Friday, 29 April 2016

Days Go By

Time is starting to go by much quicker here as we enter the hotter part of the year. Spring was brief, as we were told to expect, lasting only two or three weeks, and we're just starting the "uncomfortably warm" stage, which is set to worsen over the next few months. Still, I spent so long bemoaning the freezing cold that I'm not gonna complain. At least not until the next blog post.
This week I cross the six month hump, meaning assuming I finish when my contract states, I have less time left here than I have already completed. At some stage over this series of posts I'm sure I've mentioned how I came here with an open mind to spending a few years here (though not really expecting to). I think the world in which that would have been likely to happen is the world where I landed a public school job here the first time I applied. With the majority of my friends here working in public school I can draw easy comparisons and contrasts with them, and it's certain that between shorter work days, more social work hours, freedom to teach how you want and far more vacation (and in-school excursions), hagwon work definitely counts as drawing the short straw. It'd be easy after a year in a public school to say "that was great, I'll take another, please", but I finish my contract around Halloween, which is far too late to apply for a public position even if I wanted one, so I think I'll call it quits. I did get another job offer pretty recently though...
A perfect example of shoebox Korean housing (photo credits to my friend Alex Castillo)

Two Fridays ago I had my most authentic Korean drinking experience to date, sitting at a dinner table for six hours knocking back shot after shot of soju with my taekwondo class (only the adults, naturally). While that night is consequently draped in a foggy haze, one thing I recall from it was my taekwondo trainer suggesting that if I can level up to black belt in October (which is a significant IF, but not impossible), would I consider staying here to work with him as a taekwondo trainer when I finish my hagwon contract. Given the state I was in I immediately assented and we drank to it. It has, however, come up in class since then, and I told him if I have time on my hands when I finish teaching (which is completely dependent on whether or not I get into a masters any time soon) there's no way I could pass up such an opportunity, and that I would give him six to eight months of my time. Ultimately I don't see it coming to pass, but even if it doesn't, just being asked made me feel as if I had really accomplished something here over the last six months - in coming here I never foresaw myself taking up taekwondo, let alone flirting with the idea of teaching it, and that's something I'll take with me from this whole experience. 
(I should at this point explain that while in karate a black belt is the sign of a master, the same colour in taekwondo only means mastering of basic skills, and so while it takes years to level up inside of the black belt levels, to get to stage one of black belt can take as little as a year if you put in the right training. I passed blue this week and will be doing red in a few months.)
These beauties are mannequins in a clothes store downtown. It makes me wonder if Koreans see all Westerners as bobble-headed Aryans. I sure hope so.
I wrote once before about Korea's struggle with suicide among teenagers, and the rate remains depressingly high here through to adulthood. As with many conservative cultures there is a massive stigma attached to mental health issues here, to the point where therapy and counselling are greatly looked down on and misunderstood, and I think in some cases going to a therapist can even be grounds for dismissal from work. Instead of tackling these problems with the intelligence, love and understanding they require, some Korean employers have come up with a "novel" way of dispelling their workers of emotional imperfections: new workshops have been set up where, across the space of one day, bereaved families of suicide victims lecture workshop attendees on how their lives have been ruined by their family member's selfish suicides. Later in the day attendees are told to imagine what it's like to be dead, which is facilitated for them by actually putting the participants into coffins and shutting them for an unspecified amount of time. When the coffins are finally re-opened the oft panicked and tear-stricken workers claim to be revitalized, newly appreciative of life and, crucially, ready to rededicate themselves to their jobs. Poor call, Korea.
In lighter news, a recent trip to the Jindo Sea Parting Festival gave me the chance to attend a Holi Colours Festival, the most perfectly instagrammable event known to man (and a lot of fun). 

Boyband haircuts
The barber who cuts my hair doesn't speak English, and I don't speak Korean, but that's fine, because he has a book of presumably famous Asians whose hairstyles I can point at (that is to say, they are presumably famous, not presumably Asian). For the days I don't feel like getting a perm like most Korean men seem to want, there is, happily, a foreign celebrities page. On this page there are two photos. One is of Brad Pitt. The other is of Westlife. I decided to make it my goal to get all the Westlife haircuts, so I started with Shane's, and after that I got Mark's. I can't decide whose to go for next but it's almost that time again and I sure am excited about my options. It's a photo from before Bryan left the group too, so it should sustain me the rest of the year without any need for repeats, or the Brad Pitt one.
Or maybe I'll just go with one of these
To conclude
There was a flu going round in the last few weeks, and my bosses's daughter picked it up. For reasons that remain unclear, instead of sending the kid home, my boss erected a tent in her office where the child could study and presumably sleep. I'm not sure if this was a weird Korean thing to do, or just a weird thing to do.
Sometimes I am very baffled by this country

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