Sunday, April 25, 2010

Wow...lots to say...current issues, crazy weekend, and promised discussion

So, I started this blog a couple days ago...sorry it's taken so long to get it posted!

So, first I'm going to start with what's currently on my mind. Last week I was talking to my friend Jisoo on Skype. I was just speaking at a normal speaking level, and a teacher came up to me and asked me to stop talking on Skype because I was distracting others from their work. Now, I know that listening to English can be distracting to people who don't speak it. I also know that it's midterms time and people are stressed out. In addition to that, I know that I'm a foreigner, and things are just not going to go my way sometimes. On that note, a teacher told me today that the people in my office discussed and came to the conclusion that I should not video chat during class hours...only during break times (the 10 minutes in between classes). Coming at this from a professional standpoint, I totally understand. I mean really. If I'm trying to work and I hear someone's one sided conversation in the background of my office, yeah, I'm going to be distracted and I'm going to think that DUH work comes before pleasure. However, somehow all of things things don't seem to justify enough in my mind to make me feel satisfied about the situation. Because, for 10 months now, I've been allowed to talk on my computer to people during school hours. That's become my main time of communication with people back home as its some of the only time that both I and they are awake and kickin'. There's a big rock in my stomach now, and it seems so silly that I'd be upset about this (especially since it makes so much sense), but I really am. And I feel a little bit attacked by the teachers in my office. I mean, seriously, 10 months into this, they're just now telling me that they don't appreciate me doing this...and so I feel like there's been this resentment or something building up and they're just now telling me about it. I'm just a little hurt by the situation and a little frustrated also that I am not really sure when I'm going to talk to people from back home now. As always, it'll work its way out, but for now, I'm a little frustrated.

Ok, so for this past, I had promised my friend MinCheol that I'd go to his church in Seoul. I told him I really wanted to see a Korean service, and he's the worship leader at his church. So, Jordan and I went up with him on Friday to Seoul to visit his church. So, we took the subway, and we ended up being a little late. On our way up, MinCheol had said something about his church being near a Holly's coffee. I thought it was random that he mentioned it, but whatever. Then when we got out of the subway station, and we're standing at the crosswalk, and one of the lights there turned green and he said "Ok, see you later!" and then motioned for us to walk. So, we started walking across the crosswalk, confused as ever, and I started putting two and two together, hoping that we were doing the right thing. Jordan and I went to Holly's and waited around, assuming MinCheol was going to come get us and take us to his church. He came running back, dressed in a suit for church. Then he was like "So, we might have to run. Is it ok?" we ran, several blocks, to his church. When we got there, he was late for worship practice, so his worship team was a bit upset with him. Oops! Anyway, the church itself was pretty was quite Pentecostal. It was a prayer based service, and in Korean church, when you spend lots of time in prayer, most people are praying out loud at the same time. So that's what was going on, and I was cool with all of it, except I was a little distracted by this guy beside me who was pounding on the pew....other than that, it was a good experience. Then we went to this hole-in-the-wall 삼겹살 (sam gyup sal) restaurant. 삼겹살 is basically pork grilled with a lot of fat left on it. It's a little gross to me texturally, but this place had really good flavor. I had never eaten that before! Anyway, after this, it was after 1:00 and so they decided that Jordan and I should just go to the sauna in that neighborhood instead of going to the nearby neighborhood. So we walked to that sauna and it was closed. Then MinCheol's friend ran across the street where there was supposed to be another one, but it wasn't there. Then MinCheol called the one in Wangsimni (the nearby neighborhood) and they didn't answer. He called information and asked about spas or saunas in the area, and we had no luck. So, MinCheol said "How do you feel about....inn?" Haha. I knew what that meant. That meant love motel. Remember those places I talked about last time where people go and do their dirty work? Yup, that's where he was talking about. I was like "Well, we do have to sleep." So, we checked into a love motel, and I was so curious what we were getting ourselves into! Now, what I was worried about was cleanliness. And actually, this wasn't an issue. The room smelled a bit like smoke, but that's normal even in hotel rooms in America. Other than that, the place was really clean...clean sheets, clean floors and that was good. There were of course some interesting things about the room that definitely made it love motel status. First, the light fixture. I will attach a picture. It will speak for itself. Also, there's these inset green running lights along the ceiling...mood lighting? Umm...the bed was heated. Also, there were like hair products, perfumes and colognes. Yeah, it was pretty crazy. But it was a place to sleep at night, so that was good! Definitely an experience that I said was "blog worthy."

This is the light can't see it, but it says "Love" on it...
And underneath, the mood lighting-green-weirdness.

Last night on the bus, I was calling Ben a player (actually translated, a wind person, lol), showing off my new vocabulary. I was like "바람둥이 예요!" which means you're a player or there is a player. Lol. So we were just messing around saying this, teasing him about his friend Anna, and then this guy turns around and is like "Where did you come to Korea from? How are you here?" etc. Then he looked at me and was like "Your Korean pronunciation is really good! I am so impressed!" Haha. I'm glad that I could impress a random guy on the bus by telling my friend that he's a player. Haha. I was a little embarrassed, but I thought it was hilarious all the same.

So, I said before that I'd talk about another thought I had on a cultural...fall out, shall we say, here in Korea. I don't think anyone in Korea would claim that this is not a flaw in their culture, but I don't necessarily know if they'd do anything to change it. Anyway, this is something that I was reading about a few weeks ago, and I just haven't been able to get it off my mind. I feel like maybe I'm going to be involved in doing something about it? Probably on a small scale, obviously, but still...I hope in my heart that I can do something to change this.
So, without further ado, the topic of depression and suicide in Korea.
This topic came up with me as I read an article for my English discussion group (sounds lame but the people in it are awesome! We read news articles and discuss them) about a former Korean celebrity Choi Jin Young. He committed suicide less than two years after his sister, also a famous actress, committed suicide. This article focused less on the background of Choi Jin Young and more on the issue of depression and suicide in Korea. Now, I don't mean to be bluntly insensitive, but I do want to share some stats about the issue here.
First, Korea has the highest suicide rate among all the industrialized countries in the world. Suicide is the 4th highest cause of death in Korea, and among people in their 20s and 30s, it's the highest cause of death.
In the past 10 years, the suicide rate in Korea has almost tripled (comparing this to America, the US has stayed almost consistent with its previous rate. America and Korea used to be even, but now Korea's suicide rate is twice as high as the US).
In Korea, every year, there are over 12,000 people who commit suicide. This means that over 32 people a day commit suicide.
The fact that is even more heartbreaking is this. Those are only the successful suicides. In Korea (at an average), every 9 seconds someone is trying to commit suicide. About every 45 minutes, one of those people succeeds.
An estimated 70 percent of these suicides are linked to a depression of some sort.

Now, as I write this, tears come to my eyes. You know, living in Korea, I've grown quite fond of the people here. And to see that SO many people struggle with confirmation of the importance of their lives just makes me so sad. And it almost frightens me, because I feel like at some point, I'm going to have it happen to someone around me. It's not something I want to think about.

So, the reason for this? Well...I have a couple theories. Obviously, these are a compilation of my thoughts, things others have shared with me, and things I've read. First, pressure/stress. In Korea, the people are always trying to succeed and to be better and better than the last person. There is a high element of competition, not just among oneself and colleagues, but among every other Korean. This can create a lot of stress, obviously! Not EVERYONE can be the best, so when people discover that they're second best or even less than that, it is such an exaggerated defeat here. Next, pressure from family. It doesn't take long being in a Korean school system to see the pressure and stress the students are under to do well. Not only that, but they're in school for so many hours of the day, attending hogwans after school, that they're not getting enough sleep at night. When asking my students when they go to bed, the average time was between 11-12 at night...that's just not enough sleep for young students who are under pressure. And here, the name of your school is everything, even starting in high school. Kids in middle school are working hard to get into a good high school. Kids in high school are working hard to get into a good college. People in college aren't working as hard, but still are trying to be so successful so that they can make a name for themselves. Also, I think that the homogeneous atmosphere of this society creates a lot of problems concerning depression. Depression is still a bit of a foreign land to them here, so Koreans don't like talking about's kind of like a nasty disease that no one wants to mention. That causes great problems because then everyone looks down on it and it becomes a shameful condition. And since "we are one" is a common mindset here, if "we are one" and there's something wrong with you, then there's something wrong with me. And we can't have that. I'm fine, so you have to be fine. So just don't talk about that "depression" thing to's embarrassing.

Well, these are just a few of my thoughts on the issue. I am still processing through a lot of it, and I'm thinking of ways that I can help as a foreigner with no power or status in this society. All I know is that something has to change. Something's gotta give in this rapid climb in suicide rates. There's got to be a mindset change before it gets worse. All I've been able to do so far is pray. Whenever it comes to mind, I pray that whoever at that moment is thinking about ending their life, that God would just be with them, comfort them, and show them that there's more to live for than what's currently bringing them down. And I would encourage you (if you feel so led) to do the same. It's the least that I can do right now. Anyway, sorry for the soap box, but I did promise before that I would share my thoughts on this, they are.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Random things...

First of all, today's lunch might possibly have been my favorite lunch of all! Wednesdays, I can almost always count on a good lunch, but today was really good! We had this 국수 (noodle soup) that was just a basic broth with vegetables and noodles...they're kind of like angel hair pasta noodles. Anyway, we also had kimchi (which was only fermented to perfection today), this yummy rice stuff that was served in ball form which made me skeptical at first, the best rice cake things ever (they are the size and shape of the cookies that have hershey kisses on them, but they're rice cake with red bean in them...kind of a sweet taste), and drinkable yogurt. Now, looking back on this list, I feel like an alien, saying that these things were delicious. However, they were absolutely great, and I am SO full now...I almost got more just because it was so good, but now I'm glad I didn't...I think I might have burst!!

So, on a different note, I have some thoughts about some cultural Korean things. First, let's talk about whorehouses. Now, you may think that we stepped back into the old west when I say this, but, it's a little different. Nonetheless, there are actually places here that are protected by the government that are businesses housing prostitutes. Now let's talk about the men that frequent these places. Scumbags, sure. Poor people, not likely since it costs money. Classy business men, yes. Married men, yes. "Christian" men, yes. Married "Christian" men, yes. Young hormone-raging men, not as often as the old married men. Now, I'm hoping by this point that you're throwing up in your mouth a little bit. This is a part of the culture that I simply can't understand. Now, a couple big questions....first, do they think it's ok/not wrong: mostly. Second, do the married men's wives know that they do this: most of them. It just makes me sick to my stomach to think about the fact that people think this is ok! I mean, I know that sin is sin and I know we all struggle with sin in our lives, but most of these people have convinced themselves that there's absolutely nothing wrong with going and getting a little side lovin' from a complete stranger before they go home to their wife. I don't know if there's anything I can do about this aspect of the culture, but I'm open to suggestions. Lol. But seriously, I wish there was something I could do to change this.

Speaking of things I wish I could change about Korean culture, stay tuned for my next blog...I'll be talking about some other thoughts I have from being here... :)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

It's Been Awhile...

So, it's been a while since I've written a blog. I'm going to start out by talking about my last class. They are a low level class that is incredibly enthusiastic. The problem is that their attention span is even shorter than mine. Yeah, I didn't know it was possible either...but it is. And they have proven that. Anyway, they're a fun class...exhausting and all. There's a kid in there who always goes "I LOVE ENGLISH!!!" So when I was teaching them the phrase "Really? Why?" I asked him if he liked English. He said "YEAH!" I said "Really? Why?" and he said "BECAUSE I LOVE YOU!!!!!" of my prouder moments as a teacher. :P Then there's another kid in this class. Honestly, he's the most adorable boy of any of my boy students. And whenever he sees me in the halls, he's always sheepishly smiling and saying "Hello Tori." Well, today, he was combing his friend's hair...yes. Combing his hair. This is a point at which Korean boys are SO much different than American boys. They will comb each other's hair, walk down the hall holding hands, sit on each other's laps...just about anything that Korean boys do (besides beat on each other) is very foreign to Americans. So, when I offered the chance to win candy, this adorable boy raised his hand. I told them that they just had to do what I tell them to in order to win candy. So, I told him "Stand up. Come to the front. Repeat after me: I will not....comb my your class....anymore......good, now give me a high five." Seriously, this kid is precious, and the whole class roared when I told him not to comb his hair in my class anymore. Funny funny.
Oh, another funny thing that was said in class today was this. I was in a lower level class, and we were talking about using phrases like "I didn't hear you." I gave an example. Then I asked them what they needed me to do (meaning say it louder, softer, faster, slower, etc). I said you need me to say it.....?? and this girl goes "In Korean!!" Ha. Ha. Ha. I laughed so hard at it. It was probably the most effective and accurate answer I've gotten in a while. :)
Now. Let's talk about lunch today. There's this stuff in Korea called 순대...have I talked about it before? If I have, I'm sorry, because I'm getting ready to talk about it again. It's called Soondae, but what it is is blood sausage. Yes, blood read it right. So, I've had it once before, and I choked a piece of it down that time. This time, I was deceived. I saw this fried stuff, and a teacher sitting down already said "Very delicious...많이 먹어"...meaning eat a lot. so, I grabbed three of them, my best guess being that it kind of looked like it could be chestnuts. So, I get to the table, sit down and say "What is this?" And they all say "Oh, Soondae, very delicious!!" Great...because I remembered my first experience eating soondae (right as I put it in my mouth a teacher said "blood sausage!!"), and I didn't want to relive the gag reflexes that took place that day. So, I prepared myself, shoved a piece in my mouth, and chewed like crazy. I'm actually having a reflex to simply thinking about in I feel like I might throw up right now. I think that actually, it's not the taste of soondae that's so terrible, but rather the texture. It's kind of the texture of rice, and I think there's rice with it, but it's meat. Bring on the raw beef please....I'd rather have that.

Well, this afternoon I get to teach my lesson on American schools. It should be interesting, but the kids in the first lesson of it seemed interested enough. Ah well...I should probably do some actual planning during this planning period. I guess that's what they're here for. Anyway, hope you enjoyed my stories!