Sunday, 15 June 2003

June 14th, 2003

There are two girls in the PC room near where I'm
sitting; they're playing with webcams and laughing
hysterically. It's really cute.


Hello everybody. Thank you for waiting so patiently
for another update.


But now, it's late Saturday night, I'm listening to an
excellent new CD, I had a great weekend, I've heard
some good news from a few of my friends
(congratulations, Melissa, Jon and Anna, and all the
people who graduated/are graduating this spring).



Friday the thirteenth was a good day for me. I must
backtrack. In March I was promoted from teacher to
foreign teacher supervisor at school; part of my job
is to help communication between foreign teachers and
the Korean bosses, and the other part is to help with
interviewing prospective employees. We had four
positions to fill between now and September, so I had
lots of recruiting/interviewing to do. On Friday, I
told my boss that the people I phone interviewed on
Thursday should be hired, and on Friday a fellow from
England accepted our offer and filled our last open
position.



So this weekend I have quite a load off my shoulders
concerning staff for the upcoming months.


I was tired, so I decided to go out with my roommate
and visit a jimjaebang (sauna).


In the subway, before the train came in, I noticed one
of the cutest little girls I've seen since I arrived
here. She had on a finger-paint purple outfit and
hair ribbons (pig-tails, of course) and she had these
huge, friendly eyes. We made eye contact and waved,
and a few funny faces later, when the train arrived,
she and I were playing hide and seek around one of the
pillars on the subway platform. On the subway, I was
standing halfway across the car and she ran up to me
and gave me an almond and a stick-on tattoo. I doubt
I've ever had a child warm up to me as fast as this
sweetheart who didn't even speak my language. Before
she got off the train she came up to me and said
"Ajashi annyong" which means "sir, goodbye", and waved
at me through the window as the subway pulled away
from the platform.


In Canada, if I were that friendly to a strange child,
her parents would probably watch me like a hawk (and a
suspicious hawk at that) until I left their kid alone.
I love this country. Being a foreigner has its
perks.


In the jimjaebang, there was this booth with a water
jet spraying water down into a pool in such a way that
you can stand or sit under the powerful stream. The
force was so strong that as soon as I stood under it
the entire world disappeared and all that remained was
the air I breathed, the bone-shaking sound of a
waterfall, and this amazing, splattering pressure on
my shoulders and head. I turned my face toward the
stream and it was so forceful that when it fell
directly on my nose, I could feel spray flying around
in my closed mouth. After the sauna/shower/water
jet/hot tub/mud bath room, you put on a pair of shorts
and a shirt and go upstairs to the hot and cold rooms.
The hot rooms are up to 90 degrees celsius. They are
too hot for the bacteria that makes sweat stink to
survive, so the air smells salty. The room is so hot
you have to put a towel down because it hurts too much
to directly touch the floor. Then you go to a cold
room and let your sweat-cleansed pores fill with cold
air.


Wonderful. Also, massage chairs. Mmmmmmmm.


I was in one of the lounges, writing in my journal,
when eight Korean university students made a
game-playing circle. They asked me where I was from,
and invited me to join them, and even asked me to
teach THEM a game! We talked and played until four in
the morning, and it turns out most of them are
studying English in some form or another. At four or
five AM, some of them went off to rest, and I sat and
talked with one of the girls until seven in the
morning, when people started waking up. I gave her my
e-mail address and I hope she writes: I'd love to hang
out with these people again. They seem like the kind
of crowd I'd hang out with if I were a Korean
university student.


Between them and a group of Seoulites I met during a
weekend trip to Pusan (far southern tip of Korea), and
one of my students, whose mom invites me out to
different museums and art galleries and palaces on
weekends, I'm managing to develop a decent social life
involving of Koreans, rather than just foreigners who,
as soon as you start really liking them, decide to go
home. These folks are really sweet, and there are a
few that I think I can even talk to (albeit in simple
language) about complex ideas like cultural gaps and
Eastern vs. Western mindframes.


So I'm making friends. I also have a church I like
now, and I am involved in their drama team. I haven't
been on stage yet, but I'm going to the small group
meetings.


It's a strange country though. Some people are so
sweet, and then others flash you dirty looks because
you're white; some kids make friends like a
thunderclap, and others point at you and laugh. Today
I was in the Hongdai area -- near an arts university
-- and I started juggling. A crowd gathered, laughing
when I dropped a ball, and clapping when I finished,
and then, five hundred steps from where I managed to
draw an appreciative, friendly crowd, I saw a stage
where a protest was beginning. Two people on stage
were singing a protest song where the crowd shouts
"F***ing USA" at the end of every line, and I drew
hateful glares from people who thought I was American
(because many Koreans assume all white people are
American). I'm sure every city contains such sharp
contrasts -- I think of the intersection in downtown
Vancouver where on one side there is a rich business
area, and on the other side is East Hastings, home to
aids-infected junkies, hobos and prostitutes. But
maybe being an outsider makes those kinds of things
much more noticeable.


Thanks to those of you who faithfully write me
letters; I really love getting them, and, as I said
before, if I am slow to answer, send me a reminder and
I'll get to it. I had a few weeks where I was
actually homesick, but I'm still glad I'm here, and,
as I wrote in my journal on the second day I was here,
"it's OK to miss people -- it'd be weird if I DIDN'T
-- but it's NOT OK to let missing them wreck my time
here."


This last month was especially hard for homesickness,
because (for those of you who do not already know), my
father was diagnosed with the early stages of prostate
cancer. It's not severe or life-threatening, but it's
still cancer, and I'm still in Korea, and that's
frustrating, because I can't be there for Dad and Mom.



Also, one of my best friends had a baby who I'm not
going to meet until next January, and I really wish I
could meet him sooner. But, as I said to my brother,
this is life, and this is how we grow up: one little
thing at a time. A friend gets engaged, someone gets
sick, I'm presented with a choice of who to hang out
with, etc.. Stuff happens, and some of it I can't
control. But it changes me, and I'm a different
person now, because of things I choose, and because of
things that aren't mine to choose. Every person who
receives this letter is also a different person than
the one I remember from my time with them, but that's
all right, because this is planet Earth, and on this
crazy planet, full of crazy humans, there aren't many
things that are the same yesterday, today, and
forever.


Anyway, that's what's been filling my days, and what's
been on my mind lately.


I hope, long as it might be, that this was worth the
read, and worth the wait.


Thanks for caring enough about me that you took the
time to read the whole thing.


Rob