Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Waygukin way

  Well,  I am in South Korea.  I moved here about six weeks ago.  I don't know what to say about it.  I suppose I am writing because I know I need to.  I know it is overdue,  and now I have the few moments required to sit at this screen and type a few words.  I can go in to all the reasons for coming here, for uprooting my life and moving to some country I know so little of, where no one speaks my language, and I do not speak theirs.  Perhaps there are too many reasons though, perhaps I do not understand these many reasons myself.  
  I moved here to teach English.  I moved here to in some attempt to seek out the adventure I know I have been missing throughout my life.  I moved here to experience some new place, some new culture, some distant land and people.  Maybe I moved here to escape the reality of losing my job, of a bad economy, of so little prospects.  Maybe I moved here just to escape, to run.  Maybe I moved here in some flight and plight for freedom inside me.  I moved here to learn, simply to learn.  I have many hopes for my new life here, for this next year before I return back home, not knowing what home to return back to.  I have not yet realized my dreams for coming.  I wanted to learn Korean, a new language.  I know only a few words, and am realizing I will not learn the language in a short year.  It is a difficult language to learn.  Being here makes me want to learn Spanish, become fluent in it.  The difficulty of Korean, knowing I will not adequately learn it gives me such a desire to know a language other than my own native one, and Spanish being a language I already have studied and can hold basic conversations in, I want to learn that language, and I think of going to some other country after this, to learn some new culture, to learn a language I know I could learn.  
  I wanted to travel while here, see as much of this large continent as I could.  I hope to make it to 8-10 countries while here, a difficult task, but one I know I can accomplish.  The time for traveling will not come till the end of this venture, and as things change, and have changed already, I know some of my traveling plans already have been altered.  I cannot state the reason just yet, but new plans will have to be made.  I am impatient to see other places, to watch the sunset over a new land, to bow to some passing stranger on a street I don't know the name of, to gag on the food or gulp it down, to smell every particle of dust and fragrance of flowers in the air.  I want to swim in every ocean, every sea and judge the sand between my toes.  I'll have it.  I need to have it, or else not just this experience, this one mere year, but all my life, every moment hereafter will be a void never filled, and I'll continue to look back not only upon the life I did live, but upon the life I never lived.  
  I want to read while here, to study, to write, to learn.  I have time to read.  I read most every week day, and am engrossed in a book right now.  I have time after classes at school, but before I am allowed to go home.  I sit in my classroom, silently, or out side on a bench with the noise of swarming and curious school children buzzing about me, and I read a book.  I love that time.  I look forward to that time, and as much as I love the weekend, I find myself waiting for the week, to wake up early, to go to work, knowing that only on workdays will I find the time to sit and read.  I am anxious in the book, to discover what I know I will not discover for 250 pages more, but I must get through those 250 pages as fast as can be done, and when there, 250 more pages will be ahead of me again.  I am anxious to finish the book, and yet I find myself already depressed at knowing I will finish it.  What then will I have to look forward to?  What then will make the week so enthralling, the otherwise moments of drudgery so exciting?  When I finish the book, I know I will not be able to read it any longer, that this great masterpiece is something I will no longer experience for the first time.  I must complete it, the addict inside me will not let me stop, and yet I want to stop, to pace myself, to calm myself and drag this moment out, so that always I can look forward to it.  I will not though, and I merely pray the next book I find keeps me so much with it.  It is hard to find books in English here, and the books I have I fear will not last me beyond 2-3 weeks.  I must find something new soon.  
  I don't study here.  Why don't I?  Why don't I find the time?  My free time has not really been my free time and I really have no time for myself, this now being among the rare moments of solitude, and I a craver of the silence, a seeker of the solitude.  I wanted to study Theology, like I once did, to know the things I knew, to feel the things I felt, the things I know if given oxygen I could feel again.  I wanted to study languages, business, vocabulary, anything, and yet I have not.  Why haven't I?  Are my excuses adequate?  Should I stand up and say I need the time?  Will the insanity from lacking it break me?  Can a shattered man be broken?  
  I don't write.  This is my first entry since being here.  I slack in all my duties, and I apologize.  I apologize to myself, to my many future selves and all who could learn from the stories I could tell if only I took the time to make the stories.  I will be better.  I know shortly I'll have the time, more time than wanted, more time than needed, and I'll be forced with it, shoved in to it, and we'll see how healthy and strong I can remain then, when it is I alone who will listen.  We'll see what stories come from that, from inside me, without me. 
  I wanted to experience living in a different country.  I have always wanted this, never allowed it, never allowed myself it.  I knew that with losing my job I no longer could make the excuses.  I knew it was this time and only this time where I could make away from being responsible, safe, practical.  I wanted to go to Central or South America, again, knowing I could learn the language fluently, but of course, I can never fully kill the practical man inside me.  This is it, right here, why I chose Korea over any other place.  They pay more.  Most countries pay their English teachers only enough for basic survival, but here in Korea, they pay an actual wage, a higher wage than the beginning native Korean teachers make.  They pay all airfare expenses and a years worth of rent.  They cover half medical insurance, give a small settlement allowance, and pay a monthly salary far exceeding other expenses.  It is possible to work here, travel many countries, and still go home with money to wait out a bad economy, or to run off to some other place for some new adventure.  I am living in another country though, and I can feel how grateful I will be for it, in the near and distant future.  I am learning a new culture, bowing is becoming second nature, and I am starting to feel I disrespect myself when walking in my own apartment with my shoes on.  When I shake hands, I put my left hand across my stomach and at my side and when giving or receiving anything I place my left hand upon my right arm, grabbing with my right hand.  I am eating food I would have, could have never thought of eating, eating things I do not like, all in an attempt to know the culture.  I was a vegetarian for over 13 years.  For over 13 years I stayed away from meat religiously, and I gave it all up the night I flew here.  I realize one cannot truly experience a culture without experiencing the food, and that is certainly true of Korea.  The food is a big part of their culture, and while I do not like much of it, I eat everything I am given.  I try everything I can.  I gave up myself for it, a large part of myself.  If you are not a vegetarian, you will never understand.  Giving it up, is giving up one of the larger parts of your identity.  I find myself embarrassed at meeting vegetarians now, as though I am one of those who gave up.  I find myself ashamed at eating meat at times.  I am NOT a vegetarian, and yet deep within me, I feel I still should be.  Why am I embarrassed for this?  Why am I ashamed?  I know I was a vegetarian longer than most those I meet now.  I know I was stricter and more obedient to the task than most I meet, and yet, still this is how I feel.  I do not regret it though, for I know I am in fact experiencing more than others.  I know I am learning more about this place, about the people.  I try everything, not only the food, but every option, every activity, every gesture.  I have eaten food, and will eat food I know I shall never wish to eat again, and I am glad for it.  I'll do it intentionally, and some of it, well, some of it will surprise me, and I'll find myself liking it here and there, as I find myself learning to like things now the more I eat them.  I should send you pictures of the things they eat, videos, or write some blog dedicated only to that.  
  Well, my time to write is wrapping up, and so this writing must wrap up also.  Let me quickly tell you of where I live.  I live in a city called Yeosu.  It is on the south coast of Korea in Jeulonom-Do.  They call it a small city, though it has 350,000 - 400,000 people, though it has the amenities of a city much smaller.  There is no department store, no mall, and little in English.  Few people here speak English, and many consider themselves more country folk than city folk.  They are a proud people, proud of their culture, of their country, of their food, and I love this pride in them.  I know I have heard it said there is no such thing as righteous pride, though I have never fully agreed with that.  I am proud of things.  I am proud of my country, and I find myself saddened when I meet people who cannot say the same about their country, regardless of what that country might be.  I do not find myself saddened in this country.  They are friendly here, so much so it makes us feel guilty at times how they treat us so well, even those who do not speak our language, who cannot understand us.  My city is on they yellow sea and is made of over 300 islands, the vast majority of which are un-inhabited.  The city itself is a small peninsula.  My school sits atop a large hill, halfway up Gu Bong mountain.  We have a view of the bay below us, the water of the sea, and Shinae, the old downtown area.  A picture of my city is below, of the water and some of the small islands taken from a small Buddhist temple above my school.  It is a beautiful place there, small, undisturbed, quiet, almost secretive, with a large cherry tree which is now in full blossom.  Quiet music, prayers, or chants play silently and rhythmically over small speakers above the main temple.  The air now is calm, some wind nearly always blowing, the water below , the city far away, the sky and trees and mountain all that is near.  It is a temple indeed, if only for the soil and oxygen around it, and for the desire to sit and meditate, to stay and pray.  It is a temple indeed.  
  I live in a small studio apartment, a bed, a fridge, a two burner stove.  It is smaller than many of the bedrooms I have had in the past.  I live the minimalist life.  Oh, Thoreau be proud.  I have this laptop, a small TV left in the apartment with some channels occasionally playing shows in English.  I have a camera, scriptures, a few novels, a suitcase of clothes, and that is it.  The bed is unimaginably hard, like resting on a stone, so I bought a small pad to place on top of it.  Only now are people beginning to buy matresses and beds in Korea.  Many still sleep on the floor, resting on yo mats laid across the ground.  The floors are heated. I have a fan, a bar posted up against the wall to hang clothes on, and a small bookshelf acting as a dresser drawer, and as a bookshelf.  The bathroom is small, no drawers, cabinets, or shelves, and the shower is a hose hooked up to the sink, no stall, no tub, just the bathroom floor.  I have a large patio with a washing machine and a clothes line, and the washing machine leaks water all over the patio, creating a small wading pull.  
  Yeosu is surrounded not only by water, but also by hills and mountains, which are slowly beginning to green, though the trees have been blossoming for near two weeks.  Koreans do love their blossoms and hold festivals for nearly every tree with blossoming flowers.  I have been to many already, and I too love the blossoms.  I can see a row of cherry tree blossoms from my window, and I am growing sad to see the blossoms slowly replaced by leaves.  I see pink and white in many shades on every hill side.  It is beautiful, and soon it will all cocoon in to dark and deep green.  I'm including a few pictures, and will post others later.  For now though, this post is long and tiresome to read.  It is night now, and sleep is calling.  I think of all of you, back in America.  You are now just waking up to a day I have already lived.  I am searching for a sleep you will not experience for many hours to come.  I am reaching back through the time, the hours and the miles, and I greet you with some kind word to say goodnight.