Saturday, March 28, 2009

Of ignorance, respobsibility, and men's bathrooms

It’s the weekend and I find myself in a funny kind of limbo, awaiting with some trepidation the oncoming week, yet doing so with a book in hand and the aroma of Kenyan Coffee around me. Where would I be without coffee shops? And I will be honest with you; I have always felt guilty when I relax, when I am not performing some kind of visible labor. I think many of you can relate. So times like this when I look at my hands and wonder why they are not producing something useful I take solace in the words of one of my favorite authors, Victor Hugo, who said:

A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought. There is a visible labor and there is an invisible labor. – Les Miserables

By the way, I think it is worth mentioning that I am close to 800 pages into Les Miserables and I cannot overstate the impact it has had one me. Thus far it is one of the most powerful works of fiction I have ever read, and I would implore anyone to investigate its pages. Don’t be intimidated by its size; even the largest things seem small when you are enraptured by them.

So I am teaching, and have been for the last two weeks. And it’s been good to get back to school and begin a routine that doesn’t involve packing a bag and waiting in airports. I am glad to be back, and have had a lot of time to think about what I saw and what happened over the two months I was gone, and let me tell you I think Albert Schweitzer was right when he said that “the great tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he still lives.” And I see travel as being helpful and dangerous in that respect, as one (if he is honest with himself) will necessarily struggle with hope if he travels. It is not a question of if, but rather when. On the other hand if one is doomed to a life of familiar domesticity I see this internal death as an almost unavoidable obstruction, something that must eventually be reckoned with. And the question arises, as I think it must, about what is responsible for those of us who have been blessed enough to travel and experience and by God’s grace have not lost hope.

But before I go further, let me say something outrageous. I think ignorance is great. I really like being ignorant, and my guess is that deep down, so do you. In the words of every good cinematic villain, “we aren’t so different you and I.”

I have to follow up this disgraceful statement by saying that I think that ignorance will lead directly to the death that Schweitzer was speaking of, but you will surely be comfortable on your way to that end. Anyway my problem with a lack of ignorance is this: it requires something of you. If you cannot plead ignorance you must either betray your conscience and slip into denial, or you have to bear a burden and sacrifice something. And that brings me back to my question of what is responsible. What do responsible people do who have seen a need and are no longer ignorant? I am working on an answer to that.

Ok, on to lighter fare.

I have been sitting across from two young Korean girls here at Starbucks, and they have been taking pictures of themselves incessantly with their matching Spongebob cell phones. One of them holds out the phone, snaps a photo, they look at the picture and both giggle, then the cycle repeats itself. Incredible. Is this a cultural difference or just a teenage thing?

I will be back in Korean language classes starting next week! 나이스! I was sitting in the classroom on Friday waiting for my placement test as all the old feelings from July’s language class came flooding back. “oh dear,” I thought, “here we go again, back to everyone nodding an affirmative ‘yes’ while I alone shake my head and slowly say ‘no, I don’t understand.’” In short, I forgot what it was like to be the slow kid. Back to the character building experience that is language class!

And lastly I want to issue a short plea; it’s what I view to be the #1 social problem in Korea right now. Many of you who live here can sympathize, I’m sure. The problem is this: old Korean women cleaning public bathrooms and bumping into me while I am trying to do my business. That’s right, try going to the bathroom with an old woman with a mop directly behind you, scrubbing the floor and singing something in Korean. No matter which direction you turn and no matter how close you press yourself to the wall that woman is always somehow peering at you from an exposed angle. And the crazy thing is, I seem to be the only one who cares that the men’s bathroom is constantly being raided, without warning, by female janitors. None of the other men inside seem concerned. Come on, the rights of men in the bathroom should be universal, right?


Jordan said...

I think the girls-taking-pictures-of-themselves-and-giggling scenario is not just a teenage thing, or even a girl thing, it's totally a vanity thing. Sadly, I must admit that every holiday when my sister and I are together, this is what we do. Ask Jared, he can attest ;)

Jordan said...

Any day now Jon. I hope you're keeping your phone close!