I wholeheartedly agree with who ever first said time flies when you're having fun. This year has simply blown past. Facebook memories has been kind enough to remind me of the excitement I was feeling this time last year. (I reeaaallllly wanted out) It's been a surreal experience but I wouldn't have traded it for anything. That being said I have an announcement. (It shouldn't surprise anyone)
I am staying. I have signed on for another year.
But WHY?!?! I hear some of you mentally wailing. Don't you miss home? Don't you love us anymore?!?
Of course I do. I love my family and friends. I'll be the first to admit that it was a little strange to celebrate my birthday and Christmas away from home. There are at least four different babies who I'm missing out on snuggling. But that's the life I chose. I consider these small inconveniences in the greater scheme of things. I have plans. It's all written down with monthly goals and benchmarks to reach. So I'm not leaving just yet.
While I'm sure some of you are very proud of my declarations of preplanning (which may or may not lead to the domination of my own empire) The majority of you don't care and are more curious about what I've actually done (especially since I've gone dark these past two months. Sorry.)
For starters I've decided that New Years resolutions are a waste of time. I told myself that I would post something new at least once a month but I've clearly dropped the ball on that. I ran into the problem that all writers are confronted with. What do I write about? My readers are so curious about the exotic life I'm living I don't want to disappoint them....... Here's the reality: Life in a foreign country is incredibly mundane. I wake up. I go to work. I come home. I contemplate if exercising is really prolonging my life or just increasing my suffering. I struggle with the age old question of whether or not I want to cook something nutritious and delicious or give in to the dark temptation of fried chicken. Shower. Sleep. Repeat. That's the pattern of my life. So even though life is remarkably similar everywhere you go, I will do my best to impart unto you, my dear reader; the knowledge I have gained through a years worth of (mostly) keen observation.
1) Eventually the glitter falls off of every new thing.
Two things happen when you move to a foreign country. First, you feel like a tourist so everything is exciting and cool. Second, Everyone assumes you're a tourist and treats you accordingly. You know exactly what I mean. Locals can spot a tourist from miles away. They can tell by your vacant and slightly bewildered expression. That subtly changes the longer you stay in one place. After the first few months the people at the bus stop no longer point at things and make you repeat after them. Instead they come up behind you and ask if this is the bus going to such and such. As a noob you gratefully repeated the word for bus stop and apple for the first six weeks. Now that you've been there for a year you're slightly exasperated with the ajumma asking about the buses because a) it's written plainly on the sign on the front of the bus and b) you only understood every other word and only have a vague idea of how to reply.
When you've become a familiar face people automatically assume that you're familiar with the language as well. Or they swing the other way and think that because you can't reply you're stupid and don't understand anything so they'll say whatever they like. (I'm looking at you sandwich shop lady. Your smile doesn't fool me.) I'll admit that this has been a source of frustration for me. I am now realizing how incredibly stupid of me it was when I blithely answered "Oh I'll pick up the language as I go along." I've been stymied by the simplest questions. But at least now I can tell the people at the store "No, I don't need a bag." It's the small victories that matter.
So as time passes the novelty wears off for both you and the locals. This isn't a bad thing though. I think of it as visiting a friends house. when that friend is new and you're still trying to pretend to be a respectable adult, you clean your house before they arrive. As time goes on though you care less and less if your friend sees the dirty dishes or your laundry hanging up. It's the same for moving to a new country. Which leads me to my next revelation.
2) Skeletons are in every countries closet.
Korea is an extraordinary country. I'm not downplaying that in the slightest. But everyone has their faults. For Korea it's simply that they have a very dim view of the rest of the world. As an American I should be the last person to say that. We're arrogant, I get it. We hang our flag on the front lawn and riot for human rights. Korea is not as vocal but I would be willing to bet that their patriotism far exceeds America any day of the week. There is a lot of national pride packed onto this peninsula. However some of that pride rears its head in ugly ways. It took me a while to notice but there is an undercurrent in the nationalist mentality. The idea that Korea is superior and must be kept pure.
Something I learned while doing research before volunteering for orphanages is after the Korean war Korea gained the unwanted reputation that their largest export was babies. Many children of that time were put up for option because they were the product of a relationship between American soldiers and Korean women. Mixed children were not acceptable. In recent years Korea has all but stopped international adoptions. The reason? Korean children should be raised in Korea. This sounds sentimental but the reality is adoption is still severely stigmatized here. Many children are aging out of the system instead of being taken into new homes. Boys especially have a difficult time being adopted because people do not want someone who is not related by blood to inherit the family name. This is just one of a few flags I've seen that implies that not all people are created equal. (especially the Chinese. Wow the hate is high for China)
Now that I've exposed some of the grimier bits let us move on to my third revelation
3) Koreans are Boss at political activism
It might be the result of a long history of repression and repeated conquering s but Korea does not mess around with politics. These people have peaceful protest down to a science. I feel like every time I have gone to Seoul there has been some sort of protest. It not just political leaders either. My friend teaches English in one of the big cooperate Hyundai offices which is currently under fire for not comping one of its employees. One of the protests outside was so severe that security refused to let people leave the building.
There is a large church that has a dedicated group outside it every week protesting it's misuse of government funding. These people are prepared too. They sit out there with their folding chairs and stools and industrial strength signs. They have a neat stack of signs to pass out to other people who decide to join them. and they're tidy. No streets left overflowing with trash after these guys go home. They do candlelight vigils, beat drums, sing songs and chant. They exercise their right to assemble and free speech tenaciously.
Campaigns are simply hilarious. I fully support each candidate having their own theme song and pep squad dancing on the side walk for two months straight. That doesn't include the people who stand out in the streets and bow to every passing car and pedestrian. Also each group is color coded so you know exactly who is waving at you. The most aggressive these campaigns became was when the cheer squads would have a dance off competition. It's truly the best. Can you imagine what the United States would have been like if Clinton and Trump had their own dance routines?
The feminist movement is starting to build up steam here as well. Thousands of women have marched in Seoul recently protesting a form of pornography that centers on spy cameras. Cameras are installed in public restrooms and changing areas and the videos are uploaded. The majority of the women featured in these videos are unaware of this violation of privacy and this type of voyeurism is rampant. Continuing in the spirit of defying the norm of remaining silent Korea has just this past week commemorated August 14th as the first memorial day remembering comfort women. (Women who were kidnapped by the Japanese military during the occupation of Korea and forced to work as prostitutes.) Comfort women are a sensitive topic for both Korea and Japan (As well as other Asian countries affected by Japanese occupation) but Korean citizens are adamant about making their voices heard.
To sum things up........
I've lived here for a year and I feel like I've only just scratched the surface. I look forward to the day when I'm able to carry on a conversation in Korean with someone other than elementary students. (Bless them though kids are such forgiving linguistic partners. They have no problems repeating the same thing five times.) so that I can gain an even greater insight to the inner workings of the land of morning calm. Here's to another year :D