Sun Jul 6, 2003
Well, well. Another week had rolled by in a heartbeat. Hardly time to take stock of things. Not a bad week, besides from communicative difficulties with a certain un-named co-worker, who insists on voicing her grievances about me to everyone but me. I think she may be slightly xenophobic. Also, Won Jang Nim was going to film my Smile 1 class this week, but firstly her batteries ran out, then secondly she had an appointment, and so on, so the frame by frame videotape analysis of my teaching competence will have to wait. I find the constant videotaping somewhat 1984ish. I jokingly (read: sarcastically) suggested that we install closed-circuit video cameras in all the classrooms to monitor the children’s behaviour. Debbie actually took me seriously and patiently explained to me that this would be too expensive. I have a feeling that a lot of my witticisms fall largely on deaf ears. At least the kids have a sense of humour, For example, Johnny was telling me the other day how amused he was by the size of his grandmother’s underwear. You have to laugh at the frankness of children. Sometimes their honesty is also a window into the domestic realm that adults are so good at obfuscating. On Friday it was noticed that Won Jang Nim’s daughter had some rather large bruises on her arm. She told the teachers that her father had beat her because she had locked the door and he couldn’t get inside. Unfortunately there’s not much one can do about domestic violence in this country. Especially when the director’s children are involved. I also happen to know that Won-Jang-Nim’s husband openly cheats on her with several women (I know this because he partied with the previous foreign teacher). This too, is relatively common in Korea, times are changing but the older generation still adheres to old values (particularly the Confucius family hierarchy) and ways of doing things. Divorce, single mothers and homosexuality are all still frowned upon here, Korea is indeed more conservative than Japan. Anyways, I know it’s a bit risque broadcasting personal stuff about my employer on the internet, but I believe the truth must be told in situ, not in retrospect. I’m pretty sure hardly anyone reads this thing anyway.
Yesterday I went on an awesome hike up Bhukansan (Bhukan Mountain). This mountain range consists of imposing granite peaks and curiously stunted vegetation and has great views of the Seoul Metropolitan area. The trails were crawling with keen hikers in their mountain climbing gear. Some were even clothed from head to toe in black jumpsuits and balaclavas, despite the oppressive heat and humidity. I was dripping with so much sweat that I could hardly see where I was going because it was all pouring into my eyes. When I was at the top I did some rock climbing but realized it was a bad idea when I saw little metal hoops drilled into the rock, presumably for ropes. Although I did see others scaling the sheer granite like mountain goats, I was happy just to eat my Kimbap and head back down. Next time though, I plan on a more ambitious climb.
Today was relaxing, although I was surprised by a visit by two ruddy-faced Mormon missionaries straight from Utah. I think they were equally surprised to see a western guy in Kumchon of all places. It seems that the only other westerners here are missionaries and the U.S. army. Anyways, under the circumstances I couldn’t exactly tell them to get lost so I had a conversation with them but they were rather narrow-minded. I tried to tell them about other religious texts, like the Koran, which I had recently read in it’s entirety, but they hadn’t even heard of it. I also hate that ominous gleam they get in their eyes when they’re talking about their ‘salvation’. After listening to their ludicrous story about some Jewish guy sailing to the Americas and founding the entire Native American population I lost patience with them. They even showed me a picture of Jesus standing on top of a Mayan temple blessing the ‘natives’. Apparently his next stop after the middle east was Latin America. Anyway, I told them I respected their faith (a bald-faced lie), shook their hands warmly and then told them to get lost. Nothing irks me more than salesmen, because that’s all they are really, except they’re selling ideology instead of trinkets. But you have to feel sorry for anyone who comes all the way to Korea for two years, and learns to speak fluent Korean, and even adopts Korean names, just so they can have Korean doors slammed in their faces. As misguided as their faith is, they certainly have faith and I do respect that in a way. And I did feel like Malinowski for a moment there, in the Trobriand islands, fraternizing with the missionaries. What are we as foreigners (read: Americans) really all doing in Korea? Indoctrinating the ‘locals’ with our language (and consequently our culture) and religion and adopting a patronizing, we’ll-take-care-of-you role with our military presence? I didn’t realize this sort of east-west relationship still existed in the orient of the 21st century, but I guess I was wrong. Nothing much has changed in the post-colonial world, only the names of things have. Only now, the pendulum swings… there are indications that a sudden reversal of the inferior-superior east-west relationship is imminent. Oh dear, that sounds rather preachy doesn’t it. Go figure.