It’s tough living on this freezing peninsula some days. The days when I wake up cold. The days I miss snow, cheese and hot baths. I woke up one day just miserable–terrified of spending the next seven months in Korea. There wasn’t any particular reason. I just woke up feeling like shit about my life. Despite feeling depressed I dragged my lazy ass to work and spent the next few days teaching.
I don’t like teaching. I’m not sure I ever have. It’s exhausting, mind-numbing and largely pointless. I know there are teachers reading this (my mother among them) who strongly disagree. But it’s hard for me to take satisfaction from my job when I feel like most of the focus is on behavior–getting the students to listen, understand the instructions and help each other out, not on learning. It doesn’t help that after five months one of my classes still consistently fails every exam. I teach at a school that specializes in teaching testing and every week this class reminds me that I’ve failed.
I’m a bit of a loner by nature. But I’ve always had a few close friends. In fact, I’ve taken to calling my life before South Korea the Ampersand Era. Until coming here, I was rarely alone. I always had a sibling, a close friend, a significant other–someone to depend on to help me through everything. Now it’s all on me. It’s exhausting. Some days I just really want to whine for someone else to do the laundry, wash the dishes, call the pizza place, grade tests or whatever. It’s nice having someone around who will help out with the day-to-day shit we all have to deal with.
Yet somehow despite all this crap that aggravates me most days, I get pissed as hell whenever anyone tries to tell me to leave Korea or that Korea is a bad place. When I talk with the homies, I get to hear some interesting stereotypes about what they think Korea must be like because it’s you know…that country that had a war, right? So that means people are poor, dirty and uneducated, right? Actually Korea is a country that had a war that was instigated by the USA, who does a great job of not teaching citizens about the number of wars they’ve started in foreign countries for their own selfish gain. So yeah, there was a war in Korea and it was horrifying. There was also a war with the Japanese and an occupation before there was ever a division on the 38th parallel. Both of those experiences were also horrifying. Before that Korea was a country unified under the Joseon dynasty and they had a class system of essentially the landed court and the peasants–much like France before their revolution. All of these are events from which Korea is still recovering. These are complicated and complex issues and I’m certainly not an authority or prepared to discuss them in-depth. I’m just beginning to learn Korean history so my understanding is severely lacking.
Then I get the joy of listening to people demand Korea make sense. It isn’t going to, just give up and enjoy the opportunity you have to observe the lovelies. There are people both here and at home that must compare Korea to something they already know because it just has to “make sense”. People insisting on making these comparisons frustrate me. Korea isn’t the United States, it’s isn’t Japan, it isn’t China. It’s Korea. It’s a full and entire country with it’s own long history, culture, traditions, people, food, fashion, language, ideals and values so why do people keep insisting Korea be something different? This is like being pissed off that France isn’t like England, people. No shit! It’s a different freaking country full of it’s own life-ness.
Then there is my favorite insistence of some to use sweeping generalizations to describe the country or the people in one small comment. Using ethinicity as a slur is insulting to your intelligence. I hate, hate when people say things like, “Koreans are racist.” Really? You’re just willing to say that every Korean in the world is racist? I’m guessing this statement comes from an experience or two with just a few people. But following this logic because all five of my brothers have said horribly misogynistic things to me over the course of our relationships, clearly every man in the world is a misogynist bastard. Not to mention that this logic only allows my brothers to be as diverse, complicated and interesting as a loaf of white bread with the edges cut off.
Maybe I’m just angry because I feel a need to defend my choice to stay here in a way that can’t be totalled in dollars and cents, but I think it’s because after five months Korea has revealed itself to be a complicated and complex nation that defies understanding in a single blog post, conversation or experience.
People aren’t well-equipped to be understood in two-second sound bites and one-second images. We are more than just words, we are more than just pictures. There’s more to this world and the problems surrounding us than any newspaper will ever provide the space to explore. It takes years of reading, living and studying a single subject to truly be able to approach it with any authority. Yet somehow we think if we have just passing knowledge of a moment in time we are entitled to a full, complete and well-informed opinion on any subject.
You do not know Korea. I don’t know Korea. Stop making comments, expressing opinions or saying you know what’s best for this country unless you know enough to know you do not know enough to speak. You probably shouldn’t be telling the peninsula how to get it’s shit together.
Besides aren’t you distracted by the need to get your own shit together? Seriously the laundry isn’t going to do itself.