Monthly Archives: May 2009

Here we go again

This is the street I take leaving school each day. In three months, Ill take it one last time on my way out of Korea.

This is the street I take leaving school each day. In three months, I'll take it one last time on my way out of Korea.

It’s done. I’m officially leaving Korea at the end of August. I told my co-teacher, and it was a much calmer event than I had anticipated considering my co-teacher’s general anxiety and proclivity for histrionics. It still wasn’t any less awkward than I imagined, though. I don’t leave for another three months, but my co-teacher essentially forced me and my other co-teacher to talk to her so that we could get to know each other — almost three months into the job. It was clear to me that the other co-teacher didn’t want to chit-chat all that much since she actually wanted to finish her work. Awkward.

Anyway, if the renewal discussion had come up last week, my life would be completely different. I was pretty set on staying for another year, but then something — I’m not quite sure what — happened over the weekend, and doubt quickly took over. In the end, the fact I wasn’t completely sold on Korea meant I shouldn’t commit to another full year. The worst thing that could happen is I go home, dink around, run out of money and come back. I could fly back here at the drop of a hat. It’s nuts when I really think about it.

It’s very liberating to have this decision finalized, but it’s a little nerve-wracking not knowing what’s coming next. It’s much easier to deal, though, because I have no deadlines or expectations to meet at this point. Except for a couple of bills, I’m free of responsibilities and can fly as far as my money will take me. I could dink around Asia a bit before I head home, where I will definitely bounce around the country. Right now, I’m taking any ideas I can get. I’m nervous, but I think it’s the good kind of nervous.

See you stateside.

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Transience

The sun sets over Seoul, as seen from Olympic Park.

The sun sets over Seoul, as seen from Olympic Park.

As the end of May approaches, I’m rounding the three-quarter mark of my teaching contract. The end of this go-around is visible on the horizon, and it’s the popular water-cooler — actually more likely patio table — topic of the moment. Are you staying? Are you going? What’s next?

It’s decision time around the city, and Korea continues to impress me with its professionalism. My co-teacher breached the topic of renewing with this gem: “Are you satisfied with your job?” Clearly that’s the only criterion we use to decide whether we should dedicate another year of our lives to this country. In addition, this conversation happened yesterday, and the deadline for my decision is tomorrow. If my math is correct, that gives me two days to choose. Awesome.

Two days for a life-changing decision. That pretty much summarizes life as an English teacher in Korea: as adventurous and challenging as it may be, it all comes and goes very quickly. Nine months ago, I arrived as a wide-eyed American, but it feels like the pages of the calendar have just flown off the wall. The evanescence of this experience, however, goes beyond the time that passes.

This experience is as much about the people as it is the place. Ever since orientation, when I was quarantined for a week with 200 other foreigners, I’ve basically survived with this group of friends. Now with the questions, we all realize the adventure will soon drastically change for everyone. A large portion of this group is headed in different directions, and it’s over,  just like that.

We’ve all been through this at least twice before: high school and college. I had essentially the same friends from second grade through graduation — 11 years — and then I had to move on and start over. The cycle repeated itself in college but instead in a five-year period. Now I’m in Korea, where the lifespan of an English teacher — and its consequent friendships — is all too often only one year.

Tomorrow I decide whether this one year in Korea is enough for me. I think the easy decision is to avoid the unknown and re-sign, but the thought of giving one more year to this venture isn’t one that inspires joy in me — especially without a handful of my newest and closest friends. They’re leaving as quickly as they appeared, and I could very well do the same thing.

Stay tuned.

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Apparently children are important

The Lotus Lantern Festival kicked off a string of four Korean holidays in 2+ weeks.

The Lotus Lantern Festival kicked off a string of four Korean holidays in 2+ weeks.

In general traditional Korean gratuity, we’ve observed four holidays in the past 2.5 weeks. The festivities started with the celebration of Buddha’s birthday. The birth of the Prince Siddhartha Gautama is noted as the eighth day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar, which falls this year on May 2.

Buddhism comprises a large portion of the Korean religious population (although the majority of the country is secular), so this is a very important holiday to the country. In Seoul, lotus lanterns hang across the city for weeks leading up to the actual holiday. The celebrations culminate at the Lotus Lantern Festival, held in downtown Seoul. The festival stretched from the metropolitan center, Jongno-gu, to the traditional — and usually tourist-infested — district, Insadong. Events included lantern-making, traditional performance and a lantern parade.

The parade featured brightly-lit floats and throngs of citizens carrying lanterns shaped like, well, lotus flowers. The parade led into Jogyesa temple, home to the largest Buddha shrine in Seoul. Countless strings of lanterns created a multicolored ceiling outside the temple — a nice alternative to the starless skies of Seoul. This entire evening reeked of photo-ops, and it was fantastic:

Lotus Lantern Festival-5876 Lotus Lantern Festival-5883 Lotus Lantern Festival-6013

Three days after Buddha’s birthday (and the continuation of a five-day weekend, which is another post in itself) on May 5 was Children’s Day. The premise for this holiday still seems vague to me, but the origins of Korean Children’s Day trace back to a children’s writer in the early 20th century,  BangJeong-hwan (방정환). He created the Korean word for child — 어린 — and promoted the idea of respecting children as individuals rather than treating them as property belonging to the parents. To celebrate this holiday, parents often take their kids to zoos, museums or outdoor festivals strewn about the city in various parks.

A little girl stares off into the distance in Children's Grand Park.

A little girl stares off into the distance at Children's Grand Park.

These kids, who to this point, I’m sure, have contributed little to society, seem to have a more important holiday than the two that came in the next week and a half: Parents’ Day and Teachers’ Day. Without parents these kids wouldn’t be here. (Don’t give me that “They are the future” spiel. What have they done for me lately?) Without dedicated educators like myself (lolz), these kids are going nowhere.

On a more serious note, Children’s Day seems much more fun, while Parents’ Day and Teachers’ Day seemed much more subtle. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have the day off during the latter two days. I didn’t come out empty-handed, though. I got two half days, and on Teachers’ Day, I got a couple bookmarks and some vitamins. It wasn’t exactly the most prolific haul, but I’m not a big gift person anyway.

It’s been rather uneventful (or too eventful depending on how you define “event”) couple of weeks, but a trip to Busan is on this weekend’s docket as is another annual celebration of me, er, my birthday. It should be nothing short of a mess.

Just in case I disappear for another long stint, you can always check my Twitter feed and Flickr photostream for more frequent updates on my life.

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