Monday, December 27, 2010

Paradise is Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo. A small town that garnered much infamy within our CELTee group, mostly because of one particular students' recurring trips there (three in total, during her time in Costa Rica). Not that you can really blame her. There's a lot to do and very much a "small town, slice-of-life" feel to it (Ticos vacation there about as often as foreign tourists).

puerto viejo

With funds and desire to stay in San Jose for the rest of my time in Costa Rica dwindling, I decided a multiple-day beach trip was necessary. Everyone had their opinion about where I should go and what I should do, and eventually I settled on...Puerto Viejo. Decision motivated mostly by cost of accommodations, however; not going to lie.

Or not entirely cost. Character factored in, too.

"You have to stay at Rocking J's," Eva insisted multiple times. "It's amazing."

And so, before I even get to what I did on my winter vacation (not much), an introduction to where I stayed.

Rocking J's wins two awards: Cheapest Hostel I've Stayed At, and Most Unique Hostel I've Stayed At.

In short: it's an entirely open-air, tin-roofed joint with razy mosaic art and hammocks, as well as a tasty in-house restaurant.

As for the rest of the trip, I think I'll shut up for once and just let the pictures do the talking.

Rocking J's

Happy New Year, readers. :)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

First North Korea, Now Sweden?

I am so unplugged from the news that I don't hear about suicide bombings in my future adopted homeland until days after the fact from other people. (And not even from my Swedish boyfriend/fiancé-type-creature who lives in Stockholm!) And since no one on Facebook was posting about it, I had to hear it from my boss here in the States when I dropped in to return a work shirt.

Only the bomber himself was killed, apparently—guess he failed the "massive explosives" course at terrorist training camp!—but obviously it's still a bit of a shock. Between this and escalating North-South tensions on the Korean peninsula, it seems like everywhere I want to go has recently been under threats of violence.

I'm not frightened about it. I'm not angry. Those are the kind of responses that actions like this set out to trigger; you give into those, and "the terrorists* have already won." I will still go to Stockholm in January, and I will still move there after another year in Korea. Likewise, the Cheonan sinking or military shelling in Yeonpyeong won't keep from going back to Korea. If South Koreans aren't living in fear, then why should I?

I think the only appropriate response to political violence is disappointment. Sadness. There's one fewer person on the planet, that much less potential for good and kind things in the world—though arguably that was lost long before Taimour Abdulwahab Al-Abdaly blew his guts out, people can turn around. Can change. He also left behind a wife and three kids to live with what he did. What he wanted to do. "Oh, your dad was the guy that blew himself up in Stockholm back in 2010, that's right." What a crap legacy to leave behind for such cute kids!

My condolences go out to his widow and children.

*why I hate the word "terrorist" and go to great lengths to avoid using it is another blog entry altogether; just making my dislike of the word vocal, here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Does this make me certifiable?

As of last Friday, I am officially a CELTA-licensed teacher of English.

And for the umpteenth time, I am so glad that I did this in Costa Rica instead of NYC. I met some lovely people here—seasoned travelers from all over the English-speaking world—and staring down language analysis sheets and lesson plans and cover sheets would have been suicide-inducing in NYC's awful November weather.

The course is so worth it. Whether or not it reflects in a pay increase in South Korea (or of course it does, it's just a question of how much), I did learn a lot about teaching and pedagogical techniques. Everything I didn't learn in my first hagwon. Not that Sherlock Academy can really be blamed for that: this was a month of full-time classwork and practice teaching, and it wouldn't exactly be cost-effective for Sherlock to only get 11 months of teaching out of my 12 year contract. But I think I went into the thing rather under-prepared.

But all of that's neither here nor there! Gaps have been filled, methodologies taught and deconstructed, etc etc. My head is filled with teacher-training and language-analysis and I'm good to go! But I have another week in Costa Rica, so what to do?

Today I finally worked up the gumption to visit the National Museum in the downtown part of San Jose. It only took a month of me seeing it and feeling guilty about not going inside to spur me into action.

It's a history museum, in short, starting with prehistoric nomadic tribes up until the 1948 Civil War. (One of the results of Ferrer's victory in the war was the abolishment of the army, so the building that now houses the museum was once military barracks/headquarters.)

My favorite parts were the assorted prehistoric/pre-columbian exhibits. Observe:

But everyone has been telling me how I have to get out of San Jose, and so I'm trying to figure out what my options are.

One option is a 4 - 5 hour bus ride down to Guanacaste and lay on the beach for a few days. It's expensive down there, though, and I don't have a tent for the cheaper camping lodgings.

The other option is the closer (~3 hour bus ride) Jaco Beach, with lodgings about the same as what I'm paying here in San Jose.

There's also a volcano nearby, to which I can take a bus. Though, the internet is telling me I should visit a different volcano. Yikes!

Plus, there's the old capital of Cartago, with ruins and sites I have yet to see. Schedule looking like this:

Wednesday: Cartago

Thursday - Monday: The beach at Jaco, staying at Las Camas

Tuesday: Volcano, if I feel like it

Wednesday: Go home! :C

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Brief Musical Interlude: "Anything You Can Do"

Great idea for comparatives class: "Anything You Can Do" from Annie, Get Your Gun.

With any luck, I'll get to this in my class tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

CELTA, Week 3: This Time It's Personal

Now that I'm partway through week four, thoughts on week three:

God. Damn. Brutal. We had to design our own syllabus for this week, which was fortunately fairly hands-off and not as terrifying as it sounds. I think at this point my fellow CELTees have started to wonder if I'm not going to just "get a Glock and mow these people down!"* This isn't commentary on CELTA as such; more that my time management skills are terrible. (I should be working on a self-evaluation right now. What am I doing? Hint: you're reading it.)

The other thing about CELTA is that there is literally a whole rainforest of paperwork to sort. In addition to the two to four handouts we get per "how to teach" class (two of those classes per day), for every lesson we teach we have to fill out lesson plans, cover sheets for the lesson plans, and language analysis or skills focus sheets. Additionally, whatever handouts we use or create, we need an extra copy for the portfolio we send off to Cambridge. Then, once we've taught our lesson for that day, we go home and type up a self-evaluation to go in the portfolio, along with our lesson plan and the tutor's evaluation of our performance (which we get the next day, during group feedback). If we're not teaching, then we're assessing other teachers (so we have things to contribute to group feedback the next day), which means we get copies of their lesson plans to mark up with notes. And for the cherry on top, there's the written work we have to turn in. For the first two, it's quite straightforward; for the second two, since they're about planning a theoretical lesson, we have to (again) include any handouts we created for that theoretical lesson.

In case you couldn't tell, that's a lot of paper. Paperwork, and keeping track of papers, is just not really my forte. I think at least half of the stress I've had to deal with on this course comes from sifting through a whole notebook of papers. Every couple days I go on what I've come to call a "hole punch bonanza" so I can at least not have them faffing about loose, but it's still annoying.

"Oh, but Katherine, there's so many ways to organize your stuff! You can fix that easily!" Well, nuts to you. Every attempt to impose some kind of logical order on my morass of stuff degrades into chaos, 99% of the time. The 1% exception is books. My library at home is very neatly sorted and categorized, maybe because books are much bigger and easier to see? No clue. Without the time to sit and sort and purge my coursework of unnecessary faffery, things get out of control. Papers and little things are a hot mess and will continue to be so until I die.

Moral of the story? If you have issues with your executive functions, prepare to crank your attention knob all the way up to eleven if you're doing CELTA.

So three weeks of swimming in handouts and lesson plans will just do you in. My latest feedback session, I probably gave off the impression of being absolutely frustrated with myself and depressed and convinced I'm a total failure etc. It's not that. It's just a combination of 1) having high standards for myself that I never live up to 2) getting absolutely overwhelmed with handouts and paperwork and bits of paper every day, five days a week, for the last three weeks, 3) a broken sleep schedule and 4) having to, within a lesson, be conscious of five trillion things at once.

And here we're back to the executive functions bit again.

Instead of just planning a lesson and having it assessed on whether it was a successful lesson or not, you are constantly performing to CELTA's standards. Some of those are fairly broad and important, like: creating good rapport with the students, successfully conveying the meaning of new material, whatever. But others are minor, almost to the point where I'd call it nitpickery. Things like task-checking, when you drill and when you write things on the board, etc. Having to juggle all of those nine hundred things in your brain while simultaneously interacting with your students and facilitating a successful language class takes an intense amount of concentration—at least it does for me, since interacting with students and taking on the performative role of a teacher sucks up more of my spoons than other people.

(Aside, that article is really interesting. No, I don't have Lupus, but I think it works out for everyone—teaching may take more of my spoons than of a coworker's; on the other hand I can sit down and breeze through a writing or "language awareness" assignment with only half a spoon or so.)

So on some level, CELTA is going to cost you some spoons. Either you're an energetic, gregarious entertaining-type who can't bear to sit and spout off a lot of analytical nonsense, or you're a total language pedant introvert who cranks out the essays with a certain academic glee, but absolutely struggles with classroom management and engaging people. It's not even a spectrum, probably, it's more like a Cartesian plane: at (0,0) is where you need to be to get through CELTA without losing any spoons, the ideal balance between whatever factors are relevant. But of course people have strengths and weaknesses and so you have (6,0) or (2, -2) or whatever else. You're going to have to make some weekly (even daily) sacrifices and struggle (to a greater or lesser extent) through all of them as you try to traverse the distance from your point back to (0,0). And it will take a toll on you. The question is, how far do you have to go, and how much can you push yourself?

*To end on a more lighthearted note, the "get a Glock and mow these people down!" line is a reference to the legendary MST3K episode Overdrawn at the Memory Bank. I quoted it to myself during a break and managed to confuse just about everyone who heard me. To clarify, here's the clip. The whole thing is hilarious, but the line in question is at about the three minute mark. It loses something in the pure reading of it; half of the humor is Mike imitating Raul Julia (or imitating Mike's imitation of Raul Julia).

Fingal: Maybe I had to put up with out there, but not in here.
Mike (as Fingal): I'm going to get a Glock and mow these people down!

And for Facebook, which hates embedding video in notes:

You make me tingle, Fingal. Are you single? Gimme a jingle. ;)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

House Cleaning/CELTA, Week 2: Electric Boogaloo

Tidied up the links bar, over there on the right. Teachers, if you have any blogs or resources you think I should link to, drop a comment.

Second week of CELTA went by just as blazingly fast as the first—so fast, in fact, that I didn't sit down to write about it until Wednesday of the third week! The upshot is that there's not much more I need to expound upon as it's all the same, only more of it.

The one notable thing is that I have new students now; you switch from an Intermediate class to an Elementary class about halfway through, so you can get practice at both levels. While my new students are total sweethearts and generally quite nice, I do miss my chatty, funny, Intermediate class.

The last day of week two (which was actually their first day with their new teachers), they bought us soda and cake and we had a little snack party after the day was over. IT'S SO SWEET THAT I CAN BARELY STAND IT AHH. ;-;

Bonus game: play "find the teacher" with that photo. There are three!

Afterwards was "conversation club," which is more like "go to the bar down the street and relax with a few glasses of Imperial."

A few cocktails in, and a few of us (two other teachers and one student) decided to go to "Monster Pizza."

And if it seems like all I'm doing here is basking in the sun and drinking, it's because that's the only thing I'm doing that's actually interesting to write about. Going on about language analysis and all the self-evaluations and essays I'm writing and the classes I'm taking isn't exactly riveting material. Suffice it to say, it's not all peaches and cream. It's actually mostly the mushy vegetables you have to eat before you can have your dessert.

Fortunately, this Friday we have a brief respite from all of this; afternoon classes are canceled and so myself and two other teachers are going to Arenal Park, home to an active volcano, hot springs, horseback riding, and the cherry on top: The Venado Caves.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

All We Are Saying...

Facebook is probably my number one source for news, not going to lie. I woke up to find no less than a bajillion links to this story: North Korea takes aim at South Korea with hour-long shelling.

When I was getting ready to leave for South Korea, one of the topics people brought up the most was their wacky neighbor to the north. "Are you going to North or South Korea?" "Isn't it dangerous?" (Runner-up: "Don't they eat dog there?") After all, in the US we're under a constant barrage of "oh, that wacky Kim Jeong-il!" updates. Far more so than in South Korea, actually—when they launched that torpedo/failed nuclear device/failed satellite or whatever last year, I actually found out from an American. South Koreans, we reason, should live under more or less a constant cloud of fear, given their location next to one of the so-called Axis of Evil countries.

And yet, they don't. Stories that made the front page back home, or headlined the international section of the paper, barely got a second glance in SK. Why? One argument that a lot of my fellow teachers put out was simply head-in-the-sand thinking, that South Koreans simply refused (for whatever reason) to acknowledge how dangerous their nothern counterpart was.

Personally, I didn't buy that, and I still don't. Jong-min, currently doing his compulsory patriotic duty, assured me that on a scale of 1 - 10, with 1 being flatly impossible and 10 being altogether certain, that high brass in the ROK army rates an invasion by North Korea as "a 2 or 3." (This even after the infmaous Cheonan sinking.) I don't think armies typically have their heads in the sand. I think after fifty-odd years of unease, tension, and sabre-rattling, you just adjust to a new normal. You have to, in order to survive. Extended periods of stress are just unmanageable in terms of psychological well-being.

Even with this, most reports aren't linking this new shelling to a potential full-scale assault. The BBC (referenced earlier) suggests that it's an attempt at power consolidation, as an ailing Kim Jeong-Il prepares to hand things over to Kim Jeong-un. In addition to power consolidation, The Daily NK theorizes that the attack could be an attempt at forcing dialogue with the United States. An anonymous claim within the article even suggests that the dialogue attempt isn't with the US but with the ROK—striving for "an appeasement policy by raising inter-Korean and military conflict." You know how when you were little, you got your way by repeatedly annoying your older sibling/cousin/friend/whatever? Now imagine instead of poking them or repeating everything they say, you have military shells. Of course, I'm always skeptical of claims that come from anonymous sources. Nonetheless, at the moment I'll entertain it for seeming reasonable.

Does this change my decision to go back to Korea? No. I tend to agree with the ROK army's stance on "a 2 or 3." I think Kim Jeong-il is perfectly aware of the fact that anything approaching a full-scale assault would end with his ass being handed to him on a platter. He may have one of the largest standing armies in the world, but as Napoleon taught us, "an army marches on its stomach." The food situation in North Korea is, and has been, so dire that the average North Korean is now 6 inches shorter than their democratic counterpart. Likewise, the DPRK's strongest ally has been tepid at best in their support of the Kim dynasty as of late—it seems they don't want a repeat performance of their involvement in the Korean war.

Not to mention all of these incidents are taking place relatively far north of where I would be in Korea, along disputed borders and waters. Here is a map:

(Admittedly the action is slowly creeping southwards! Maybe I should be worried. :O )

(An armchair international studies student is me!)

Unfortunately, though these skirmishes are minor when compared with the Beowulf clusterfuck that is full-scale war, they still take their toll. Two South Korean Marines are dead as a result of this latest incident; three civilians and fourteen more Marines are injured, though how badly the BBC doesn't say. This is in addition to the forty-six sailors killed in the sinking of the Cheonan last March, and however many North Koreans suffered through the ROK's returned fire. My thoughts and well-wishes are with all of them, South and North, especially as we approach the winter holidays—Christmas as well as Lunar New Year. I don't see how a reconciliation would be possible any time soon, but at the least we can hope that Kim Jeong-il/Kim Jeong-un will move away from a strategy that punishes people who have nothing to do with political policy.

And since the title of this entry is a not-so-subtle nod to John Lennon, I leave you with this spectacular rendition of another Lennon classic:

(The sound quality is awful, but Pavarotti is still Pavarotti.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The KSATs are coming!

And in honor of probably the most important day of the year, here is a manhwa (comic), in English, about the Korean hagwon/education mentality:

The Successful Life, by "bpbp0709". Here's a teaser:

The Successful Life

(NB That "nowgah" is just "hagwon" spelled backwards.)

There's a whole extended scene where the protagonist is actually in the hagwon that's probably my favorite part of the whole thing. Imagine "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2" playing in the background:

The Successful Life

We don't need no education...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Week 1: Round-Up

This first week has been a blitz of assessed teaching (nerve-wracking) and semi-intense pedagogical instruction (classroom management, learning styles, "CCQs", etc). Each assessed teaching segment is followed by a written self-evaluation and a group evaluation by your other teacher-trainees as well as the tutor. In addition to the written self-evaluation I have to do for Monday, I also have a "language awareness" (read as: grammar blitz) task and a general sort of "week in review" self-evaluation to get ready as well. Oh man, I missed homework!

But I took a well-deserved break today and had my first San Jose walkabout with Jaime, another CELTee. I arrived in San Jose the day before the course started, so I didn't have any time to nose around the area and get acquainted with it.

My digs! Not pictured is my own private bathroom to the left of the nightstand, and my little tiny desk. It's a small room, but the price is right and I have an amazing living room and balcony for when I want to do my work. (I am a introverted anti-social weirdo, though, so I do spend a lot of time working in here.)

My walk to school every day.

Mostly, Jaime and I spent today shopping in the downtown area, combing the little tourist-y stalls as well as the nicer shops.

This little guy was just hanging out behind his grandma's stall (I ended up buying too expensive pants from her, but they are awesome pants that need a photo unto themselves), being adorable.

Of course after a long day shopping, we deserved some dessert.


Next Saturday I have to observe a class, so weekend meanderings will again be limited to San Jose. Hopefully, I'll be able to get out and about the area a little bit more after that.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

CELTA, ce-riously.

Day 2 of CELTA involves the first (of many) assessed lessons. My lesson segment yesterday went well enough; today felt overwhelming and scattered, mostly because I am rubbish at dealing with handouts and papers and keeping things consistently organized.

I immediately flashed on teacher training at Sherlock and being observed and generally wanting to vomit. Some things never change! You'd think years of piano recitals and school concerts and tour guiding would have cured me of performance anxiety, but no.

Bonus points for the power going out midway through the day and not coming back on until half an hour before the lesson.

"Oh, there it goes," our tutor said nonchalantly. "If it's not on in time for the lesson, we'll just skip the break and go straight through so we finish before it gets too dark."

As if this stuff happened all the time. Which, apparently, it does. Pura vida!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I have arrived safely in Costa Rica! Pictures of my digs and the surroundings forthcoming, as soon as I get a chance to do a San Jose walkabout (this weekend, if the rainy season doesn't have other plans).

The CELTA course is working out well so far (but doesn't everything work out well on the first day!). I think most of my buddies still in Korea and still reading this (right? right?) are TEFL-cert'd otherwise, but just in case I'll probably be writing/freaking out about it in here.

CELTA seems like a lot of work on the face of it (and it probably will be!), and I spent much of my flight over—when I wasn't sleeping—freaking out about the first day and having to teach a lesson on my first day. The tutors here (and presumably elsewhere, but I can only speak for Costa Rica) do a good job of easing you into the group and into the teaching: doing ice-breakers, giving you suggestions for class activities. By the time lunch was over, I was ready to start teaching. First, though, was a lesson in Bahasa Indonesia, wherein we all remembered how much it sucks to not understand the language you're being taught.

(Apparently that sample lesson is usually in Swedish, but yours truly and probably also the Dutch woman in the course would have had an unfair advantage.)

The practice courses are, from the volunteer students' perspective, two-hour long English blitzes with four different teachers. From our perspective, they are miniature twenty-minute lessons with the rest of the time devoted to observing and evaluating the other three teachers. Fortunately, the other people in my group are very nice (and multinational! A Dutch woman, an English gentleman, and another woman from Costa Rica), and everyone has less teaching experience than I do so I don't feel like a total bumbling fool.

The students are all adults (the "A" in CELTA stands for "Adults"; teaching children is "CELTYL," for "Young Learners"), some my age, some with children, some might even have grand children. They all speak much better English than any of my students in Korea, which was a pleasant surprise. (Not that I didn't enjoy teaching my students because of their low skill level. If I didn't like them, it was for other, unrelated reasons.)

All in all, this looks to be a solid experience so far. Bring on the workload. ;)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Things I Didn't Realize I Missed in Korea

1. 24 Hour Grocery Stores

Granted, the Buy the Way in the first floor of my apartment building carried everything I ever needed in a pinch, but sometimes I need the kind of therapy that only a giant warehouse of foodstuffs can provide. And sometimes I need it at midnight.

2. Looking Like A Total Schlub

Sometimes part of that therapy involves leaving the house in "loungewear" and uncombed hair. Bonus points for wearing a jjimjilbang t-shirt. (They have fast become my favorite autumnal "sit around and do nothing at home" shirts, on account of the surprisingly substantial material. They're so warm!)

3. Driving

Again, another essential part of this therapy is motoring myself there. Walking is nice, sure, but sometimes it's cold and sometimes I'm lazy and sometimes I feel like moving faster than I can go under my own power.

Just some thoughts on my way to some food retail therapy. ^^

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Jet-Setting: Costa Rica

As of 2.15 this afternoon, I was accepted into the International House Costa Rica franchise of Cambridge's TESOL program.


This beats the crap out of my original plan of finishing a CELTA program in NYC, both in terms of price and in terms of pure awesome. An official TEFL certificate will be an edge back in Korea; one from Cambridge doubly-so (CELTA is one of the most-respected programs in the TEFL business). I will be too busy to travel around Costa Rica during the course, so I'm taking an extra week at the end of the course to properly see the country. Stay tuned for wacky Central American traveling antics!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis

Meet me at the fair~!


I went to St. Louis to visit one of my "top tier" friends (of whom there are only two in the whole world), Noah. He transferred out of Hamilton after our sophomore year, so I haven't been in the same area code as him since 2006. That means we need planes, trains, and automobiles to see each other.

We make a neat set of opposites, n'est-ce pas?

(The reason this visit gets a write-up, while my weekend jaunt to visit my token Korean friend in DC does not, is that Jong-min does not seem as enthusiastic as Noah to photo-document our time together. I think Jong-min might be embarrassed about the trainwreck white girl he's added to his life. =P)

My flight to St. Louis was longer and more arduous than it needed to be, thanks to a combination of mistakes on both my part and the airline's, suffice it to say that my trip to St. Louis started at 8.30 PM at the STL airport in a poofy, over-the-top prom dress, pearls, and the most makeup I'll wear for the next three months, waiting for my ride from Noah. For that night was Metro Prom.

Sadly, I missed the metro part of the prom, but our prom getup got us free entry into a piano bar called Big Bang, where we sang around with the requests for an hour or so. The crowd started picking up soon after, so we fled for a nearby diner (a common theme in any of my visits to/from friends).


The next day we made an abortive attempt to visit The Arch and the City Museum, but dead batteries and a private party rained on that parade. However, we did make a successful excursion out of Blueberry Hill (Chuck Berry's piano bar), the St. Louis Walk of Fame (notables: Chuck Berry, Yogi Berra, Vincent Price), a sweet old movie theater, a store full of spices, another store full of bottle-your-own-whatever (we left with two bottles of whisky), and a restaurant with the best milkshakes I've ever had. Five dollar milkshakes, even.

Things start picking up in my memory post the purchase of some new batteries for my camera. We walked from Noah's house to a movie theater/bowling alley/bar called Moolah to see The Social Network. En route we made a couple whisky stops.

The first was a pizza place/bar called pi. As in the irrational number. We went there for lunch later and I have to say, their pies are tremendous. Look them up if ever you go. The whisky list is also impressive:

(I don't know what connection the Rittenhouse Rye has to the Rittenhouse Square of Philadelphia fame, if any. I didn't get to try any, either; they were out.)

The second place had once been a speakeasy, but since converted to a proper bar. You can still go downstairs to drink in a super-atmospheric basement area. AND GUESS WHAT THEY HAD:

WHY ONLY THE WORLD'S BEST SINGLE MALT OF 2009. Probably my favorite non-Islay malt.

We also met a lawyer/countertop salesman? I don't know how that combination works out, but apparently he gets to travel to China multiple times a year for whatever it is that he does. And he can afford expensive bottle of port and nice cigars.

The next day we started with a hearty American breakfast at:

This is what I miss about America whenever I'm not there:

This time I had fresh batteries, so I got in some obligatory shots of The Arch.

And The City Museum was also open for us, which was awesome and probably the highlight of my whole trip.

A couple of things. First, note the metal spire type thing you can see on the roof. You can climb up into that:

Which is terrifying! But the view is awesome.

Also note the school bus. You can go in it.

Afterwards, Noah had to go in to work for a couple hours, so I slept in Forest park for a while. We picked up some ingredients for whatever meat-based dish he had planned for dinner (which was tasty), made dinner, and drank some St. Louis microbrew.

My flight home suffered from massive, massive delays (oh flying! you were just not happening for me that weekend), so I killed a couple hours in the airport reading some David Mack I had picked up in a comic book store on Saturday. I also emailed CELTA at International House Costa Rica from my phone to see what the turnaround on my application would be. A couple days after I got back, I'd find out that they'd want a phone interview.

St. Louis was too short, unfortunately; there was a lot more I could have seen, and more time could have been spent with Noah before I go back to Korea. Hopefully I can make it back for a longer visit some day!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Self-Reflection: Black Out Korea.

There are a few huge blogs in the expat-in-Korea blogging community. I don't use the word "blogosphere" because I don't believe in neologisms. Also, it sounds stupid.

The biggest two are probably Ask a Korean! and Ask the Expat!. Others like The Grand Narrative, Gusts of Popular Feeling and Kiss my Kimchi spring to mind as well. My friend Breda (Annyeong!) was even ranked as one of the top Korean expat blogs by Go Overseas. So there's a lot of content on the Internet being generated about Korea, by foreigners currently living in Korea.

Somewhere up there you also have Black Out Korea, a blog devoted entirely to pictures of passed-out drunk people in the ROK.

I will admit, on a base level, it is kind of funny. Even to someone like me, with a sense of humor more cerebral than slapstick. Because once in a while, after all the shots of passed-out party-goers in Hongdae, you get utterly weird stuff like this:

which just transcends funny and becomes pure, sublimated surreality.

Early on in life, we all learn the important difference between laughing with and laughing at at someone. And usually when you're enjoying the results of someone's drunken shenanigans, it's the laughing at kind of laughing. This is the same kind of humor that drives pages like People of WalMart, LameBook, and Regretsy. Those sites all have their own thorny ethics to deal with, but they are also all people poking at other people within their own culture. (Cue the appropriate Seinfeld reference about "joke-telling immunity." Bonus points for Bryan Cranston prior to Breaking Bad or Malcolm in the Middle.)

When you get cross-cultural haw-haws, though, then it gets weird. Are you enjoying it from a position of privilege? Is there some underlying cultural thing going on of which you're (willfully) ignorant? Are you using humor to distance yourself from responsibility? Would this be just as funny intra-culturally? Did I just make up a new word? Anyway, here's the stated purpose of Black Out Korea:

Black Out Korea is a site devoted to the often hilarious situations in Korea that involve full grown adults blacked out in public, sometimes from 60 hour workweeks, but mostly because of Soju.

I've been to quite a few countries, but never seen this phenomenon like I've seen here in the ROK. So send in your best pics!

(As an aside, I do remember the blurb, in the version I initially read, talking about how South Korea is a country where adults typically get "utterly shithammered" or some such. I presume that the author has changed it as the blog has grown, and so I present you with the current version.)

Black Out Korea does not necessarily discriminate, either; you do find the odd assortment of blacked-out foreigners among the photos.

Note, though, that instances of the "waegook" tag are not as frequent as many of the others.

I'm inclined to distance myself from that kind of humor/attitude about Korea (at least I am now, not sure what year-ago-self would say). First of all, the laughing at style of comedy doesn't normally appeal to me, anyway. Nor does the slapstick, physical kind of comedy.

On a deeper level, to me it also belies a lack of respect for Korea, in a way. Not only on the "hah hah, he's passed out drunk, what a Korean" level, but in a more abstract sense. I think a not-insignificant portion of foreigners come to Korea and think of it as "College 2: Electric Boogaloo" and see it as less a country with citizens who are just as autonomous as themselves, and more of a giant playground with few rules and cheap booze. "We can party all we want, someone else will be there to clean up after us and take care of us."

I mean, it's one thing for your friend to get stupid-drunk and then pass out in a club. By all means, prank away and photo-document as much as you like. But a random stranger? Who has no chance to consent to this or establish a layer of rapport such that they would be okay with you doing this? Who doesn't have a way to contact you if they want the photo taken down? Also note that faces are almost never blurred in the photos; if they are, they're of foreigners.

This, coupled with America's military presence in Korea both historically and currently, suggests an unequal power balance and no interest to fix it. I think a lot of the submissions to Black Out Korea spring from that mindset, and that makes me uneasy. Mine, however, is certainly not the only take on it.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010