Decisions, decisions

These days I’m almost loving it here in Korea:  the old men have pulled out their seersucker jackets and look really dapper, the sun (I just realized I’ve been living over 2 years without daylight savings time!) greets me at around 5:30 a.m and the evenings are a joy to experience.  Though I dread the onset of summer, I’m really enjoying this little sliver of temperature that’s actually comfortable and moderate.

You know, you’d think it was summer already, what with the number of girls in shorts.  I was told by my tutor when I first got here, when I thought I was going to die from the heat & humidity when it was in the high 80’s and complaining about having to have my shoulders covered, that I have to wear some layers during this weather simply for relativity, as when it’s in the mid 90’s and above, there won’t be anything left to remove!  But that only applies for the upper half.  The lower half is already as exposed as it can be, though there is the weird phenomenon of girls wearing their shorts in cool weather with nylons underneath.  Nylons + tennis shoes just always strikes me as weird…

I was mentioning to an adoptee the other day how much Korea’s changed in the past two years since I’ve been here, and he agreed.  The dress standard has relaxed quite a few notches.  It’s now only the older salarymen wearing the suits and the younger professional men seem to be subverting the suits quite a bit.  And the professional women don’t look as stuffy…and the younger college-aged kids are looking more casual and less high fashion.

Now that I’m not with TRACK I’m actually kind of enjoying my stay here in Korea.  It’s nice not to be pressured by impossible tasks or to be in a relationship that takes more than it gives.  It’s also nice to talk with other adoptees who also question the efficacy of what TRACK does in its local context, what’s behind Jane/TRACK’s public image machine, and why TRACK alienates so many in the adoptee community here.  I’ll not go into why I believe this is so, but I will say it’s nice not to be alone with my doubts.  I’m really glad I quit.  I only wish it had been last year, when I first started having doubts.  High on my list of self-improvement is being more mindful and listening to myself more.

Didn’t pass my BEGINNER 1 level test in Korean.  So bad it’s not funny!  Well, actually it IS a little funny!  The grammar is so easy to me, but again – I. just. can’t. memorize. words.  Far too many words for my old brain to process.  They’re just marks on paper to me if not used meaningfully.  Like I don’t want to learn the word for nurse!  That’s not a relationship starter…I want to learn to say, “Hey I really like your shirt.  You have a nice smile.  Can I get your phone number?”  But it’s also not like I stress about this class either:  if it enriches my stay a little, okay.  But that’s all it is.  It’s interesting in that it’s a foreign language, and those are always interesting.  But I’ve no real interest in killing myself over it and I’ve no real delusions that it’s going to bring me closer to being Korean.  I am a twinkie.  You know, that debate-ably may or may not be an appropriate derogatory characterization of someone who has Korean parents, but when you’ve got white parents, it’s just how it is.

But my failures in Korean pay off in the English classroom.  I definitely take the obstacles I run across and create lessons that are more personally accessible for my students.  Because being taught a language in  Korean way gives me some exposure to what my students are going through.  So that helps.  And I guess I might be more like my students than other foreigners taking these classes, as I’ve really not much motivation, but am interested if it’s relevant to ME.  So that’s the direction my classes are taking and I think my co-teacher’s really happy with me this year.

Oh, and just as an aside, (taken for granted now, but just f.y.i.) did you know Korean students never raise their hand to speak?  They just address the teacher and blurt whatever they want to say out loud, interrupting.  The Korean classrooms are these strange places.  At times they seem very severe, where the students just silently have to take in data being thrown at them.  And at other times it is this seemingly obnoxious dynamic of the teacher trying to project a lesson and being interrupted all the time.

I’m a little frustrated in that the art groove I briefly had has been interrupted by my politicking for records access and my recent obsession with finding a pet kitten I can live with.  I’m also exhausted from strange things happening to my body:  I slept 20 hours straight the other day, in what seemed to be a fevered sweat.  Only no chills.  Then, I got dizzy on the MARBLE stairs (marble everywhere in Korea) and fell down.  Sexy bruises, but could have been much worse, since fortunately this happened only 3 steps from the bottom…I think it’s the onset of menopause…I vacillate from thinking, “Nooo!!!!  I’m too young!” to “Bring it on…”  I suppose I should go in for a check-up, but I’ve no idea how I’d fit it into my schedule and am fearful.  Ha!  I’ll probably die here in Korea, but I was like this in America as well.

So the cat thing isn’t a scam, and an amazing opportunity – I’m just not sure I should go for it or not…so much money…when I could get a domestic kitten for free…but I want a cat that thinks it’s a dog but looks like a leopard, damn it! And getting a domesticated leopard cat would take all my savings.  But then I want lasek surgery so I can see to paint, damn it!  But I don’t know that I’ll be able to save that much anyway.  If I were smart, I would stay here one more year, save more money, and do more work on records access.  But I have this fear of permanency here:  my family’s in the states and I didn’t know how much I enjoyed interacting in my own language and culture until I went back home winter break, and I want to get foundation art courses…

That’s the weird thing about being an expat:  everything you do is qualified by it’s relationship to your eminent departure, and everything that puts off departure can bring anxiety.   And the longer you live in this space, the more it becomes viable, and that too causes anxiety!   If I were younger, I’d be one of those who test this lifestyle in many countries and cultures.  But these days, I want to lay down some roots and test commitment and diplomacy and sustained relationships with people and places.  Because that’s so much harder and more interesting, and because I’m finally getting to a place where I can recognize my own failings and care for myself and express myself, which makes interacting with society much more manageable.  Now, if I can just squeeze a few more years out of this body, then I’ll be able to die saying I’ve actually lived well.

10 thoughts on “Decisions, decisions

  1. dehydration? i took your advice about trying to drink more water and my dizzy spells went away, but only after i fell down, luckily not on stairs. i KNOW you don’t drink enough water (like mother like daughter…)

    what’s this about you getting a leopard cat??

    also, you have many, many more years left in that body of yours. love you

  2. i am glad you seem to have come to terms with korea. hope you have enjoyed all the different kinds of spring namul recipes. the one area i miss most about korea is the vast varieties of fresh namul you get during spring time.

  3. The bengal thing just went south – I was arranging it privately, but the owner was not conducting our business in a professional manner, so I told her no thanks. I mean, a lot of money being exchanged requires documentation, right? Anyway…I either get a domestic kitten from the shelter (it’s the season for that) or I just put it aside until I can afford to get a bengal.

    I do have many years – but they fly by faster and faster and I’m starting over, so there just aren’t enough of them for my taste!

    David – the namul is probably more evident at the family table than the restaurants with the kind of fare that will serve me as a single person, and I eat at school for most of my meals. But I’d love to find some more. Korea’s cuisine is kind of like the weather here – the winter food seems to be never ending. And the summer food there just isn’t enough of it and it’s over too soon. But the spring greens are really a treat.

    There’s such a huge variety of Korean food, and yet it’s one of the biggest bummers that single people just can’t experience so much of it and because of that can even find Korean food monotonous. It’s also a bummer that American Korean restaurants have such a limited menu. I will miss the food here when I’m gone. I’m sure I’ll try to replicate it, leaving out half the salt…

  4. This salt thing is new to me because when I lived in korea, everything was homemade. I think in general, restaurant foods around the world is not a good indicator.

  5. if you did not know, there is a new drama call miss ajumma and is about single mom. the drama will try to change the perception of single mom. i think this is a right direction and as you know when changes happen in korea, good or bad, it happens in a hurry. that bari bari mentality.

  6. It is so weird to hear from a Suki who is somewhat comfortable and somewhat adjusted. I think I can handle it, but you’d better tell me more so I can process!

    And FWIW, about kittens: in the States, shelter folks would really only want you to take one if you were not planning on moving for a long, long time…

    Love hearing about all this.

  7. Oh Sara – I forgot to mention that of course I am probably dehydrated and you are probably right!

    Bengal thing DID turn out to be a total scam after-all. I am such a sucker! Well, I didn’t fall for it – but almost…The problem with scammers is they always make mistakes…

    Rachel – gosh I need to write you – I have a list of adoption-related emails which is so long it’s giving me an anxiety attack, but after that I want to carve out some time for catching up with friends…

    I think the adjustment thing is mostly being forced to. A lot of adoptees visit their pain episodically, and then there are those who use that pain to justify continuing being angry. It was necessary to visit that pain, and there’s nowhere for me to go here but be surrounded by it 24/7, which is the brilliant part about actually moving here. but it gets really boring to do and boring to watch. And I’m also older. I DID come here to get better and heal. I think that coming here can really arrest your development at certain crucial times, so I’m feeling fortunate that I didn’t come here to live when I was in my mid 20’s when anything is possible, paths are less clear, and awareness of emotions and relations are not evolved or mature. In my defense and in defense of most of us older Korean adoptees, many of us whom had to deal with hostile and confusing social situations and many of us who were abused to different degrees, I would say that persevering under those complications is a test that many fail, so mal-adjustment is a matter of perspective. For them/us, just hanging in there is an achievement. And to get beyond just surviving: well, that’s just incredible. Pinching myself…

    The shelters here in Korea are always at max. capacity. There are a lot of foreigners who get pets and then don’t take them with them. And then there is pet rescue from the meat trade and pet rescue from people who think they want pets but then throw them out. Here in Korea there’s a huge amount of foreigners who want a pet while here and then don’t want them enough to bring them with them.

    Cats have it especially bad. Most people don’t think of them as indoor pets. They’re thought of more like vermin by a lot of people, and people throw things at them or other such abuses. So there’s quite a feral population. I hear they are also gathered for consumption: there’s some way of pressure-cooking them into a broth that is consumed by some old men for added vitality. I’m sure this is very rare, but it does exist. In the country, I’m sure cats still serve their traditional function of killing mice, etc., so maybe they’re just tolerated. I also think that they are beginning to be recognized as pets more and more, but nothing like the boutique miniature pedigree’d pet frenzy you see here.

    Right now there’s a rash of spring litters. Most of the pet rescue places do not discriminate against foreigners taking pets, but they do have to sign a contract to take them for life or at least bring them back so they don’t end up on the street. I think most of the foreigners who get their pets from the shelters tend to be really conscientious and take their pet with them or are sure to re-home them if they don’t. I found a Korean site with many more cats, but I don’t think they are as willing to let the cats go to foreigners because they move so much. It’s up to the individual foster parents who they’re willing to trust with the cats.

    David – I think it is both a restaurant thing and also a Korean in Korea thing. I’ve been with Koreans cooking who dump in tons of salt and as I expressed OMG, they would tell me not to worry that Korean salt is not as strong…So there seems to be a popular myth floating around that sea salt is less salty than table salt. I think that everyone here is just inured to everything being extra salty, and that Korean Americans’ palettes have adjusted to a more moderate use of salt.

    So a lot of Korean dishes include kimchi and bean paste, etc., which are already salted enough to flavor an entire dish, I’ve watched Koreans continue to add MORE – hell – LOTS MORE salt to dishes in addition to these already salty things. And that shrimp condiment? Pure salt…

    People already think I’m a princess the way I eat here, but I’m wondering if I just asked for NO SALT PLEASE (anni soghum, jusayo?) if they’d hate me, since just taking my order is already a pain. What do you think?

  8. David, I looked up Miss Ajumma. It’s about a single mom, but she is divorced. Because of the increasing rates of divorce, Korea is becoming more tolerant of single moms and even has programs to help them out. But these programs are only for those who have been married.

    It will be a long time before there is a drama validating unwed single moms! Except for Jenny & Juno, I haven’t found any instance of this in film. Do you know of any that portray these girls in any positive light?

  9. No, I have not seen one yet. I also ask my wife who is more into korean drama than me and she also cannot remember any. As for Jenny and Juno, it is really not about single mom but rather about teenagers having baby and the two raising the baby so technically Jenny was not a single mom but rather a teenage mom. I hope Miss Ajumma opens the door to a drama show casing unwed single mom. Fyi, no salt please is: Sogum nehchi maseyo. A direct translation is: please do not put any salt. I have no idea on what you are saying when you say Anni soghum, jusayo. Hope that helps. By the way, I don’t think they will hate you.

  10. As you are surrounded by Koreans in Korea, I wonder if you get homesick or frustrated by language deficiencies as I did when I was there. I’m here because your blog was linked on a KA blogroll and because I’m trying to reach out to the KA community today in an effort to raise awareness for my company, The Lit Pub, which aims to connect people — to connect readers with writers, to connect people with shared experiences.

    As an adoptee, I feel connected to the book I’m representing there because of the mother-loss I felt when I was given up for adoption, and because of the daughter-loss my author felt when her baby was stillborn.

    I hope you’ll come check us out . . . if for no other reason than we’re a place to connect with others, and because you and I have the adoption, and the return to the homeland, in common.

    The post I’m talking about is here: and our website is simply I hope to see you there (p.s. every comment earns you a chance to win free Lit Pub swag — tees, books, stickers, and bookmarks). We’re on Facebook and Twitter too.


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