Monday, December 8, 2008

Goodbye Cheongok-dong

Jason and I will be flying back to the states in a few days, seven to be exact...but whose counting? I am!!! It's been 13 months since I've seen my family and many of my friends. That's a hell of a long time. Hopefully next year I'll be able to visit the states more often.

We're moving to Gunpo come February. It's south of Seoul but still on the subway line. Our new jobs are at a university and if you're an ESL teacher in Korea you know what that means. VACATION! I mean...a chance to teach at an institute of higher learning, a chance to do some research, a chance to interact with a group of more mature students, and three months of paid vacation. Woo hoo! I'm truly excited and feel very fortunate to have found such a great opportunity. I'll be able to get my master's degree since I'll be working far fewer hours, I'll get experience working at a university, and I'll have an opportunity to visit my family and travel around Asia. I feel truly blessed to have landed this job.

Although I'm estatic to be seeing my family again, I am feeling a little trepidacious about going back to the states. I think this must be due to reverse culture shock - I can't think of any other reason. I remember when I returned from traveling through Mexico and Central America after college... walking through the airport and seeing the automatic sliding doors tripped me out - they seemed so futuristic. Of course I'd been dealing with them my whole life but three months of living in third world countries had reset my buttons. I also remember going to a restaurant in southern Arizona. I went to the bathroom and it was huge! I came out and said to Jason, "You have to see the size of the bathrooms here. I could live in them". But eventually I became used to the States again and I took all of the modern conveniences and space for granted.

So I think I might be a bit worried about this kind of stuff happening again. Of course Korea is a first world country but it has only been so for a short time. When you realize the Korean War was only 50 years ago and that the country was thrown into abject poverty, their current status is amazing. Yet while traveling around here you realize there are some places where the 21st century has not yet arrived. Plus, I've been living as an alien in this land for some time.

I've gotten used to being in my own little world. People are so conscious of me here that I've had to develop a thick skin in order to not notice how I'm gawked at and paid attention to so severly. I'm afraid this has given me some stange habbits. For example, I sing all the time. Not loudly or anything but in a small voice. Jason and I'll be shopping at the grocery store and I'll just start singing, "Meet me in the morning...56th and Wabasha, ba ban ban baoum...." I know this kind of behavior is unacceptable in the states, but I'm so insulated here. No matter what I do I'm stared at so I've come to view my myself as living in my own little world. Other people are almost paper dolls that are set into my landscape. They don't speak my language, they don't understand me, and they think whatever I do is strange and/or interesting anyway. I'll have to watch myself over the next few months while I'm in the states.

Since I've started to analyze what things might throw me off when I return to the states, I thought I'd post some pics that show how different Korea is. (I'd have said weird but that might be viewed as culturally insensitive.)

Koreans are very into fitness. They have hiking trails everywhere. Usually along the hiking trails there are also outdoor gyms. I love the giant hula hoops. I'm teaching Jason how to work them.
He's more at home with the weight benches.

This was my New Year's gift from my school. Jason and I both got one! Yes, I've tried Spam. It's hard to avoid in Korea. But I'm glad to say that my palette hasn't accepted it as 'real food' yet.

This picture is for my grandpa Vernie. He was a big fan of John Deere tractors.

There are so many different kinds of street food in Korea. They have vendors that sell everything from bundage (silkworm pupa) to tiny waffles shaped like fish with whipped cream inside. Pictured above is a chesnut roaster.

The women in Korea no longer bind their feet in the traditional fashion...they've upgraded to high heels. Women wear high heels all the time here...even to go hiking. Yes, I've seen this a few times. The women are limping along in their fashionable get ups while whining at their male companions in an especially irritating tone of voice.

This proud man is the cleaner of the first floor bathrooms at the Seoul airport. Nuff said...

This rad picture is from the Seafood Festival. We were forced to watch psuedo eighties style music and dancing complete with smoke machines, laser lights, and side pony tails (not pictured). The style of music and dress most popular here is very eighties inspired.

And doesn't have to long as everything is hip looking. in Korea. It's not quite what I had in mind. Although it is very spacially efficient.

I haven't eaten here yet but it's on my list of things to do next year. As an aside, if you call a kid crazy...something like, "you're a crazy little bugger, aren't you?" the kid will start crying hysterically. Apparently, 'crazy' here doesn't translate so well...they take it to mean actually insane. Both Jason and I learned this the hard way.

Korea reminds me of Vegas in so many ways; the open all night bars, the neon lights everywhere, and the ads for ladies that paper the streets after a Friday or Saturday night. These are the more conservative ones I've seen.

Speaking of prostitution...the variety of concoctions Koreans have to improve 'male stamina' is overwhelming. Essentially if something tastes or looks particularly vile the reason given for it's existence is that it helps with 'male stamina' - you'd think the whole country was impotent or something.