Friday, July 30, 2010

Still Here (in America)

No updates means that I have been super busy. But that is good, right? I have been visiting a lot with family and enjoying it, of course.

My time here in Florida is almost up and I am going to miss the sunny skies and flat-perfectly planned roads.

Don't worry as I have taken plenty photos and will post about my adventures as soon as possible. On Saturday morning I fly out to California to visit with my Father for several days, then it is back to Korea.

Let me just say that being far-far-away from Korea has been helping me get a better perspective on everything that has happened and everything I need to do before finishing this contract.

Hope all my pals in Korea are doing well. Till next time...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Post Air Travel Rambles

The past 24 hours have proven to be both tiring and inspiring. First off my flight to SFO was delayed due to waiting for other people from other flights to connect to mine. Then while in the air we were delayed landing because SFO was having a traffic jam. When I looked at the mini-map on the screen in front of me I saw a loop-de-loop shape over Oregon.

The flight itself was pretty good, which was Asiana Airlines by the way. I think, however, that because I have regularly flown Korean Air that I have been spoiled. Let me just say that Korean Air has their butt together, and the food tastes better.

Yet once the lights turned off I put in my ear plugs and put on my eye mask and made myself a comfy little corner near the window and tried to get some sleep. I kept on waking up to adjust myself and  move my neck around.

Before they turned off the lights I think they tried to entertain us to compensate for leaving an hour and half late from Korea. They did this by parading around the plane in traditional Korean clothes, like it were a show at a folk festival.

The rest of the flight was pretty smooth. Then came landing and I made my way through the immigration maze.

Yes it was great to see English all around me and hear it being spoken too, but this was still the International side of the airport. It felt as if I was at the delta of a huge melting pot river ready to burst out.

As I waited outside for my hotel shuttle I had a view of the mountains, houses and freeway.
It doesn't look like much but concrete and blue sky, however to my eyes it was like seeing something for the first time again.

First off if you have never been to San Francisco and the Bay Area then you might not know what I mean by all this. The air smelled fantastic! It had the distinct sea smell mixed with eucalyptus. It was home in every sense of the word from scent to sight.

I nearly cried as I looked out over this imagery. Sure I had been in America last year on my summer vacation but this time around something struck a nerve in me.

I checked in to my hotel, called family and took a long hot bath. It had been since last November when I took bath, which was in Osaka at the hotel during my visa run.

Then I watched a little TV to chill out, which was interesting as I had somehow forgotten that American TV has a lot of commercials.  My hotel room...

After vegging out I decided to go look around the neighborhood.
This is the suburbs of San Francisco, which is up in the more Northern parts on the peninsula. It is suburbia, quiet and quaint. Soon many things felt like a novelty, like having to push the button to cross the street.
Yet as I walked through the neighborhood my emotions ran high. This was just a typical street on any here in Northern California, but to me it became so special.

It brought back memories of when I lived around Northern California in various places. The quietude and sharp contrast to a Korean neighborhood started to get to me.
Seeing the American flag people had put out to decorate their lawns or houses felt so symbolic.
Of course, it was recently July 4th.

I have been trying really hard in my tired and fatigued head to talk about this experience without painting Korea as this god-awful place and America as the ultimate utopia vision.

What I realized was that it wasn't really about that Koreans live in tall apartment complexes while Americans (in most areas) live in houses. No, this was personal and was touching on the emotional roller coaster I have been riding since I have been working at my current school.

I can't tell how many times I have cried, crumpled my forehead in anger and lost all hope over what are probably trivial occurrences at work. Last February when I was having the worst of it I felt so desperate that I wanted to just pack up and go home.

Seeing these houses with their comfortable curtains and green lawns made me become aware of what I value so much in life. That is comfort, both in work and home. A sense of peace and comradeship at the workplace.
It feels like every since I went to Korea all I wanted to do was get it right. To do the right things and not disrupt their culture. To learn and accept the differences and be a perfect little diplomat. Yet ever since things messed up at the hagwon my faith in myself to accomplish this has always been shaken.

For some reason coming back to America and seeing the suburban houses I felt a sense of relief that it is all still there and solid. But, most importantly, everything here revolves around a different society, one which is familiar and like a soft pillow.

Before getting on the plane, yesterday, I ran into these two very crucial aspects about Korean culture, that of Kibun and nunchi.

Kibun – The word kibun has no literal translation in English, however, as a concept that permeates every facet of Korean life, it can be described in terms of pride, face, mood, or state of mind. In order to maintain a Korean’s sense of Kibun, particularly in a business context, one must show the proper respect and avoid causing loss of face. In a culture where social harmony is essential, the ability to identify another’s state of mind, often referred to as nunchi, is crucial to successful business ventures. For this reason, you must be aware of subtleties in communication, observing non-verbal and indirect cues that often suggest the true sense of what is being communicated. 
After reading up on this a lot of the broken pieces started make sense and would fit into a focused puzzle.  One example from my experience is asking my coteachers in a direct manner about matters at work.

The point I am trying to make is that Korea has this kibun and nunchi society, whereas America mostly and practically doesn't have it. Sure Americans are perceptive to each others moods, but our values are elsewhere.

Seeing these houses reminded me of how hard Korean life has been and how much I strive to understand yet seem to always come out even more confounded.
To move on with my return-to-America story I then went on to find a Walgreens (Pharmacy) and went inside to see what they had. Then I moved on back towards the hotel to have a bite to eat.
While I did so I saw a Korean tofu house restaurant.
Tomorrow I will get back on another plane and fly out to Florida to visit family. I know my initial reaction to coming back to America was emotional. Inside I don't feel it is really negative, but something that will allow me to asses better the past 2 years in Korea and see more clearly into my future. 

If anything what I really know is that my biggest battle with living in Korea isn't with accepting the different scenery, rather is the experiences I have with my Korean work-relationships. So, if I desire to make a life in Korea then that is one area I truly must grow in.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Up High

As I was taking out my recycling today my eyes got caught in the sky. The sun was starting its decent to light up the other half of the world, and as it did this the scenery was breathtaking. A storm was in the distance and dense dark clouds showed great contrast against the brilliant light behind it.

I immediately went back to my room and grabbed my camera. Then I realized the best place to be was on the roof. It was my first time going up there.

Atop the roof I found myself looking out onto my neighborhood amongst this fury of dense clouds in the sky. The wind was slightly blowing and oddly the noise was pretty low.
It was a purely joyous photographic moment.
I could even here the laughter pure and clear coming from children playing in that park below. Magically the buzz of the traffic down below was but a quiet whisper.
From this experience I feel fulfilled and ready for my next trip back home.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Through the Raindrops

Let's try to focus on something else shall we? How about the summer rain? I love summer rain, mostly because it reminds me of Florida but also because it can make lovely moments.

One evening ago it was raining hard and the view from my window was saturated.

I enjoyed the fragmenting of the neon lights through the shapes of the raindrops.
Across my view is a church with a bright cross on top of it that shines through the night. I am not a religious person but sometimes on misty nights it seems to glow with a strong presence.
The river was flowing high and it seemed it would break over the walking path at any moment. The following morning, as it was still raining, I watched as the water rushed by. I saw as ducks tried to manage their way through the river. Nature can be so therapeutic at times. This view sure does beat the one at my last place. This of course reminds me that I should be grateful for what I have.

The Middle

Tomorrow I will be desk warming as there are no classes and nothing official to do. I have camp all planned and prepared for. It will be the day before I fly out to America. But I am sure I will find something productive to do (study Korean).

But today is feeling like this small yet monumental day. There was no teaching today but we still were in the office this morning. Today all the teachers were going on their trip to the East Sea, but I opted out of it because I needed to go to the bank and prepare for my trip. I know it is better to just bite the bullet and trudge along with all the teachers to these events, but I really didn't want to go. Yes I really did go to the bank and I am really preparing for my vacation.

So today as we were all getting ready to leave the office I said goodbye to them and wished them a happy summer vacation. This is because everyone but us (foreigners) will be in the office tomorrow. As I walked home I realized that today was the last day till camp that I had to be in the office with them. Actually, at camp I will be busy teaching and not all of them will be around. Mrs.K won't come around till the second week, and Mrs. W (middle teacher) plans on going home after 12 to take care of her daughter. That leaves a somewhat peaceful office, in my opinion. So it was that I then realized that things won't really be "normal" again till September when the next semester starts. And by then Mrs. K (the one I have the most conflicts with) will have moved on, since she was only hired half-time, and we will get the Dude coteacher instead.

I have been nervous lately that the Dude isn't coming and that Mr.s K is going to be here till the end. But I can't just outwardly ask this because I don't want to sound like I am counting down the days. So I am just hoping for no surprises.

With all these realizations I think my mind and body is understanding that the daily stress I put myself through is over.  Combine this with vacation starting on Friday it seems I am already in relax and chill mode.

Yet this got me thinking about my daily life here in Korea. I wondered why I spend so much time stressing about my relationships with my coteachers and my work life. I started to tell myself that from now on I should not care so much and try to just go with the flow. I have to admit that part of my stress is feeling paranoid at work. I become paranoid that they are talking negatively about me, in Korean and in the same room. In addition, I sometimes wonder what they are really thinking when I ask them questions or make requests. I seem to stress out a lot about all the gray areas due to cultural, language and personal barriers. Really I just want this to stop! I want to flow through my work day caring about the children and my duties more than the petty stuff. I know I have done it on some days but I want it to be constant.

Once September hits I will have 5 months left at this job, and I feel like I just want to make the most out of that time. What can I do if #2 coteacher disapproves and dislikes me? It won't be my goal to change her mind but to accept it and just try to be a less-paranoid insecure person in the office.

Here I am in the middle with the past 6 months at this job behind me and the next 6 months before me.

All right back to packing.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

New E2 Visa Regulations

Just wanted to put this out as a notice. I am going to copy and paste what I found from the Korvia recruiting site. (They are pretty reliable). Most of these changes mean that it will take longer time to obtain the proper documents. I know for sure just getting things notarized and apostilled can be a pain in the butt.

The debate of whether these changes were necessary is certainly enthralling. Here they are:
***UPDATE: Check this blog because it has a more precise take on the dates these new laws will take affect.

"New E2 visa regulations (applied by 15 July 2010)

Korean Ministry of Justice (Korean immigration office) decided to updating E2 visa application regulation and it has been applied since 15 July 2010. Currently EPIK or any of education board is not making official announcement regarding strict E2 visa regulation but somehow applicant will have benefit by suffering apply national level of Criminal background check such as FBI or RCMP.
Major change of E2 visa application regulations

1. Criminal Background Check.

Current E2 visa regulations and office of education (including EPIK, SMOE and GEPIK) accepts apostilliezed state level of criminal background check but now applicant must obtain "National Level of Criminal Background Check" such as FBI and RCMP.
Current (State or above Level of Criminal Background Check) ------- Now (National Level of Criminal Background Check)

2. Apostillized Academic BA diploma

Public school teachers must obtain Apostillized copy of BA diploma but Hagwon teachers didn't have to until yesterday. Now immigration office wants Apostillized Academic BA diploma (please find more about apostille stamp)

Current (Original BA Diploma is acceptable / Education board is not accepting Original BA DIPLOMA) -------- Now (Copy of BA diploma must attach Apostille Stamp)

3. Medical Test (Including Cannabinoid test)

Marihuana or any of hard drug is forbidden in South Korea and your employer can terminate your contract if you will smoke Marihuana or found record that you did. In 2007 Korean government started medical check up including Cannabinoid test but it was excluded since 2009 but now you must take a medical test at designated hospital after arriving in South Korea in order to applying Aliens Registration Card.
Current (Medical test including TBPE and HIV) ----- Now (TBPE and Cannabinoid + HIV)

4.Visa Validation Period

E2 visa was valid only 12 month after first date in South Korea. Now we will have 13month valid E2 visa and your visa issuance record will be valid for 3month after you leave South Korea so if you want to apply new E2 visa no later than 3month passed then you don't have to provide national level of criminal background check.
Current (12 month valid E2 visa upon arrival) ------- Now (13 month valid E2 visa upon arrival)
Current (New CRC must be submitted if you apply New E2 visa) -------- Now (New CRC is not required up to 3month after expiration of your old E2 visa)

5. E2 visa for Indian

Currently only 7 country citizen can apply E2 visa (U.S.A, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa) but Korean Government decided to hire 100 Indian teacher for year 2011. Indian teachers will be placed by Korean government and there is not recruiting agency can place Indian teacher for hagwon or public schools. Government will not issue working E2 visa no more than 100 for 2011 and depends on case study of 2011, Korean government may increase number of Indian teacher for public schools in South Korea.
Current (Only 7 countries can apply E2 visa) -------- Now (7 countries + Indian but limited by 100 teachers per year)"

*NOTE: It is not clear whether these changes are only for Public School positions or for all positions that cover the E2 visa (including private, public and after-school public programs). Something to ask your recruiter.

Links that will help you in this situation:
FBI Fingerprinting
California resident Apostille info (Other State members will have other processes)
Official notice

Follow these guidelines to Apostille.

*Something warm and fuzzy to help you cope.

물 냉면 or Water Naengmyeon

I don't know why but the last two summers, I have spent in Korea, I never really was into the Naengmyeon. That is the cold noodle dishes. Yet this summer JH introduced me to 물 냉면 or Water Naengmyeon and I have found it to be really good and refreshing.

Last year the MBC's Park Myung Soo made up a funny song about the summer dish and since then I have been singing it in my head.

Near my house is a Naengmyeon restaurant, which we sometimes have delivered to us but other times we do go there and order.
First we were served a small bowl of a warm broth, which I think is meant to help digestion. 
What you are seeing here is a large bowl filled with an icy broth-water. In the center are the noodles, there is a hard boiled egg, a sliced pear and cucumbers for garnish. Also there are some pickled radish inside.
Mul naengmyeon originates from Pyongyang.[2] Pyongyang naengmyeon is mainly made from buckwheat and the broth of beef or pheasant. It also uses dongchimi broth or a mixture of it, while adding the sliced pieces of the radish to the dish. Vinegar, spicy mustard and sugar is added according to taste before eating. Because the noodles are made mostly from buckwheat, they have a less chewy texture so they rarely need to be cut before consumption.
What you do when you get your bowl of Mul Naengmyeon is you first stir it up and cut the noodles if you feel it is necessary.

Then it is ready to eat! I was told to eat the egg first but you can eat it as you go. I like to save the pear slice till the end. A really cool and not too spicy treat to have during the summer time.  Also I think that not every Naengmyeon place makes it exactly the same way so it is another fun food to discover.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

63 Building: Part 3

Finally, the last post in my series about our visit to the 63 building. We got in the elevator and made our way up to the 60th floor. The following is a tip to future 63 building visitors, which is to try and stand at the back of the elevator as you can look out onto Seoul and see yourself go up. Best way to do this is of course be the first in line.

Once up there you make way through the hallways next to the large windows. From here you get to enjoy a panoramic view of Seoul and beyond. Although we arrived at dusk the view was still spectacular.
I especially enjoyed seeing the apartment complexes from this bird's eye view.
As we walked on we came to a penny or "sip won" pressing machine. I don't know about you but when I was growing up in Florida whenever I went to a rest stop along the highway there was usually a penny pressing machine. It's one of those old crank-em toy things. You put in your penny along with some quarters then crank the wheel and out comes a pressed souvenir.  I believe I still have all of mine somewhere in a box back in the states.
Alongside the large windows in the hallway were gallery walls, which is known as the Sky Gallery. I was very pleased with the photography presented us and recognized a few works from my Contemporary Asian Art History class. This was a group of artists in the show called, "The Moment."
Kim Mi ru
Certainly I found the juxtaposition of the figure amongst the metropolis behind her very invigorating. 
As I moved on the theme of the photographs really made an impression on me as they felt very much connected to the view one sees out the windows of the 60th floor.
One artist in particular, Kim Atta, showcased significant work.
"...embed small stories about people in it. They give shape to various world affairs such as worry about identity, distinguishing myself and others, candid eyes to rich people standing at the borderline, and face revealing every aspect of life..." (According to the brochure).

Unfortunately for you Seoul folks this show just finished.

After passing through this art gallery space we made our way through an odd corner where the floor was see through. 
Next we made our way through a blinking fluorescent light hallway.
At the other end were more photos in the "The Moment" exhibition and of course more thrilling views.
The following works of art by Yoon Jeong Mee, were altogether humbling to see. 
Of course we all can get the concept that girls are associated with pink and boys associated with blue, but I found the distinctive objects the children are surrounded by to be characteristic of my students.

More often then I can remember do I find myself noticing how the boys mostly wear a pattern of blue and white to school, while the girls dress in pinks and other pastels. Of course this is mostly seen in the lower grades. Keep in mind these photos were set against similar stylized ones with Western children in the same way. 

We came to the last part of the 60th floor where there was a memory wall, cafe and gift shop.
Above is the memory wall where you can buy a placard and write on it then hang it up. That's exactly what we did.
And so our love note stays resting at the 60th floor of the 63 building. Actually I don't know what happens to it since I assume they don't keep them up forever. There was a video screen next to the memory wall of some kind of burning going on, so I assume they collect them then burn them in some kind of ritual. 

We ate some Pat Bing Su and then got in the line for the elevator ride down. Altogether the experience at the 63 building was memorable, mostly because I had a good time with JH and his family. 

*Next Friday I leave for my American vacation so I will be busy this week with preparations and packing.
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