peasant daughter

me in my ajumma farming sun bonnet

Oh the days have been flying by…I’ve been so engrossed in serendipitous research that I hate to go to sleep.  It’s really great!

I’d gone through a period of hating being stuck in this role as adoptee elder statesman, all communication being about adoption, adoption, adoption, adnauseum adoption, and was bemoaning whether it was even possible to ever escape , as other adoptees chuckled at my talk of opting out and told me with total confidece that I will always be involved, as I look at them and begin to hyperventilate, frantic.

And then I went through another period where I tried like hell to ramp down my activity and divorce myself in preparation for a total break but then went through not knowing what to do with myself.  To add to my misery was being totally irrelevant at work and barely teaching at all for the past six weeks, which set me on a path to try and make my last semester teaching as valuable as possible.

And then something happened:  I got engaged in immersion teaching techniques to a surprising degree.  And pretty soon I was finding myself passionate about it!  And it was so great to have my energies focused on something, as it’s been a chore to do any adoption-related work, so much so that I’ve not gotten anything done.  I’ve talked to amazing innovative passionate teachers’ teachers like Ben Slavic  who is like the Jaime Escalante (the calculus teacher in the movie Stand and Deliver who took at-risk students and helped them pass the AP SAT’s) of foreign language teachers (using unorthodox and maligned methods his students placed highest in the nation on SAT tests)  and even helped him out, and it felt so great because I really believe in how he empowers students by making education be about them/respecting them as people.  So researching how to reach my students is what I’ve been doing.   Is this a calling?  No.  But finding Ben was a reminder that positive things engage me.  Just like adoption work is not my calling, nor is blogging.  But I do what I can when engaged.  Fixing things engages me.  But fixing them doesn’t bring me happiness.  Creating things, now that brings me happiness.  Connection to time and space.  That brings me happiness.  Dwelling, as Heidegger defines it, that brings me happiness.

Meanwhile, incubating for several months now, at this time where I am on the cusp of a new job and moving back to the U.S., has been this nagging idea that I was about to repeat all the same old wrong survival techniques that have always served me yet kept me also from self-actualization; those techniques being grasping for something somewhat rewarding yet sensible enough to not hurt myself, as if happiness can be rationalized.   So that little something somewhat rewarding had to be amplified, and I would throw myself into it with as much zeal as humanly possible.  That passion everyone so admires — some of it is misplaced energy, and some of it is gritting my teeth in determination to fix things in the most positive manner I can muster.  Must make lemonade.  Must do something worthwhile.  Must do something to make myself feel better.  It was desperate and hysterical.

There has always been a scale to what is sensible or not, and there has always been this notion that personal fulfillment was inverse to safety.  And so, at every discontent  I’ve always questioned whether I had sold myself short.  And at every flight of fancy I’ve always questioned whether I had compromised myself, my family, my future…and though by others’ standards I have taken huge risks, they were never risky for me:  they were always safe and sensible in the context of my own internal conflicts.  Even coming to Korea was playing it safe because it was a resource for a steady income.  Even coming home is safe, because I have a job lined up.  And I have always played it safe because I’ve never felt confident that good things, things that make people happy, can happen to me.  I mean, I can work hard and do anything I set my mind to and have, but achieving happiness is something that happens to blessed people, and I was born under a bad sign.  I always felt a measure of fulfillment was as much as I deserved to ask for.  So I always compromised by making sure things penciled out..

But now that I know better, and by that I mean I feel connected to myself enough not to ignore what my heart wants and be able to admit it and say it out loud, I had to ask what I’ve been shying away from.  What have I consistently and repeatedly put away, dismissed, dropped, talked myself out of?  What have all the things I have done danced around but not really addressed?  What do I want that does not require some self-flagellating suffering, martyrdom, painful investment to feel like I’ve achieved something?  What has always been there grabbing my interest in spite of myself?

That would be homesteading.  Which is perfect for a generalist like me, who knows her way around a hardware store, who understands simple mechanics, who can grow things if she’s not at school full time and working half time, who can build things, who likes to draw plans and make schedules, who isn’t into hiking to get to the view but likes to note all the vegetation on the way and lie down in deer beds and pick berries, who loves to learn about systems and values self-sufficiency, who doesn’t mind getting dirty or shoveling manure or hard labor and loves organizing tools, who actually enjoys the OCD of weeding, etc. etc.  And its bottomless research and never-ending learning is a goldmine of contentment.

It’s been my thing since about third grade when my aunt began to give me the “Little House” book series. I read all the Foxfire books and would hand copy all the useful information from them.  I subscribed to Mother Earth News while in elementary and middle school.  (weird kid, I know) Throughout high school I collected books on how to raise goats, chickens, make out-buildings, make solar ovens, slow-cookers, irrigate with gray water, learn the concepts behind drain fields and septic systems, learn about cisterns and showers, companion planting, making root cellars and food preservation, passive and active solar buildings, etc.  I carried those books around with me for another decade after graduation, from job to job and house to house, and only abandoned them after I graduated from Architecture school when I gave up hope, locked into my educational investment, barely off welfare and in debt.  It  seemed frivolous at the time, or not fair to my family, or in the design world being green seemed like just another gimmick to market.  Or its proponents were sanctimonious and exclusive.  While I’m happy people are into it now and disgusted that it’s too often superficially fashionable, for me it seems like coming home to who I am and therefore it’s the most important thing.

So that’s the plan.  Not art – too serious, and that would stress me out, always having to be profound, and I would quickly get tired of my own voice, just like I’m tired of this blog most days; and besides, that would be another instance of me being safe and sort of but not really doing what I really want.  It will take many years just to save for a few acres and my very own shack, but hopefully I can do this before this body is too broke down, and in the meantime I can joyfully fill my spare time like I have the past few weeks, since I have to re-learn everything and catch up, as things have changed a lot in the past two decades and I’m not such an anomaly anymore.

And on the way I am finding new heroes, such as Alex Weir, who has devoted his life to economic development of third world countries and has probably helped millions of people by giving away a lifetime of work in permaculture, plans to simple machines, and computer programs which improve equality and connectedness for the dispossessed. 34 gigabytes of information – given away for free.  That’s something I can respect.  You know, there are those that want to be legends, and then there are these unsung heroes nobody knows about who quietly get the job done.

I don’t want to be an adoption reform hero.  I’m happy to just have shared my attempts to sort out this complicated adoptee experience and hope it has helped some people.  And so in honor of the life I am working towards, I purchased this peasant gear:  which, btw couldn’t be better designed for comfort and functionality and a great tool that should be worn with pride.  And with that there’s no further reason to write this blog!  I may write about other things one day, who knows, elsewhere. And I may post an announcement if that book ever gets printed.  But this chapter is closed.  Happy ending!

So close yet so far

Living here one develops amnesia.  With all the day to day challenges, I forget that I’m ethnically Korean, or that I’m an adoptee, or that I am in Birth Family Search.

About 30 miles away, as the crow flies, yet 4 hours by public transportation (due to the mountainous terrain one must travel to Seoul and then head back through valleys on the other side) is where I was found (born?).

People related to me in some way, in two, three, four degrees of separation, possibly one? pass by me every week.  Somewhere very near are cousins, aunts, brothers? sisters? Many nieces and nephews.

It’s all very surreal.

But a whole world is in collusion to keep me living in another dimension, invisible, unable to reach or touch: a deaf mute ghost moving amongst them.

So close.  For years.  Just over the crest of that hill are people that begat me.  A whole community that knew of my existence.  A whole community that blotted out that memory.  A whole country who squirms in discomfort at the mirror I hold up inadvertently just by my presence.

I’ve never really felt shame.  Can’t relate to it.  But thinking of mass erasure like this: the necessity of it, the pain of it, the whole notion of a whole community knowing its children and then having to work their daily lives around their conspicuous absence.  And I think now I understand how shameful that would be. Profoundly shameful.

It’s a shame so great it trumps reunion and reconciliation.  I might as well be living in another solar system, I am that far from vanquishing anything that deep in their paralyzed hearts.

camptown prostitution

summary of my notes from the workshop:

Basically the workshop was an overview of how prostitution in Korea has been state sanctioned since Japanese colonization continuously through to today.  It gave historical background on how socially vulnerable women were targeted to be sex workers, how their occupations were laundered on paper, and how they were relegated to live in comfort stations.  After WWII, the US military put pressure on the Korean government to insure the safety of their military men who frequented these sex workers, so the government complied by retaining the Japanese system which effectively confined women so they could be monitored.  During the Korean war, this system was repurposed with the intent to keep foreign military personnel’s focus away from the general population to reduce the pollution of Korean blood.

Then it went into the strange economic relationship between the U.S. and Korea during reconstruction to the present.  A prohibition of prostitution was put in place publicly under the Park Chung Hee regime, while at the same time prostitution was encouraged by the state to boost commerce in red light districts that popped up near military bases.  U.S. servicemen were told to suppress themselves yet were encouraged to frequent the red light districts for R&R, which was like a wild west.  Alarmed by the increase in std’s, unchecked because prostitution was prohibited, the U.S. threatened no soldiers could leave base unless something was done.  In sex trade competition with Japan, Korea changed tactics in order to guarantee the health of sex workers so the military would continue patronage of the camp towns. Prohibition changed to anti-prostitution with the “Tourism Promotion Law” and all the rhetoric changed so the government could justify assisting in cleaner sex trade to increase it and all the other related commerce associated with it.  Sex workers also became mules for funneling in scarce commodities through black market payment in PX coupons.  They were also used to cement trade deals with foreign investors, the government, and chaebols. This is pretty much the same set up that exists today, except that many military men prefer to court Korean women as girlfriends now, to the general public’s horror.  However, I assume that’s not immediate enough for many and the camp towns still thrive. A lot of domestic military frequent these camp towns as well.

Around this same time, another part of “Tourism Promotion” the Ministry of Tourism created a “Gisaeng Dept.” to promote Japanese tourism.  Only these Korean geishas recruited by the government had std checks twice a week.  This practice was discontinued when the democracy movement’s students protested.

Later, in the 90’s a sex worker murdered by military personnel became an excuse for anti US imperialism outrage.  Instead of sympathy for the sex workers, they were unbearably ostracized by their countrymen and many left.  It was about this time that E-6 entertainment visas were used by camp town business owners to import new sex workers in from Russia and S.E. Asian countries.

My notes are missing why the Russian Visas were discontinued, but today most camp town workers come from the Philippines and have “singer” listed as their profession. Prostitution is still illegal in Korea, yet though there are occasional sweeps that get press, no real concerted effort is put forth.  Camp towns are still labeled as tourism zones and prostitution is allowed to flourish because it is “contained” and still a significant generator of income to the Korean economy.  There is no regulation of U.S. military sexual conduct off base, only military image damage control (my characterization) training sessions informing them that migrant sex workers amounts to human trafficking.  (A military representative was there to make sure we knew they were not condoning patronage, referring to the practice in terms of supporting slavery, while at the same time they obviously don’t restrict it)  There is no law against human trafficking in Korea.  Nobody is prosecuting business owners for fraudulent Visa sponsorship. Many of these women are enslaved because their Visas are withheld from them and they are in debt for being brought to this land of opportunity.

Of course, the workshop had many more details and was based on Na Young Lee’s well researched book, which you can purchase through “Women’s Global Solidarty Action Network.”  They can be reached via their facebook page.

TPR and immersion

This is almost interesting enough for me to want to continue teaching ESL.


Asher’s TPR methods have improved a lot since the 80’s and it isn’t only for beginning students anymore. Offshoots of TPR have emerged which incorporate story-telling and writing to incorporate more complex grammar, and another person has focused on the silent method which strengthens foundation absorption (which would NEVER go over in Korea! ha!) prior to grammar & speaking.  I wish I could be taught foreign languages this way.

Speaking of languages, I’m switching back to Spanish.  Korean is just not useful.  Most Koreans berate me for not learning Korean, but it seems the more educated Koreans have always told me to not bother because it’s just not useful in most of the world.  So due in part to my failure to get Koreans to talk to me and due in part to my thinking that it really isn’t that useful and especially since I’m moving to California next March and will probably retire to some Spanish speaking country where hopefully my social security money will stretch farther, I should get a jump start on Spanish now.

Shortcut to Spanish and Synergy Spanish by Marcos Santamaria is THE BEST program EVER.  In no time flat it got me prepared for a Spanish speaking vacation back in the day, but my studies got interrupted/derailed by having to coordinate a huge cancer benefit. I was on a definite roll prior to that and really felt confident about speaking out loud. I’d tried live community college classes twice with crappy results and also Rocket Spanish and Pimsleur tapes with crappy results, but Marcos’ method is more like immersion, or rather, the way you’d learn naturally but accelerated for an adult, so it feels effortless, and is very smart in giving you building blocks right away and what you need when you need it.    Gotta think about retirement, and lord knows I’ll not be retiring in Korea.

Anyway, enjoy these videos about language acquisition.

If only I could roll my damned R’s…

Oh, and tension between the one uptight teacher at my school has mysteriously died down.  Don’t know if it’s because absence makes the heart grow fonder (my services have only been utilized one week for the past month, or if the teacher’s difficulty with the upstart class without me has proven that it’s not me.  But every morning I get greeted with a cheery good morning as if we’re best buddies.  (smack forehead)  I swear, I’ll never understand Koreans.  This repression/tension/erasure pattern is classic…

Fortunately, I really like the other teacher and she actually talks to me a little.  Though she, too, second guesses what I do at times.  Like one student was all excited Jason Mraz was coming to a nearby town, so I played a video of his with English subtitles and I got chewed out for there being no educational point to that.  The point was good will.  Four minutes of good will.  But I guess that’s only reserved for the Korean home room teachers…That’s not okay, but if there’s five minutes left of class I’m reminded to wrap it up.  And it’s totally okay if I give free time…Anyway, the next week I do nothing but give incredibly easy oral exams, the week after that I will probably desk sit as the Korean teachers take my class time for exam prep, then will come exam week, the week following the Korean teachers will probably take my class time for exam review, and then it will be summer vacation.  Like I said earlier – irrelevant.  My job here is totally irrelevant.  Must tell myself what easy money it is.  Easy money.  Easy money.  As I pound the palm of my hand against my forehead…

Three days of the week prior to exams I go on another Native English Teacher PLUS orientation.  Used to hate these, as the workshops are totally useless, but the last two orientations I came away with great friends so am really looking forward to another opportunity to have meaningful conversation with equally frustrated and thoughtful world travelers trying to get through another year in this stress-filled, sometimes illogical, sometimes beautiful, competitively ugly, sometimes xenophobic country.