Monday, September 25, 2006

"Police or no police?" That is my question.

It was suppose to be another day, in the end it was. I was spending another Sunday from my precious weekend in Seoul because, well, that is what there is to do around here. A city of 9 million has a lot to offer. The little suburb where I live about 45 minutes to an hour away from Seoul doesn’t offer much but a quiet peaceful life to raise the kids. Part of this quiet peaceful life involves no crime or little that I can perceive. It really seems like there is no graffiti, nobody really stealing anything as the stores all don’t have little bars that have to be demagnetized (although I have heard that middle school kids do sometimes try to steal candy but that is about as far as crime goes where I am at), and also the streets are safe. In fact, I can walk the streets at anytime. Morning, noon, at night, it does not matter. Even little old gray haired grandmas can be seen walking down the street by themselves at 1AM carrying groceries and not even looking the slightest bit anxious or worried that something might happen. If they can do it, I can surely do it.

In fact, I rarely ever even see a policeman anywhere around where I live. It seems like life here is kind of on the honor system (oh but people do drive crazy) where as in the States there is always a police presence and it really is kind of a police state. So the other day I was kind of in for a surprise.

I was hanging out in Seoul, enjoying a nice touristy life of roaming around an ancient palace recently rebuilt. I had been watching people dressed up in traditional dress rehearse how the changing of the guard use to be in the old days (PS. I have a pic of me in traditional dress. If you all are lucky, you just might see it sometime). During the changing of the guard I noticed quite a few media people running around. Upon leaving the luxurious and quite expansive palace grounds I found out why. About six college students had gotten together, decided to protest and decided to do it on the entrance to the gate of the palace and do it during my visit. There they were, shouting anti-government slogans and hanging anti-establish posters. They were young and strong and proud holding their fists in the air, yelling well thought out one-liners. The media was taking pictures and the people passing by were all gawking, me included.

Then all of a sudden the person I was with said, “Lets go. The police are coming.” I turned around looking for a cop car and was thinking, “Definitely not leave, lets stay and watch the police take out these kids.” Then I could not find a police car with flashing lights, like a had seen maybe half a dozen times where I lived the whole two months I was there (By the way, police cars where I live always drive around with their lights on so everyone can see them coming from far away and they are not allowed to have guns). My friend said, “there” and pointed over the hill towards the sidewalk and there I saw the police. I cussed silently thought to myself, “That is not the police, that is a whole army.” They were lined up three rows wide and maybe fifty deep, all marching in a straight lines like the military might do. They were in riot gear wearing helmets, having riot shields, and big clubs that I could only think were for knocking people around a bit.

Needless to say, I was in awe. Six college kids in America means maybe twenty or thirty cops. Here was a hundred and fifty, seemed a bit overkill to me. I watched as they came, and then more came. And then more came. Some climbed on top of the gate to get the kids. I only snapped this one picture; I wish I had gotten more. Before the apprehension of the kids was complete, we left. Turning the corning, I saw many hundreds more police. Some of which were preparing to go towards the main entrance and some of which were guarding additional smaller entrances to the palace. All told, I would not be surprised if more than a thousand riot police were dispatched to handle the situation of six college kids protesting. So considering this astonishing display of police force, I thought to myself, maybe everything is not on the honor system here. While I defiantly don’t see many police where I live, that is not to say they aren’t here. Just get a couple of kids shouting slurs about the president and you will see.

Later on I learnt that the area I was in was a focal point for protests and that also the riot police just kind of hang out in the area waiting for a protest to start. Also, I learnt that unfortunately every single male in Korea has to spend two years in the military or two years on the police force so both are quite large and able to handle whatever might come their way.

So, to sum it all up, security in America is a cop on every corner. In Africa, it is a privately paid security guard with a machine gun standing in front of your shop or house. In Korea, it is hundreds or thousands of riot police that don't have any weapons but lots of pads and can get any job done due to their plentiful numbers.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

My house in Korea

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I would like to not only explain a little bit about what it is like to live in Korea but also show some pictures of where I actually live. These might be a little boring but at the same time kind of interesting to see what is the same and what is different with life in America. What is apparent is that most things are not too far different than how they might be in America. Definitely living quarters here look a lot more similar in Korea than they do in Africa. Anyway, I have always been the type to believe that being “well off” meant that you can be happy with everything you have, not having everything you can. So that being said, my life here is getting happier all the time, and while my place does not have as many rooms as the last place I lived, it is all mine and I am doing fine. Actually, I am at a point in my life where I don’t really need much to live comfortably and most (not all) of the basics have been met where I live now. Hope you enjoy the pics.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

roller coaster coverage

What it is like living in a new city across the world is sometimes difficult to describe but I can say it is filled with lots of highs and lows. Here is a recap of some of mine at 5 weeks in Korea.

Cons: First of all, I showed up in Korea with my luggage lost, showed to a small apartment and dropped off at 2AM Sunday morning and was told, “See you at work on Monday”. Work was 11 hours long (but I got some breaks), no training, no real guidance just a stack of books and a list of classes and times. I didn’t speak any Korean at all and didn’t know anything about where I was. Here I was by myself, me and my little book with Korean phrases, a key to my crash pad, a computer, a credit card, some cash, and only the clothes on my back. The apartment was empty and so was I in a lot aspects but I started going out and stumbling my way through the neighborhood, looking into stores for food to buy and on the side of the street for more furniture.

Now my previous experience of living overseas was of arriving in a country with a group of thirty other Americans all going through the same emotions and experiences of me such as confusion, frustration, awe, and excitement. While many Peace Corps volunteers complained that Peace Corps admin held our hand a lot more than they should have during the first couple of months of training, and maybe they did, for me it was not too bad and we had two more years to do what we wanted after life in training. Here in Korea nobody held my hand, in fact people were afraid to even touch it. I did quite a bit on my own. Sure I had help setting up the apartment and some other things but not much above and beyond the bare minimum that would be expected. Worse my air conditioning and hot water were broke at my apartment so life was more uncomfortable than what it should have been. With some complaining I got those fixed and with more complaining after that I was able to get internet and a cell phone set up.

My luggage finally came. One bag was perfectly fine, the bag with all my clothes. The other bag was a disaster. I should have foreseen in. I had a bag with bottles of spices, one of which was the extra large premixed Italian spice type of bottle. I figured correctly ahead of time there would be a lack of good Italian spice here but what I didn’t figure is that the bottle could break and the bag it was in could rip. Thus Italian spice was in everything. My bag of “stuff” had been effectively spiced, tossed and rubbed in with oregano, garlic, and basil through the hustle and bustle of my bags going who knows where (part of which was apparently them sitting on the curb in front of my office unattended for a while). Most of the stuff was salvageable, some water and some scrubbing and it was fine. I got the bag cleaned up and of course the Italian spice leaked all over my house because I did not quarantine my unpacking/cleaning procedure tightly enough. I got it all cleaned up and burnt some incense to kill the smell of little Italy in Korean but lost my electricity converter (therefore all my American electronics) and my really nice ergonomic keyboard (sorry Ryan but it was nice while it lasted). It took me two weeks to finally become officially unpacked and cleaned because of all the work I had to do left me with little spare time to just get situated.

There were also other little frustrations that I need not mention here but all this is starting to sound like a bit of whining so it is time to talk about something else.

So to some it up, Life sucked always working long days and not knowing what I was doing.

Pros: Korea itself is a really neat place to be. I am always turning a corner and finding something new like a new restaurant, grocery, or place to go. I have had a chance to talk to new people from time to time and it was cool. I met a stranger on the subway the other day and had a really nice talk. Subway rides are a trip in themselves and I have seen some pretty amusing things here and there on them.

Just today I went out with my new friend Kurt to a little flea market and we met more people on the street while we watched some kind of fight happen. All of it was kind of confusing and was some kind of dispute about a man not being able to have his booth at the flea market or something and was being evicted. But a crowd gathered and we went right up to some other Americans we saw and started talking to them.

Kurt has definitely been one of the best pros of being here. He is an American a few years older than me that lives on my floor. We hang out sometime and go here and there. He has quite a few friends through the school he teaches at and they are all pretty cool so I have met some people through him. We have been into Seoul a few times, twice for all nighters, which were totally worth it and a really cool experience. See the subways close here at 11PM and don’t start till the morning which means people like me who live over an hour away have to pay a hefty taxi price or have to wait it out till morning when we can get back home for a buck on the subway. We stayed out all night and had a time doing it. Nice bars, a little dancing, good atmosphere and a lot of good energy. Life rocks in Seoul, wish I was deeper in it.

Other cool things include getting to eat lots of nice foods. I love trying new foods and I have tried quite a few since coming here, no doubt about it. Some for the better, some for the worse but it is all an experience. Squid jerkey anyone? First few bites are a bit rough but then it starts to get to be alright but beware one piece can stink up a whole house for a day.

I am learning a bit of the language and it is fun to talk a little here and there and figure out what is going on. “Hello, How much is that? No way. Goodbye”

Another great pro is that in a week I will get paid. Once that money comes, I will be at the break even point, I think meaning that I will have about the same amount of money in the bank that I did the day before I bought the plane ticket to come to Korea but have had all these experiences. This job definitely pays more than others I have had so I am looking forward to reaping the rewards.

I do have to say that although it sucks working forty hours a week, it is something that makes me feel like I am a “productive” member of society as that is what it is expected of everyone that has a Master’s from the University. Not that I really care what everyone thinks of me or not because I feel like I will do what is right for me and not look back but it makes things easier when people don’t think bad things about me.

Other than that the Pros are summed up by having the excitement and adventure of being in a new country and learning a new way of rocking and rolling.

On the whole, I am still fairly lonely. While it has been totally awesome to go out with Kurt and hang out with some of his friends (now my friends too) I am still looking to meet new people. I am sure they are just around the corner and I will have good times ahead. Each week gets better and I am very hopeful that once I get my social networks setup and get to spend some of all that money I have been working so hard for, it will all be better.

The ins and outs of the whole experience has in many was been worse then it has been better so far but to some extent it has been a really big trip being here in Asia so for that I am happy for the whole experience.

Here is a pic of my keyboard that I took a part and tried to unsuccessfully clean up and fix.