Thursday, December 20, 2012

For lack of a better title, "When life got bizarre"

The title is misleading. Moreover, it is vague. Although my life has definitely undergone a number of rapid changes, my use of "bizarre" refers to cultural aspects of the region I am in as opposed to my life specifically. Perhaps a better title would be, "Asia is weird," though it seems perfectly normal for the multitudes of Asians who live here. But this alternative title implies some drastic difference between East and West which, in my experience so far, is not true. People don't walk on their hands here. Rather, the contrast comes from the small things, which I will spend some time detailing. 

Not five minutes after I landed at Incheon International Airport, as I was walking to baggage claim, I heard  the analog tune of Beethoven's "Fur Elise" coming from an airport golf cart. From that time on, I have noticed the widespread use of melodies in Korean culture. And it all sounds like it came out of some old-school  videogame soundtrack. For example, whenever a subway train is nearing the station, a tune eerily resembling the Pokemon hospital theme is played over the loudspeakers before first the Korean, then English robotic voice announces that a train is approaching. I feel like I am somehow "leveling up" every time I take public transportation. And these jingles are everywhere: the washing-machine in Seb's apartment played a 20 second long one which ended on a minor note and made me question whether his laundry was dry yet. Needless to say, it's bizarre.

Yesterday I was watching "The Return of the King" on TV (thankfully with Korean subtitles and no dubs). At the part when Éowyn chops off the head of the Nazgûl's hell-hawk, the severed part of the head and neck was blurred out. Apparently Korea's equivalent to the FCC thought CGI gore was just too inappropriate to show in a movie saturated with violence. This is a small qualm, but bizarre nonetheless.

I entered Korea in the heat of a highly-contested presidential election. The election was Wednesday, so I only caught the very end. However, I was able to observe the final campaign pushes by both candidates. Unlike American political campaigns, which proselytize primarily through digital, non-spatial means like television ads and such, the Korean campaign teams took their message to the streets with drive-by propaganda speeches and choreographed dance moves. Although I couldn't understand the slow-moving-automobile-turned-billboard-with-amplified propagandist, I was struck by the militaristic-type display and immediately thought that every Korean patriot on the streets of Seoul that night would surely cast their vote for Mr. Moon Jae-in, whose face appeared behind the shouting speaker. Yet even the eight rain-soaked Koreans of various ages, who were swinging their arms and periodically spinning all in perfect unison for six hours on a busy intersection of Gangnam last week, could not convince enough South Koreans to vote for Mr. Moon. Apparently his opposition, Mrs. Park Geun-hye, employed a greater number of street-performers to guarantee her victory. Though I will admit I found South Korea's innovative, spatial-inclined campaign strategies a relief from the bombard-you-at-home style of American political campaigns, it was completely bizarre.

Okay, enough about the weird stuff which probably very few people find as interesting as I do. Here is a little bit of what has been happening to me personally. 

I mentioned in the video I posted that I was training last week. The first day I observed and taught middle school classes at the Pyeongchon branch of my school. After that, I spent the next three days observing and teaching elementary school classes at the Parthenon branch in Gangnam. Training there was a lot of fun because I got to know the native teachers there pretty well and got a lot of really great feedback from them on how I could improve my teaching style. 

This week I started teaching classes at my own branch. Unfortunately, next week is the last week of the semester so I am not sure if I will have the same kids after it ends. On the whole, I really like the kids who are in my classes. Obviously there are some trouble-makers and kids who are too shy to say more than the occasional sentence or two, but there are also quite a few students who really seem like they are there to learn. 

On Tuesday morning, I went to a company workshop for native-speaking middle school teachers and picked up a lot of useful information about lesson-planning and teaching methods. Tomorrow I am going to the same thing, but for elementary teachers. Part of me hates my company for making me show up there at ten (and with an hour-and-a-half commute to Gangnam, tomorrow is going to be a 12-hour-day), but I really like how hands-on the company is. I have been building a relationship with my boss (also a teacher) and it seems like he has some pretty high hopes for me within this company (promotion/pay-raise, hopefully?). Also, I have been picking up a lot from the other teachers that have been here for a while. I am definitely not on their level yet, but they seem very willing to help me succeed as a teacher.

If you are wondering what I do with my downtime, don't. I really haven't had downtime yet. While this may be the one downside to my job (working six days per week, even on Christmas), anyone who knew me during college probably knows that I like to be busy and overloaded. However, once I get into a routine, things will hopefully become more manageable and I will have a better sense of what else I can accomplish while I am here (traveling, learning Korean, continued historical research/writing). 


  1. I am enjoying your blog, Max, including the little curiosities. Merry Christmas!

  2. Merry Christmas mr Maximus! Really enjoy reading your blog mr sir

  3. Contrary to what you said, I found the "weird stuff" very interesting! It sounds like a surreal experience, but you seem to be adjusting nicely!