the waiting area and...well.....I won't say that I'd intentionally harm my phone just to go to the service center but they could really start to change the image of waiting rooms if word on how hospitable Samsung's service center is gets out! They had a machine for making your run-of-the-mill Starbucks variety coffee drinks, they had multiple computers at which folks were sipping their coffees and whiling the time away-one lady looking at dresses, a man looking at directions for something. They had six comfortable leather armchairs, a water dispenser, and a wide variety of magazines (which I ALWAYS read for the pictures).

Perhaps I sound like a naïf to you but seeing a waiting room with this array of stuff was pretty impressive to me. It did, as I said, somewhat take the bite out of, you know…waiting. And after only a few minutes surveying the latest baseball scores and seeing what was wrong with the world via the Huffington Post, this associate came to me with my phone unlocked. Again, and this is not to damn the United States by comparison, but personal care, nicely appointed waiting rooms, and prompt service…seriously, if I want some good coffee, I may just have to try and disable my phone this coming week!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hahoe Folk Village

On a recent weekend I went to Hahoe Folk Village. What a place! It’s a UNESCO-protected village founded early during the Joseon dynasty (1592-1910). It’s notable today because a lot of the structures have remained unchanged since their construction. Many of the houses’ roofs, both thatched and slanted, remain in excellent condition. I was down there in order to take advantage of the Andong Mask Festival and see some of the masks which have played a prominent role in Korean culture for many years.

During September in Andong-about a three hour drive south of Seoul-there is a festival centered around the of Korean mask. At the festival, one can sample a variety of Korean foods, can buy traditional Korean gifts, can make one’s own mask, and can also take in some musical and dramatic performances at a large stage in the center of the festival. I didn't stay in Andong too long because I wasn’t sure how long it would take to adequately see Hahoe and that was the main purpose for my trip. For this reason, I soon headed off on the 45 minute shuttle ride to Hahoe. It is quite rural and situated on the Nandong river. There are some spots nearby from which you can get amazing views of the village and the surrounding countryside.

Seeing the old houses and the tree (known as Samsindang) that dates from the time of the founding of the village wa wonderful. The village is, as noted, out in the sticks a bit, which for me was wonderful. I love Seoul but at times the never-ending press of people can be overwhelming and it’s lovely to get away from the hustle and bustle. It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to imagine what the village was like 500 years ago because the area hasn’t developed too much. There is a very informative mask museum in Hahoe which has masks from all over the world. The museum is fully captioned in English as well as Korean so non-Koreans can enjoy and learn about the variety of masks and how and why they came to exist. It’s very interesting to learn how and why masks are significant in their cultures.

Walking through the Folk Village of Hahoe is akin to stepping into a time machine. Old walls, tiny lanes, and only the slightest hint of tourism-several road-side stands hawking Andong’s famous soju (Korea’s national alcoholic drink, a grain-based drink which is made stronger in Andong), masks, figurines, and a variety of other traditional Korean gifts. The houses are well-maintained to a large extent. I saw two houses which had fallen into disrepair and I walked most of the village. I don’t know which regulations compel the upkeep of the village other than pride in its history. That would seem to be a pretty compelling force, to the benefit of visitors and to the credit of Korea. The landscaping of some of the properties also only enhances the beauty of the village.

Truly, coming out to rural Korea, seeing how a village would have looked in Korea 500 years ago, and being able to see the mask festival made for a great day.