In this culture, thin walls are one thing, hearing your neighbors pee is quite another. I figured I couldn’t go too long before something truly noteworthy occurred, and it has; I am moved into the studio apartment I was promised when we still contemplated Martha being here. And it was worth the wait, although I admit I had pretty much written off the prospect of it. Clean, quiet, and subject to Mr. Park’s endless fussing-over. Good God, the man’s married, you’d think Mrs. Choi still found something to look forward to in her wifely duties, but maybe not. And as much of a prick (albeit an HONEST prick,) as he is as a boss, I can’t imagine being married to him. But, I can ride out my eight months in place like this, hell yeah! Quiet, clean, elegant (dare I use the word,) and air-conditioned. It’s all I’ll be needing, thanks. At this pace, in this place, the “Rabbit Hole” will just be a long, descriptive dream, save for the faces, those who you never know if you’ll pass again. I expect I may be eating out more frequently, there’s a shitload of restaurants in this part of town, (Dongbaek2-gil, to be exact,) but we’ll see. I’ll survive till payday, and since Julie and Katie (two of the Korean teachers,) are now in Booyong, *everything* got moved, although I did get a new range, so I can boil and fry to my heart’s content. The other part of the Korean teachers being in Booyong is that I’ll have no trouble getting my mail. But overall, thanks be to God, because I know He’s played His part, as he always has in looking out for me. I’ll take it however it comes. I do sort of silently hope the expectation isn’t on me to stay past my contract date (by too much, anyway,) ‘cause whether Mr. P. likes it or not, I have a life to continue with, great start and big change, though, this has been. God has been the reason all of this has even begun to work, and I will praise Him endlessly. For whatever it’s worth, this journal is becoming more of an intellectual and emotional blotter pad, more than a nameless travelogue. The thoughts have been ranging from silly, here in my nice, new digs, (nice as this place is, I hope I don’t end up like Jack Lemmon in “The Apartment” now,) to, am *I* going to be some Korean kid’s favorite teacher? Could I be? Is it possible? Anything is possible, I suppose, but I’m not here to be cool, I’m here to each, and get on with my life. I am not brave; I simply cannot bear the thought of falling down again. It’s too hard to keep getting up. There. I’ve said it, and I meant it. And when this is all over, I can only presume that I will know my place in the world, and maybe less will seem strange, by comparison. It’s all about what we learn, and what we strive to pass on, and pay forward—some of which is just plain, old, hope. Maybe the faith in others to step out on the bridges of their own soul. Before I set out, I remember telling Martha that this was the bridge to my future, and she said, “are you sure it’s not one of those rope bridges, that threatens to kill you?” or something to that effect, and I think I said, “it very well might be,” which was probably more honest than any other response I could have given. But, of course, life’s a journey, not a destination. Thank you, Steven Tyler.
I got a call from Martha, saying dad had stents put in the blocked arteries in his heart. His great, big, somehow-over-time-it-got-that-wonderful heart. And sad as I would ever be if dad passed away, I know what he truly got out of life, and somehow or other it was all damn good. Four fantastic grandkids, at least one happy marriage, (near as we can all tell,) and bona-fide success as a man, as an employer, and as an individual. If I’m half that, by the measure of others when I die, I will have done well.
Of course, here I am in Korea. Probably the biggest story I will ever tell in life, and a lead-in to a lot of the rest of the stories. The rest of the story—it reminds me of how much dad loved Paul Harvey; and Roger Whittaker, and burnt peanuts. I miss him right now, as the rain falls, on and on. I know dad has been interested in my trip, and I know if he dies, he will be there, watching over me. And the only way I’m left to be inspired, is to simply take care of myself, and those around me. Call it a legacy, call it what you will, I want the chance to be as great as my dad. Pray God I can, and know I can; and not miss important chances, or the small moments. Take the important steps, say the important words, and go till you’re spent. But always, ALWAYS…..spend wisely.
“The Cobra shuddered and shook as it launched, as though it were having some huge mechanical orgasm.” It stands alone as the first reasonably creative thought I’ve had in a while. Hmm. And could I be, in the infamous words of Elwood Blues, “On a mission from God,” minus the criminal desperateness and destruction, or is it more like Ophelia’s dad in “Hamlet;” “To thine own self be true?” More of the latter, really, I suppose.
I found a few shows on cable from the Food Network back home, a British version of Motor Week, and the usual Korean assortment of baseball, infomercials, soap operas, and men whose attire would have them considered to be masquerading as pimps in America. None the less, I’m reasonably serene again. The weather is an evil, rainy, mess, and scheduled to go on for quite a while this way, as I’m told. It also occurs to me that I’m getting about as deep into this culture as anyone in my position can. I have no inner access to the average Korean family, which would be interesting, although if my boss and his little tribe are any indication, I’m really not missing much, except for them being the most unspeakable variety of neat freaks. Michelle, Mr. Park’s youngest daughter, is charismatic and intelligent, and Mrs. Choi seems resigned to her position as chief cook and bottle washer. And the man himself? He works, he cooks, he cleans…he seems ultimately to want a way out of the whole mess now, and I guess I don’t blame him. But, of course, we’re all still here, needing him to be responsible. And until that changes, nothing else stands to. Oddly familiar, and perhaps that’s the rub, really. So, here I am; ultimately on a mission trying to infect one of these kids with the simple ability to think outside the box. Have I succeeded? *Will* I succeed? Can I succeed? As I have stated, only time will tell. If one of them leads the next great movement in art, or gives us a vaccine for AIDS, hell, even the next Corvette, that will truly be telling. If one leads the great Korean women’s movement, or finally reunifies Korea again, that, too, will be great. But pride, rampant consumerism and shameless aping won’t take you very far.
And nothing, or no one, it seems, is immune from hair coloring, after seeing the Cockapoo with the green-and-yellow-dyed ears. I sincerely wish I could see something that inspired me, and filled me with wonder; I’d fill the rest of this book if I did. Instead, I seem to be a source of amazement, and amusement. And I’m not asking anyone to think like me, good God, one of me is enough. But just to get one of them to think for themselves, that would be the greatest blessing of all. For just one to say “Let’s try it this way,” that would be truly cool. I have seen hop of it, but precious little. Is being here and trying enough? I feel like it makes *me* better, but what of them? What of all my future? I know only in living it out. I have small hopes, Wendy, who has been known to dress up her diary pages with drawings of women, all very nicely done, Sharon, of course, who is unrelentingly Sharon, and all those who WANT to know. If I get them excited about learning,, even just in the time that I have them, that’s good. Then, too, there are the Graces and Totos, whose great success has been in letting the world see who they really are. Perhaps all is not truly lost. I just wish it weren’t quite so rare, or so seemingly stymied by the world at large. At least the world around them. Is it odd that I should see no harm in looking through this whole experience, rather than at it? Chief among things is a fear I have now conquered, something in life I have now lived out, and will continue to, as long as I am here. What am I truly to know of that I cannot fully grasp? I know I must rise to the challenge of making myself understood, and I will, so much as I am able to in 7-or-so months. Truly, I feel better about the people I have me, (mostly,) and just being able to say I achieved this. It would indeed be nice to see if there’s more to Korea than what I’ve seen, (I hope there is,) but we’ll see. I can’t say more.
To get through, I got two important things—an Elvis CD, and a Sinatra CD. And on the Elvis CD is a quote from him saying “Ambition is a dream with a V-8 engine.” I like that. And the thought crossed my mind that many of the people I admire are referred to as “The King,” as I sit here listening to Elvis in my Richard Petty t-shirt. B.B. King, too. And if ambition is what Elvis say it is, what is passion? All of that unrealized? Unfocused? Just a fire in your gut? Can I hope to infect others with my passion? My joie-de-vivre? I know it doesn’t seem like it at times, but I’ve gotten in front of kids, and it’s like an audience, and I do explode in a lot of ways—is that passion? Wanting so much to teach these kids what you know, not accepting anything less than their full attention and effort? Is that so wrong? And am I now asking as many questions as I answer? Who knows. I feel, I give, I want of myself. That matters. And believing that the world could, and should be better. We, for the most part, could all care more, and love more, and I do my bit, as much as I am able. What is passion worth? Nothing else happens without it. Nothing. Good or bad.
Even in all that, I’m starting to hate the way Strattera makes me feel—I still can’t stay 100% composed, the way my Adderall makes me feel. Damn Korean laws. I like my art, and my passion, and my feeling, and my sense of myself, but the truth is, I can do more if I’m focused, and peaceful, and composed. Period. And I need to. A lot of what I have to say, I’ve already said; probably most, actually.
Judging by the unrelenting dog-and-pony show by all the candidates, it seems to be election time here in Iksan. Koreans love nothing so much as an event, big or small. Store openings, as I have discussed before, with the American music, dancing hootchie-girl Koreans (seemingly all of them are like, 32-AAs, but, hey, what are you gonna do besides put on more make-up?) and hype by the trainload. You know the routine. So election time has every candidate with a troupe of dancers, balloons, and FACE PAINTING FOR THE KIDS! Just kidding; actually, the face painting is for the campaign volunteers. And the soccer freaks, although Team Korea is unlikely to make it past very few of the European or South American teams. Koreans love to have something to get behind, apparently, even if only for a little while. Maybe that’s it, although I’ve probably spouted before that Korea just seems to have a total lack of continuity. It’s one thing to the next, ad infinitum. Ad nauseam, perhaps.
I was also out again last night with some of my fellow Iksan ESL teachers at the Red Rock, where all the ESL teachers hang out. Where everybody knows your name; sort of like Cheers in a fun-house mirror. It was dish-to-pass night, celebrating the fact that the owner of the place put a barbeque grill on the roof, mostly. Yeah; it’s like that. It was a lot of fun, I made this rice-and-sausage concoction that I just kind of threw together. It went over okay. Bald Neil, the other Scots, the Canadian Brigade, and a few of us scattered Mi-Gugs. (Americans. That’s the Korean for us.) Russ wasn’t there, more than anything I think he’s just counting the days. I can’t say as I blame him, and I know I’ll probably get there myself.
I think to myself after watching the news, and seeing technology, that I’m not really cutting-edge here, at any point; as a matter of fact, judging by what I see, English is to them about having the foresight to realize that life exists beyond Korea. But that, perhaps, is why I sometimes feel so out-of-place—this whole country isn’t about language, or the arts, or anything similar—it is math, and science, and computers, and computer games. You can achieve rock-star status playing video games here; no, seriously, that’s true. And here I am, writing by hand, in a huge book, with nothing but a pen. I’m surprised there’s no Korean law banning such an act. And it doesn’t excuse everything, or everyone I have encountered thus far, but it does shed some light on things. And I know my place, such as it is. But once again, this isn’t about me, or even them, necessarily, it’s about my future, and my peace of mind. My hope of feeling as though I haven’t wasted my life up to this point. Although perhaps I have, and I’m just looking to make sense of it all. And that runs deeper than anything.
All of this, too, does nothing to diminish how happy I am with myself, but none the less, it hammers on the awareness of where and how I need to be. Which has all been discussed. I pause to wonder at the net effect of inconstancy—I mean, I realize that even in America, kids change teachers every year (hopefully,) and fully expect to. And I suppose it would seem unnatural NOT to change, what would be unnatural is if a child DID anchor themselves to you. One might suspect that the child had nothing TO anchor to in life, which would be worse. But what expectations does that create in us? Might we then take infidelity as some trickle-down effect, and think nothing of it? Is there something in the idea that whatever intellect we cultivate should make us smart enough to be civilized, and know right from wrong, and know what must change and when? I don’t know. Perhaps no one does, or ever will.