Expat Dribble

Andrea Avery Jackley: An expat with lots of dribble to write about.

11.23.09

I got my first taste of Korean teenage rebellion in Seoul this weekend, when I noticed the side of a building spray painted with the word “sex”. This is a rare occurrence in Korea, where the general public does crazy things like line-up orderly at the city bus stop.

To really demonstrate for you the obedience of this homogenous population, I give you exhibit A: The motorized street manaquin that directs traffic around road construction sights. In any self-respecting Western nation (well, except maybe Britain) the dummy would be destroyed – its body parts strewn across the whole neighborhood; head tied to a stake perhaps – within hours, if not minutes. But not in Korea. Here, these faux-roadside workers live on until their batteries give out.

So, needless to say, the random graffiti shocked me. But inside my insolent self was silently rooting on those gutsy kids – and maybe even hoping they nurtured their offbeat ways. Korea could use a little more of that spirit.

We got a good cold snap here in Chongju, and I realized the pains of living in a country with a winter (well, still a semi-winter by Minnesotan standards, but nonetheless…) that’s only equipped with a floor heating system. That’s right, the only thing in Korean homes that’s heated is the floor. For sleeping, of course, and this is all done with the boiler. So for a few nights when the temperature was in the teens (below zero Celsius here, which had everyone crazy), I was huddled under several blankets. I finally bought a cheap, small space heater. And then it warmed up. Of course.

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10.28.09

“FEED BABY!” This has become my mantra as I toil through my days at the Haegwon. I have a class of mostly elementary-aged students, reading at about level two, and one very large middle-school student who couldn’t quite keep up with the work in the more advanced-level classes. Brian stands about five feet, nine or 10 inches tall, and has a rounded face and figure. His sleepy eyes are always barely visible just below the bill of his cap.

Everyday Brian lumbers into class late, and after forcibly removing any small child who’s in his way, sits next to his favorite classmate – the tiniest boy in class, Peter. Peter stands no higher than my shoulders and has a mousy frame with a voice to match. He wears large spectacles and always has a cheese-eating grin on his face.

Once Brian has plopped down next to Peter, he starts some form of mild torture. One Friday, which is always “game day”, and also when I pass out treats, Peter started screeching “Teacher! Teacher!” from the back of the room. I turned around to find Brian with Peter in a headlock, trying to shove a piece of candy in his mouth.

Trying not to laugh, I demanded: “Brian, WHAT are you doing to Peter?”

In his low, rumbly voice, Brian replied, “He’s baby. FEED BABY!”

If that didn’t make you laugh, you must be an android. This story is truly the pinnacle of my experiences in Korea the past month or so; it embodies the randomness, sheer craziness and honest joy. For those wanting to know more, just wait.

On to the absurdity of our current times. Sarah Palin’s “memoirs”, “Going Rogue”, will soon be piled high on all Walmart shelves and given as door prizes by conservatives everywhere. I’m all atwitter with expectation and tandem queasiness. My father had an amusing comment in anticipation of the ghost-written demi-autobiography: “I hope she announces my [ultimate] fantasy – the Palin/Bachmann ticket.”

Please watch this video for the latest in Asian entertainment:

9.6.09

In anticipation of the President’s address on health care, in which we are being told to expect everything from his decisiveness on the inclusion of the public option to actual cost-saving measures, I have to express myself a bit:

Unfortunately, the dimwitted cries of the Glen Becks of the United States are heard around the world. At least by me. You have to listen a little harder to hear the deranged yelpings of people such as “divine” Congresswoman Michelle Bachman (God tells her husband, who then tells her what to do and say) or ex-McCain political arm candy and current FOX “news” star Sarah Palin. But they’re audible.

And I’m not sure what’s worse: the purely politically motivated rabble-rowsing by these boobs (I won’t Ever apologize for the use of this word when it comes to people like those aforementioned), which has the potential to become dangerous – as we’ve seen with the emergence of Automatic Weapons at what should be peaceful rallies; or the media’s depiction of the bickering going on in the so-called “town hall” meetings while almost universally ignoring the rational discussion being engaged in by what I – clinging desperately, bloodily even, to my idealistic view – still believe is the mostly centrist American public.

That said, I will be deeply disappointed in the political will of our President, and the backbone of the Democratic Party, if he doesn’t give adamant support for a public option in the proposed future of America’s health care scheme. It will give me pause in my years to come, whether it be in the voting booth or simply remembering his legacy, if this opportunity is allowed to be whittled down in the face of nonsensical blathering, corporate money, and even empirical wishes. For all her faults, excessive eyelid blinking high on the list, Nancy Pelosi has this one right. No more compromise. The American people have been doing that for far too long.

I’ve seen my own family ravaged by the devils behind privatized health insurance, physically as well as monetarily. As a child, my own health care was put on a shelf, being part of one of millions of American families living in the Greatest Country on Earth without proper health insurance. This time it’s personal.

8.30.09

An unforgivably long time has passed since I posted last. The end of August marks the end of our “intensive” summer classes, which had me working around 12 hours a day, and the beginning of the new fall semester. Recovering from my exhaustion – and the summer  heat – has been a “process”, to say the least. So, back by unpopular demand, here is my semi-rational account of what’s interesting lately:

Slick Willy Clinton swept into the Korean Peninsula on the wings of his corporate jet and worked his magic with good ol’ Kimmy Jong-Il to the North, ensuring the safe – and dare I say, chivalrous – release of two American female journalists. And I hate to further disappoint any sniveling Conservatives who’re already grabbing their jockstraps at the return of the “Big Dog”, but he’s still unbelievably popular around the world. Around the time of Bill’s arrival in North Korea, I attended a small gathering of foreign internationals, including a couple of Scots, Canadians, South Africans, and of course, Koreans, and the sentiment was unanimous: they just love Bill.

South Korea launched an unsuccessful rocket last week, whose mission was to place an observatory satellite in the Earth’s orbit, that actually went too far and then fell apart. The rocket itself was built with Russian technology, while the satellite, which was lost upon its separation from the rocket, was domestically built. While I could really care less about the mechanics or implications of the launch, it HAS spurred a really entertaining round of finger-pointing between the ex-Soviets and the Koreans in the media. In the meantime, President Lee Myung-Bak has dubbed the launch “half successful.” I never thought of it that way.

On a personal note, I didn’t have much time for exploring over the summer; but on the eve of the departure of a good friend last weekend, enviably back in Edinburgh now, I accompanied her to explore Incheon city. And it was well worthwhile! We were able to see preserved buildings – banks – from the Japanese occupation, a neat little architectural museum, the country’s only official Chinatown (very cool), General MacArthur’s and other Korean War memorials, and a spectacular view of the East coast and its islands.

Also, for those of you who fail to head over to the “Inane Observations” page of this blog, this entertaining bit is worth sharing: “I’ve been teaching my little class of ‘monsters’ since I arrived in Korea – a precarious grouping of fifth-graders, comprised of seven lawless boys and three girls who tend to follow the flock. The boys are always thrilled whenever they learn of a new Western slang or “swear” word, usually from a television program or a rap song that makes it across seas. Anyway, I walked into the classroom the other day to the students laughing hysterically as Brian, one of the ringleaders, was writing on the board. When he was finished, he displayed to me quite proudly the words ‘Sun of the Beach!’ ‘TEACHER! VERY bad word!’ he exclaimed. I played along, swallowing my own giggles, and said, ‘Yes, Brian, VERY bad word! Never say it again!’ That was followed by three or four mimickers chanting the phrase in the background.”

Finally, saving the most poignant for last, we lost an invaluable American this past week in Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy, the “(Liberal) Lion of the Senate”; whose name has been written on hundreds of congressional bills, many that have become law, over the decades he served. For all his personal failings, we must not lose sight of the numerous triumphs this man – who suffered more personally than many of us; with the untimely deaths of his three brothers, a devastating plane crash that broke his back and left him in a lifetime of pain, and the illnesses of his own children – helped champion over the years, including:

“(1) The Freedom of Information Act, (2) the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and (3) the Americans with Disabilities Act. He helped (4) Soviet dissidents and fought (5) apartheid. Above all, he conducted a four-decade crusade for universal health coverage…” TIME.com, Ted Kennedy, 1932-2009: The Brother Who Mattered Most.

He also expanded access to and funding for neighborhood clinics, one of which I attended up until I was around 22 years old, and helped author the bill to require COBRA insurance benefits for people who lose their jobs.

Women’s sports receive equal funding thanks to Senator Kennedy.

Simply put: We’re really gonna miss you, Teddy. Thanks for everything.

8.1.09

Birthers, bathing suits and Baptist kool-aid. Summer is poppin’ off; and just in time for the Dog Days of August, the House Energy and Commerce Committee goes and passes a watered-down version of Obama’s Health Care Reform bill, to which I say: Pooh.

According to Huffington Post’s Jeff Muskus, “With the aid of Obama administration officials, (Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry) Waxman …struck a deal Wednesday that delayed the full House vote past August, weakened the bill’s public health care option and cut $100 billion over 10 years, much of it in subsidies for uninsured members of the middle class who would be ineligible for the public plan. …The deal also slightly reduced the cost of premiums for the uninsured, from 12 percent of a household’s annual income to 11 percent.” 

While I risk being repetitive, as an American citizen living abroad and currently enjoying the uncomplicated benefits of a society with nationalized, and might I add high-quality, health care access; I’m beyond annoyed with the Democratic Party – whom I worked with so diligently to help not only during the last campaign, but several times in my life – bending over for a few zealot, pro-corporate dollar Republicans just to maintain the higher-ground image of “bipartisanship.”

A wonderful point, made by Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, on MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” (this week with Howard Dean): “The country overwhelmingly, as you know, wants a strong public option;” and that a vote against this would be a vote against the American people, and FOR big-money insurance companies. Nothing more, nothing less. 

So, in my own small, most likely insignificant way, I would like to strengthen the call for Democrats to grow a pair and finally, truly stand up for the vast majority of the American public. We elected the latest Administration for CHANGE; and change we demand. 

I briefly mentioned my recent run-in with the current heath care system in America in my last post, which may have more to do with my former Fortune 100 employer than the insurance company; but nonetheless resulted in more than $1,000 in bills of my own personal responsibility for nothing more than a fractured ankle and few immunizations. As I’m sure most of my friends, family and acquaintances would agree, $1,000 American constitutes a lifestyle-altering amount. Listen up, insurance companies: Like Doritos, it’s na-cho cheese!

On a lighter note, I forgot to write about my unfortunate-for-them encounter with a couple of Norwegian gentlemen during my last trip to Geojedo.  After a couple of beers at the bar with friends, I was talking a little break outside the bar when two men approached. As is my style, I greeted them with a smile and asked where they were from – seeing as Geoje attracts people from around the world with its giant Samsung shipyard. After discovering they were Scandinavians, I almost insisted they join us at our table, where I proceeded to regale them with tales of my Minnesotan/Scandinavian family. They responded by politely listening, adding that American-Scandinavians were more infinitely traditional than they were in many ways. In the end, while I potentially could have learned a thing or two from these good-natured fellows, the discussion was forcibly focused on my semi-intoxicated ramblings. Thank you for your indulgence.

I conclude, finally, by commenting on my receipt of a Korean/English Jehovah’s Witness’ newsletter in my mailbox the other day. Awhile back I was bombarded by a couple of well-dressed, attractive women on the street who were eager to talk to me. You must understand that, living in this mostly-homogenous country, I am fully adapted to strangers approaching me for all kinds of reasons. These two young ladies insisted they had a magnificent English-language newsletter for me, and I innocently gave them my address (a byproduct of living abroad, this increase in a mostly-forgotten instinct called “trust”). I must say, the spread of this movement is impressive; but I still have no desire to surrender my mind to reclusion and blind fellowship. I much prefer hedonism.

Oh, and a quick ode to a topic I’ve sadly missed in my ramblings: Farewell, Walter Cronkite. Myself and all those in my field of interest, indeed the country, owe you a great debt. We lost a good one this year.

7.30.09

Anyonghaseyo, blog. It’s been far too long! Swamped with work the past couple of weeks, as the start of our summer “intensive” classes began and the merger of our haegwon and another, dubbed “England”, ensued; I’ve been endlessly tired and without much time to spare between 12-hour workdays and other mundane, everyday activities. 

 

But, as usual, there’s much to discuss. Just to name a few: the catch of a “serial” rapist in the South Korean town I reside – Cheongju – who apparently targeted foreign women and yet somehow was never reported in the press; racial tensions re-ignited in the West with the arrest of an African-American Harvard professor in his own home, followed by Glenn Beck being an even bigger boob than usual; my receipt of $1,000 in unjustly-denied medical claims from my former American health insurance company/Fortune 100 employer in the wake of health care reform; and of course, my raging battle with a particular classroom of “monsters” – mostly 12- and 13-year old boys – who, despite their  regular defiance (swearing, hitting, screaming, pushing the fire alarm), apparently love me as their foreign teacher. I was received with a round of applause and shouts of “Yay!! Andrea teacher!!” when returning to the classroom after the merger – to which my reply was an exasperated, “Yay…. Heh.”

 

One of the mini-monsters,  a particularly unruly boy, riddled with ADD, around the age of seven or eight, gave me a good chuckle when I greeted him the other day by tussling his hair and saying, “hello little monster”. He responded with: “You BIG monster!” squealing and running down the hall. 

 

Meanwhile, I’ve been spending some off-time teaching English to and learning Korean from a couple of delightful girls who work the receptionist desk at the haegwon. If I do say so, my Korean skills have improved dramatically. In addition to learning to read and write (which I did online), I’ve learned all kinds of wonderful phrases like “open your books”, “sit down”, “be quiet”, and my favorite, “did you have a meal?” – which, when translated literally and in succession, actually means: “rice have you had?” Rice, the staple of the Korean and most Asian diets, is used in place of the word “meal”. Fabulous.

 

I haven’t had much time for fun little trips lately, although I did make it back down to Geojedo Island last weekend. We visited Haegeumgam Beach, which was, most assuredly, the most beautiful spot I’ve visited in this country so far. And of course, I forgot my camera. Lovely sandy beach surrounded by clean waters, mountains with lush green scenery, rocky cliffs and islands floating aimlessly offshore… it was truly paradise. There was one killjoy however, when a boater pulled himself ashore and used his ore to hoist a jellyfish roughly the size of a large watermelon out of the sea, demolishing it and leaving its carcass on the beach for all to walk through. Wading wasn’t quite as relaxing after that, for some reason. 

 

Anyong-hee-kah-seyo, for now. 

7.14.09

A friend of mine astutely pointed out that in my most recent “blather,” by which he so lovingly refers to my writing, I neglected to mention several news-making South Korean stories; and even made the absurd assertion that there was “not too much news to report.”

How could I be so ignorant? I completely bypassed the dramatic win of the (now) famed female South Korean golfer “Mickey Mouse”, otherwise known as Eun Hee Ji, at the Women’s U.S. Open. Mickey battled her way back from a seemingly dooming double-bogey six at the 10th hole to win it over Candie Kung, which leads me to believe that Asians are taking over golf. 

But in a round-about take on things, it’s been reported that Mickey likes to listen to white-bread rapper Eminem on her iPod while practicing; could this actually be a win for America’s unsung trailer trash? Food for thought.

Other headlines have been, yet again, dominated by Our Dear Leader to the North – only this time it has nothing to do with attention-grabbing antics like setting-off underground nukes and firing Hannah Barbera-grade missiles into the sea. This time, the story is Kimmy’s health, which seems to be visibly deteriorating in recent photos of his latest public appearance.

The picture shows the once unpleasantly plump mini-man, who has always had an affinity (one of many) for Prince-style platform shoes but is now reduced to wearing SNEAKERS (see Post “6.29.09“), in a rather emaciated body. 

According to the best intel from Seoul, Kimmy has been diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer, and will probably be departed within five years. After which his favorite 25- or 26-year old son, bearing resemblance to his father, say some (despite no photos of the boy being taken since he was roughly 10 years old), will take the Dictatorial Helm. Oh goody. 

I’d like to conclude by saying that my elementary-aged students, whom I teach three days a week, have been inflicted by some sort of mysterious flu; a bug that causes them to curse incessantly. They’re extremely amused with their discovery of the all-encompassing Western slang term “F.U.” It’s become such an epidemic that all through my classes – despite repeated warnings and disciplinary actions – I hear “puck you! puck you!” followed by uncontrollable giggling. 

They’re also quite fond of saying things like “shut the mouth”; and, while looking at me coaxingly and waiting for a reaction, “son… OF… A…” – at which point I, of course, interject and look at them as sternly as possible (but, as is my downfall, I’m usually fighting off laughter). Another popular one: “sheeba!”, the equivalent of “shit.” 

Finally, in the heat of the moment last week, I jokingly flexed one of my biceps at this particular group of students and threatened to “beat them up” if they didn’t quit swearing in class. Since then I’ve found two renderings of myself drawn on desktops featuring almost Xena the Warrior Princess-like features. Does this make me a Korean superhero? Or perhaps, a Korean super VILLAIN? Muhahaha!