Thursday, July 17, 2008

cultural confusion - my first two weeks in skorea

(The picture to the left is me after several shot glasses of soju were knocked into glasses of beer during a night with the KEY Club (kangwon english yard club, a bunch of korean college students who want to study english) beer got all over me.)

Wow, how to sum up the last week and a half…there is so much that has happened, so much I have seen, experienced, done; and all the while I have maintained a healthy countenance composed of fear, excitement, and anticipation.

I suppose I will stick to a few of the more memorable events that have occurred thus far. I find myself with very little time for relaxation, in fact, orientation is keeping me so busy that I am often not back to my room for more than 10 min all day. But the time spent going going going is good. I am learning tons about the Korean culture, what makes them what they are, and how to interact as a foreigner in that culture. There are so many subtle things, so many elements that go into successfully navigating these uncharted waters. I am also spending a lot of time with the Korean language. 4 hours a day to be exact. The classes are fun for the most part, and, surprisingly, they are taught by Korean teachers who speak almost no English. It is amazing to me how effective they can be in communicating to us and teaching us while speaking entirely in a language we do not understand. In one of the more spirited interactions I have had with my teacher (she is young, maybe late 20s, and has a lot of sarcastic attitude) I took it upon myself to explain to her the meaning of the word sarcasm, so I said (in my most sarcastic voice) “I really like this class.” It was obvious she understood as she nodded thoughtfully and imitated me “I really like learning,” “yes” I said, “that’s it.” Then she said, in an incredibly sarcastic voice, “you are a really handsome guy.” The whole class erupted into laughter and I sat back, smiled, and decided to take it like a man.

I have been taking Tae Kwon Do the last three days, and I have really enjoyed it. I seriously feel like I am the Karate Kid, and am obsessed with somehow defeating the Dojo Master to claim my position of dominance. Our class meets for an hour every weekday night, and we kick, and punch, and kick, and punch, and run some laps, and stretch, and kick, and punch, and so on. It is really fun thus far, and, although I am super sore, I am determined to prove that lanky white guys can be TKD masters. Our Dojo Master is a great guy, I should say, and just watching him is a workout. He is a short Korean guy, without an ounce of fat on his body, who can do the most acrobatic things. Today while we were stretching he tried to get us to do the splits and other such moves that men of my stature are not supposed to try. Then he called someone from our group up front to show us how to kick and punch properly. He would kick full speed at the unlucky group member and stop just when he touched the back of his shirt. It was incredible to watch how close he was punching. Anyway, my point is, everyone was completely wowed by this guy and his crazy machine-like efficiency with which he moved. Oh, and on the first day he brought his daughter, maybe seven or eight, who is an accomplished black-belt, to demonstrate an entire routine for us. She was amazing and you could see the pride in his eyes as he watched his daughter perform.

Ok, a few other things. My new favorite desert is called something like “poppinsue” which is half ground ice, half fruit and black beans. That’s right, beans. An unlikely combination, but a tasty one nonetheless. We go out to eat fairly regularly, as everything is fairly cheap, and have enjoyed quite a few staple Korean dishes, almost always involving Kimchi. I went to my first Nolebang the other night, which was a time to remember. Norebang is a place in which you can rent out a small room with your friends and sing karaoke until the break of dawn…which is almost what we did. My favorite moment consisted of my rendition of a Tenacious D song and a lot of screaming Koreans. It was wild. Also I should note that since being here and hanging out almost every night with Korean people, I have noticed how open and honest they always are with everyone. Sometimes this is bad, like if they think you are overweight, but most of the time it is a doorway to awesome conversation and thought. They are so sincere, and will not hesitate to tell you that seeing you has made them very happy. This frank style of talk is refreshing, but is also somewhat intimidating because any judgment they make about you is likely to be verbalized.

Next week is the first week that I will be teaching at Camp Fulbright, an English emersion camp that kids will come to for two weeks to learn English. I have my first lesson planned, its about surfing and the environment, two things that I hope to blend together seamlessly and effectively. I am a bit nervous, but that is how these things go. I find that I am constantly trying to do the things I can’t do, or the things that scare me, so that I may become a better person, a more whole person. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the update, many more will follow soon!


timuthee said...

Great post my friend.. glad to hear your not taking a moment off ;) your closing remarks remind me of a quote by Picaso: "I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I might learn how to do it" --sounds like you might have a mission statement for the next 12 months? ~see you soon ^^

Jordan said...

Oh Jon, you're personality totally comes through in your writing so it's awesome to read.
I was cracking up about your story of your teacher and sarcasm, so funny!
I had coffee with Em the other day and she told me you were taking Tae Kwon Do and that you're totally into it. Ha ha, you are going to come home a hairy, skinny guy. With all the weight you're loosing from the food and now the karate you are going to be so thin!!
This is so funny to read because Em told me all these stories, about the dessert with beans, and the karaoke bars, which I can't wait to do when we come out there.
About teaching english next week, it should be a breeze. You've done that for 2 years in the Czech! I know it's no completely the same but you don't need to worry, if all else fails you can always play games (Cops & Mafia, MOW???).