Thursday, September 16, 2010

Scientific Certainty

There are definitely some interesting cultural influences happening in the practice of medicine in Korea. (Ask me to recount my friend's J's tale of the birth of her daughter in a Korean hospital sometime, holy moly!) Another friend of mine has had severe allergy problems since she moved to Korea in the spring. She posted on FB the her doctor's top 5 reasons that explain why she is sick:

1. I am homesick
2. I live alone
3. I eat Korean food
4. I am emotional and aggressive ?
5. Canada does not have 4 distinct seasons.

Perhaps a definitive answer, or the ability to test for a definitive answer was lost in translation. Oh Korea!


I guess my question is: Why bother going to the beach at all?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Down Side to a Super Collective, Super Hard-Working Society

One of South Korea's leading english-language newspapers released some saddening stats about the rising suiced rates in South Korea. Though the ROK does have high suicide rates, it's an issue not really talked much about. Atleast not with foreigners who ask about it. There are a lot of good things to be said about South Korea. A LOT. But having a tonne of people in a very small country combined with a very VERY competitive culture where everything is about not losing face and you get more than a few folks cracking under the pressure.
During my first year here, the former President of Korea,Roh Moo-Hyun , threw himself off a cliff amongst accusations of bribery and financial scandal which had allegedly occured within his administration (Roh was succeeded by Lee Myun-Bak in 2008). It hit the country imensely hard. School classes were cancelled, jumbo tv screens were set up in public spaces so the public could watch the funeral and mourn. In Jeollnamdo at least, he was a well loved President and I saw more than a few of my co-workers cry about it. But nobody talked about suicide. Nobody questioned why he did it. Or if it could have somehow been avoided. The media and "Netizens" were ruthless during the time of the scandal (all allegations). The shame brought on him and his family by the scandal, whether it was true or not, left him only one option. I couldn't help but be stunned. How differently our western culture deals with shame and scandal. Most enjoy all the media attention and celebrity they receive, some even profit from it.
I see this pressure all the time in my school. Although most of my students consisently recieve straight A's, it is nothing to be proud of because everyone is getting straight A's. I have seen girls crying after receiving their grades on exams, not because they got a bad mark but because it wouldn't be good enough to get them into one of the top three Universities in South Korea (ie a 96 instead of 99). It's an enormous weight for teenagers to bear, all the expectation and honour of their family resting on them getting into the right schools. And these kids don't know that there's life after University, or even high school. They've been going to school for 12 hours a days since they were 6. All that matters is that you are the best. Unfortunately, there's only room for one on that podium and there's 55 million people here.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Where We're Going, We Don't Need Roads...

Wow it's September! 2010 doesn't seem to keen on sticking around and getting aquainted. OK, so that title (from Back to the Future) is my lame attempt at conveying some of what I'm feeling as these last few weeks in Korea are winding down. Firstly, that time here goes by WAAAAYYYY too fast. I really can't believe that I'm finishing out my 2nd year. At the same time, the vastness of the experiences and personal growth I've had while being here makes it seem like nearly a decade ago I got on that plane at Pearsons IA and became an expat. Also, it's reference to how I suspect that going home will feel a lot like stepping back in time a bit. No, that's not a dig at how behind the times my home town is (even though it's kinda true, sorry D-town). I just mean that I will be returning to people and places that have been an enormous part of my past and I feel as though I will be returning as such a different person, I have to reconcile these two lives I've lead, with their very different narratives.

But enough cogitating (oh yeah, its a word). What's new?

Well, on Wednesday night, Typhoon Kompasu hit the peninsula with enough rage to kill five people. Suncheon didn't see much of that damage. It was quite a storm though and I enjoyed the sound of the howling winds and gusting rain slamming into the apartment building. It also got my imagination going. If one of these tall slender apartment buildings was to get blown over, would we all go down like a bunch of dominoes? Thankfully, reality never tested my theory.

Two weeks ago, I started teaching an evening class for "gifted" middle school students for the city on Monday and Thursday nights. It means I don't get home until 10pm, but that little bit of extra cash will be nice at the end of the month. Plus, "gifted" middle school students are basically "general" high schoolers, so woot! to reusing my lesson plans.

Life is good in Korea, folks. The sun is shining, the AC is WORKING, and I've been finished classes since 10:05 this morning.

Why am I leaving again?