Letter from Korea, October 2012


Suwon, South Korea
October, 2012

Dear Ireland,

It has been a while, but as much as I want to blame others I don’t think it would do much good. Some people are just poor at maintaining a schedule. I wish the same could be said for a woman’s womb.

As you can probably imagine the experience over the past few months has been mostly revolving around the fact that in less than a month myself and Herself are going to be parents. It has gone beyond the stage where we can feign shock at the end of youth, as there is no escaping our fate now. Not that I’m complaining.

It’s a strange feeling as we roll into the final month of the pregnancy. We know that we will have a little screaming, kicking, and shitting little baby right here in the living room I’m writing from now. We know that, as has been explained over and over again, that sleep deprivation and all sorts of other non-childless phenomena await, and you know I think we’re no longer worried about that. I suppose it’s what comes with the job.

If anything what is of greatest concern to myself and Herself is that we are going to be more responsible than ever to someone other than ourselves for almost as large a portion of our lives as we have been alive already. You think of it that way and you can understand our real concerns.

One image that comes to mind is that I was talking to someone recently who told me that after his first child was born he recalls not understanding why the hospital staff were allowing him and his wife to take their child home, and did they not understand that they had little to no idea what they were doing with the tiny, vulnerable human being in their arms. I think many young families start this way, especially if the usual safety net of experienced family members is either on the other side of the country, or in my case, a wet and windy island off the coast of the far end of the Eurasian continent.

However, Korea can be an incredibly convenient country to live in, and pregnancy definitely falls within this category. Over the past few months Herself has been availing of a plethora of free (or incredibly affordable – cheap is a different category) classes ranging from caring for child/baby in the home to aqua aerobics and yoga. Many of these are provided by our maternity hospital which even goes as far as to send a mini-bus out to collect her. We also had a breathing exercise class, which basically told us how Herself should be breathing as the labour progresses.

This was, I suppose my first introduction to the world which Herself has been inhabiting for the past few months. In I walked to a room full of youngish men, many around the same age as I am and all looking equally terrified, and their pregnant wives. Much of the class’s contents went over my head as the instructor appeared to inform us things we could have read about easily enough, along with a few things I found odd.

One thing she mentioned was that if the father talks to your baby while it is in the womb it will become more intelligent. I asked for the peer reviewed paper supporting her reasoning. She looked and smiled and continued talking. Another piece of advice included you should have a natural birth because it’s good for the baby, which is fine, but all I could think of was that she was guilting women who may actually need to have a C-section. I may have been wrong but that was the impression I got.

The real fun came after the breathing when she wanted to demonstrate the posture and methods for what can be only described as the final push. The instructor wasn’t very good at demonstrating to the class (she was a bit ould so I suppose straddling a table and showing us an example may have been beyond her). So when she described the position and the action, my 36 week pregnant wife wasn’t at her most flexible for turning around to see what to do. When our lovely instructor, and she is actually quite nice, then decided that the people who were past 35 weeks should do a demonstration for everyone else, well you can imagine how delighted we were to find out we were the only people that far gone. The whole room watched as herself lay on her back with her knees pulled up to her chest, whilst we were instructed to pull and push, as one would do if one was struggling with bathroom issues, all preceded by a deep breath and heavy squeezing grunt. Hilarious stuff indeed. I know what you’re thinking; sore thumb syndrome to beat the bad.

So that was grand.

What’s also really beneficial about having the baby here though is what I’ve discovered to quite a treat and one which is not a regular attraction in hospitals of the western world, and it’s called a joriwon (조리원). This is essentially a nursing home or convalescent centre for women after they have their baby. It is where we will stay for a week and where the baby will be gently coaxed into our existence, where they will cook for Herself, where they will have daily yoga and massages for herself, where they will take the baby off our hands and feed it or look after it if we need a little extra sleep, and mostly where we will avoid the true reality of screaming, kicking, and shitting for at least seven days after we leave the hospital. Yes I know it’s cheating, but I’m sure there are plenty among us who would leap at a chance for something like this.

So basically that’s everything about the pregnancy and everything worth talking about this weather. At least everthing worth saying, right. Much of our time these days is spent watching the calendar and perusing the internet looking for more ideas on something or othe to do with the pregnancy. You can call it study.

Oh, me mammy sent over loads of lovely knitted stuff – revelling in her role as Grannius-Maximus (I’m dead now).

And it’s Autumn, which is always enjoyable in Korea.

That’s as good a conclusion I can offer, as I don’t have much of an opinion these days. It’s all about existing and getting on with it. Opinions are slowing me down.

 

 

 

P.S. Actually what’s probably slowing me down is the agonisingly slow death of my five year old laptop. If anyone would like to donate a new one, I’ll let you know where to send it. Sound.

 

 

The People -v- The Black Guy on the Bus


Courtesy of The Marmots Hole this piece of ‘news’ came into my world. I’m sure much more has been said and much more will be said.I’m sure much more has been said and much more will be said. If you are really interested I will allow you to spend your afternoon taking in the comments section in the post – there are some wonderful, inteligent commentors to marvel at. All of that aside I want to chime in with my own little tome. These are just a few things I was mulling over as I walked home from work (yes, today in that heat…perhaps I’m delirious) – I didn’t take the bus because I was afraid of ajjoshis, but because I need to lose some weight and I like walking at night during the summer.

In the above blog post, I felt much of the blame seemed to be levelled at the black fella who did the shouting at the poor old Korean ajjoshi. And, perhaps that is the right thing to do because I suppose he was morally wrong, right? He shouldn’t have turned around and aggressively responded by shouting choice phrases like “see these nuts?”. He looks like a big enough fella and the poor misfortunate old man was properly terrified – I’d say he didn’t expect a response like he got! Either way, he still shouldn’t have done it, right?

Of course, as an expat/immigrant/smelly waeg and someone who makes a living in the same industry as the gentleman asking the questions on the bus, I should be embarrassed and try to reason with the rest of the Korean community that “we’re not all like that”. We are rational. We assess the situation before flipping off the handle. We consider the whole situation before we lash out when someone addresses us rudely. Bollocks. We are as human as both the perpetrators of this mini-scandal on the bus and I wouldn’t be surprised if most people who read this will take a side, and rightly so. In fact I’d be concerned if they didn’t. I won’t as I prefer the fence to criticise those messing in the mud below my goldenness. I will ask you to consider a few things though in hindsight.

I’m going to run a few scenarios and express some opinions on this situation. Much of this has been built around Robert Koehler’s blog post but are not meant to be an actual attack on his (your) opinion, they are just some observations. I hope you like them.

  1. The black fella was pissed off, it is clear. Why? Because a man on the bus clearly told him to ‘shut up’, right? How busy was that bus? It was fairly packed. So how did he get his attention? I imagine it was far from a polite “excuse me sir, would you be so kind as to shut up”? Hardly. My guess is that he did either one of two things: shouted “hey you, HEY YOU! SHUT UP!”; poked him in the arm and looked him right in the eye and said in a far from friendly tone, “shut up”.  I don’t care what anyone says, when a stranger tells you to shut up on the bus, you will perceive that as a challenge. Shut up is not a polite term, and the ajjoshi who said it knew what he was saying. Remember, he was only 61. He may have looked older but he definitely was not senile and definitely capable of composing his own thoughts. If he knew ‘shut up’ and ‘I don’t know’ then he probably knows ‘be quiet’, although ‘please’ is probably pushing it. There are a lot of men in Korea who think that because they have a penis they are entitled to be right all the time. This kind of arrogance leads to many of the same men to be bullies, plain and simple. This is my own observation after over five years in Korea and of course I know not every man is like this, but there are many who are. Many believe the oceans should part for them if they were to attempt to cross the sea, but unfortunately this is not the case as the sea (I’m talking in metaphors now) also has to exist in the same space. That ajjoshi knew what he was saying and got his just desserts for thinking it was ok to say it. 
  2. Now, why did the ajjoshi say shut up? Because the black lad was talking ‘loudly’ on the bus. Well, this is even more ridiculous. The buses are loud. It’s hard to hear someone addressing you, and especially when you don’t speak the language. Even more so, few people talk on the bus, except when they’re on their phones. Everyone minds their own business, staring blankly out the window or into the screen of their smartphone, myself included. People don’t enjoy the bus – look at the faces of people the next time you see a bus passing. There are no happy faces staring out like the pictures we all drew to accompany “The Wheels on the Bus” song when we were five. This is not only in Korea, it is everywhere. Why? Because people are usually going to or coming home from work. If you hear people talking on the bus they automatically stand out. If they are talking in a foreign language then this is even more so the case. I’m sure this is not the first time that something like this has happened in the world, and I’m fairly sure a lot worse has resulted. To suggest that Americans or foreigners are loud and obnoxious on public transport is probably fair – I mean who talks on the bus? It’s almost as ridiculous as having a quiet beer on your own in a bar while you read a good book. Unheard of.   
  3. Why did he fly off the handle? Well for starters he admitted he was wrong and wanted to apologise. Then he said he was offended when told to “shut up” and he felt that the ajjoshi was disparaging black people. I can understand why. Black people do not have it as easy as the sunshine press in Korea would like to claim. The racism in Korea is very crude and old-fashioned. I’ve heard black people being referred to as monkeys, gorillas, and being clearly talked down to. This is the kind of stuff my grandfather comes out with, and he has dementia. I remember I worked with a black woman from New York who had an awful experience in a hagwon I was working in. The parents, pure and simple, didn’t want a large, black woman – who was also a proud mother and happily married – teaching their children. No reason was given directly, but we were not idiots. In the end she left the job. I’m sure her experience is not unique. That being said I knew a few other black guys who got on fine with their employers, and were very popular. Maybe it’s an attitude thing, which is where my point is here. Maybe the black fella, which is what he is constantly referred to as, was pissed off because he got the same shit everyday from his boss who looked just like the ajjoshi Remember what Eddie Murphy said: . He clearly didn’t understand the ajjoshi, but then again should he have? While we’ve no idea how long he has been in Korea, it is likely that no one has ever tried to address him in Korean because there is an assumption that because he is a foreigner he can’t speak Korean, so why bother learning (don’t say there isn’t – there is). That aside, the guy insulted him in an English that was probably sounding broken up and sylabic, and then proceeded to use the word 니가, or nee-ga, to a black guy. What would you think if you were there? And even if you did speak some Korean, you would have to be quite proficient to understand it as it can’t have been easy to understand what he was saying. I imagine that the well meaning ajjoshi also said it in as aggressive tone as he said ‘shut up’. Not everyone is perfect and to respond like he did to an accusation like that is a little immature, and thick to be honest (whatever happened to being above that kind of idiocy), but he might also have been pushed too far. When people are pushed too far they have been known to go to extremes and to take ownership of the situation. This may have been a situation like that.

So what happens next? The black fella has offered to apologise and will probably get a slap on the wrist – although remember if you listen carefully you can hear the black fella say something about the ajjoshi slapping him on the face, which means the ajjoshi should also receive an official telling off. I think he knows he has done wrong. Perhaps there’ll be some form of penance.  

Assholes aside, I truly believe most people here who teach English are decent, relatively lazy but well meaning middle(ish) class, who have a minimum standard of higher education (which counts as little these days in the circus of life, but it’s a start I suppose). I’ve also found that most American people here are quite open minded and accepting of the foreignness of Korea. I don’t know if this guy is an asshole. I would assume that he does fulfil some of the above criteria, which is something.

There are a few problems that I now see growing. Thanks to the internet, which of course informed of this unfortunate event, this event will probably be blown totally out of proportion. The police should handle it, and it should be forgotten, but with the combined opinionative forces  of youtube, facebook, twitter, and fire-stokers like my wonderful self, it will probably snowball to a ridiculous proportion. That being said, the vast majority of people will probably forget in a week when the next public transport battery scandal arises.

As for the black fella? Maybe he won’t get his contract renewed, maybe he’ll move on. He shouldn’t get deported otherwise there’s no hope for any of us if it ever all goes south. In the end, I reckon he’ll listen a bit more carefully in future. As for the ajjoshi? He has probably learned to watch his mouth too

And the shambles continues shambling…


Still...

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21/1/2011More fun and frolics from the people that brought you the 3oth episode of

“Dáil Éireann”

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20/1/2011 – as an extension to this, here’s what the same paper I took this cartoon from had to say today

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In fairness, the fact that this man pictured is still leading the Irish state is further evidence that not only is he incompetent, but his whole party is a pile of chicken-shit morons who are afraid to face up to the reality of the mess that he has mass-orchestrated. Fair play to those who stood up against him and owning up to the mess participated in. It is not a question of what is best for ‘the party’ anymore, but what is best for the country, and the more I hear mentions of ‘the party’ and its priorities the more I spit on their graves before anyone has even been laid in them.

What I find worse is that no one is standing outside Dail Eirreann banging at the gates demanding an election (did we not read the news about Tunisia lately?), we still sit around waiting for our elected officials to do their jobs-they can’t do this because Fianna Fail can’t accept their own disastrous reign, and are enjoying dragging the rest of the country down with them.

Amused but not dead, yet.


Neil Postman is famous in certain circles for his bites at modern culture, and in particular the media. Possibly his most famous book is Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. I recently finished this book after it was recommended to me by a friend, but before this I was kept reminded of a certain need to read it:  

  

Orwell -v- Huxley as explained by Neil Postman

 

Postman, who died in 2003, published Amusing Ourselves to Death in 1985 the same year the Ronald Regan, a former actor becomes the president of the United States (remember Doc Brown in Back to the Future “Then tell me, “Future Boy”, who’s President in the United States in 1985? … Ronald Reagan? The actor? Then who’s VICE-President? Jerry Lewis? I suppose Jane Wyman is the First Lady!”), and celebrity power pulled together in its greatest show of force to raise funds for starving famine victims in Ethiopia in the famous event, LiveAid. Yes, these were the eighties and a time I remember mostly picking my nose and running around in fields for most of the summer, that is of course after I learned how to walk.

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After finishing everything I write I automatically have some inner voice demanding that I know how many people have read what I just wrote. I don’t think I can ever be happy after finishing something without getting instant recognition, which rarely happens, and I spend at least the next thirty minutes after posting or writing something hopping that someone will respond, which rarely happens. But I keep writing.

 

Writing is something that I can’t stop doing. I went off the boil for a while about six months ago, mostly because I had little else really to live for except finding a new job in Korea so that we could move back to Korea and quit making the baby steps towards our much discussed future together. Since some sense of normality or acceptability has returned to my life my writing has become considerably more fluid and prolific. With the exception of a few poems I have been written (which won’t be posted on the internet) and a few pieces that have appeared in magazines and newspapers and a couple of other things in the pipeline, most of what has been written has been posted here.

 

I started using WordPress on May 14 2010 (I had used Blogspot earlier), and since then I have made around twenty posts and written over 15,000 words, that’s almost as many words as I wrote for my MA dissertation; I’ll let you worry about which of the two was easier. It’s now the end of July, and I don’t think I’ve ever written as much. A sign for the future I hope. But still, there are days when I look at the stats page for this website literally counting the one and two extra clicks more today than yesterday and thinking, ‘Yes, I am being read, I am out there…”, but really does it matter if I don’t know what these readers think?’ Still nothing comes of it, and I have to ask myself is it really important what other people think?

 

I had a conversation with my friend Chris last weekend where we were talking about making or producing creative works, or art, or whatever it is you want to call it. Chris said to me that he didn’t care what criticism he got as it didn’t matter because he was still going to do what he was doing. As far as I could gather, much of this sentiment came from a relatively recent trip back to the UK where he met a friend and they started talking about his films. His friend couldn’t understand the meaning behind one particular film, Blocks, and said that it should have subtitles to explain the meaning to people. Chris found this suggestion to be somewhat of an insult and so he launched into his tirade about critics. Maybe he has thicker skin that I do, but I just couldn’t cope without knowing that someone had read and opined over my writing, even taking into consideration how much criticism can kill my spirit, sometimes it even sends me into a black hole where I don’t write for ages. But criticism has been the basis for everything I’ve ever done, and without it I don’t think I’d be the writer I am today.

 

A few years ago I started a writers group so that I could benefit from the experience of others and hopefully others could benefit from others, and if possible me. Before that, when I really started writing, it was only with the help of two really good friends, Jeremy Toombs and Keith Francese, that I ever started writing in the first place. It was these people who inspired me to pick up the pen and then later to keep the pen firmly in hand. Criticism has always been positive for me, always been a guiding light for what I do, always shown the way to where and how I should approach my next project (incidentally, I’ve never received any criticism on this here blog).

 

But perhaps this is where I’m reading Chris wrong. What we do artistically are two different things. Sure we will, hopefully, always get better and learn from our mistakes. Writing though is always error prone, art, and in this case ‘video art’, is developed step by step; if something can’t be perfected for whatever reason the lesson is learned and taken onto the next project. As a writer, especially with a computer, it’s easier to scrap these mistakes and start afresh or easier to just delete or change a word. Of course the problem here is, and I’ve been noticing this more and more these days, is that I lose my train of thought and forget what little changes I made throughout the poem or piece I’ve been writing. I still have copies of first drafts of some of my earliest poems. The majority, I’ll be honest, are pretty awful, pretty generic and also importantly, not really making a point (and some people will inform you that this is how I talk all the time anyway so what’s the difference?). But I still have them, and in between all the poems that I embarrassedly shake my head to, there are a few beauties, really fantastic initial works and with a bit of effort and consideration I could really drag something out worth keeping.

 

There’s a quote which I came across before and was reminded of it from another website while writing this post. It came from Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert cartoon series; “Creativity is allowing oneself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” If I take Chris’s argument and my argument and use this as a benchmark from which to approach both, I reckon, we’re both right, and then we’re both wrong, very wrong.

 

Creativity needs guidance; it needs help to come out, otherwise how are we to know whether or not we are really saying what we want to say? But also, it is only the creator who really knows whether something has been created, something is finished. The message we are trying to transmit remains our own prerogative and it can only be passed on in our own particular way, that’s why it is deemed creative, and not reiterative. How we respond to our peers, friends and spectators is a matter for each us individually. Apathy? sure. Obsession? Without a doubt. Progress? Only if you have the guts to take yourself above that level which you previously set and which others expect of you.

 

By the way, I’ll be back online in about five minutes to check how many people have had a read of this, it keeps my ego afloat.