Archive for October, 2008



I realized today that I haven’t spoken to another native speaker of English in 11 days, other than a skype session with Marc mid last week.  At this rate, I’m going to return to the US with halting, pidgin-esque speech patterns.

Strangely, this (the lack of contact) doesn’t really bother me.  I have never had much trouble being alone.  I entertain myself by talking to imaginary people (mostly real people who are merely absent, though the occasional fictional character makes an appearance) and daydreaming a lot.  I have traditionally found that I am far better at retreating into my own mind without going nuts than most people.  I spent most of my childhood in a very rich inner world, and I think that probably was a major contributor to that ability.

I probably won’t see any of the other foreigners until Thursday at the earliest, and mid next week at the latest, which would bring my total days without seeing another native speaker up to around 20 days.  There are 7 other foreigners on the island, and I don’t dislike them, I just don’t really have that much of a drive to socialize here.

Anyway.  Just some thoughts.



Goddamn it, one of my students hocked a lougie into my motorcycle helmet today, between classes, and I have no idea who it was.

Sometimes, they test me.  They really test me.


In the moment…

My Soviet reenacting unit dissolved last weekend at a private event (called a “tactical” in the hobby) that one of our members was hosting.  I heard about it second-hand, as I wasn’t there (being, you know, in Korea), but it was about what I expected would happen.  The unit had been having some problems with one of the members, who was, to put it lightly, “not a team player”.  Marc and I had discussed this with both the unit commander and other members on several occasions, but there was at no point any particularly good time to actually bring it up with the guy, and nobody else wanted to rock the boat.  Those of you who know me know that rocking the boat is a favourite pastime of mine, so I decided to attempt to get the ball rolling.  I won’t go into details, but some well-timed emails and discussions seemed to do the trick, clearly.  The unit almost immediately has re-formed without the offending member and with a slight change in name, from the Russian for “Second Company” to the Russian for “Third Company”.  As a hobby, reenacting has a strong tendency toward drama, as one will find in any hobby where you get together a bunch of very passionate, very obsessive people.  So, I was glad to see that this issue was resolved with a minimum of fuss.  I have seen other groups completely fall apart in similar situations, and I’m glad to see that ours is stronger than that.

Marc has a description of the event up over at his own blog, if you want to get a feel for what a small (20-25 person), private WWII event can be like.  Private events are probably my favourite in reenacting.  I will gladly state that escapism is one of my main reasons behind reenacting, and private events are meant to be as immersive as possible.  We eat period rations from cans with period labels, we sleep in foxholes or drafty barracks, we have sentries.  These efforts are what enable us to have what reenactors call a “magic moment”; a moment when we forget where we are, who we are, and most importantly, when we are.  Marc forgets about the work he needs to do on my thesis, I forget about my lack of a job, another member forgets about his frustrations of being in the Marines, another about his financial woes.

I’ve had a few of these moments, over the course of my years as a reenactor, and I consider myself lucky for it.  At an event last January, I had one.  They usually are the result of intense moments that require you to really think like the soldier you are portraying, and that moment was certainly intense.  I was hiding in a dry creek-bed as members of my unit shot at a group of advancing Germans.  The man nearest to me went down, and as the medic, I crawled over to him to see if he was dead or just injured.  

He was injured, but in the middle of bandaging him, I noticed a German, laying on the ground, taking aim at another member of my unit, no more than 15 feet away, more like 10.  I picked up my patient’s rifle and shot him.  As I did, it attracted the attention of the Germans who had been advancing, and one of them ran toward me, his rifle raised.  But, before he could fire, I had re-cocked the gun and shot him, and he fell forward.  The rest of his group didn’t notice me, and so I continued to bandage my patient.  After a moment, Marc yelled to me and I noticed that he had snuck up to the base of a bunker, but was being pinned down by the German behind it.  The soldier was standing up, and so I crawled a little closer, took aim, and just as he saw me and started to turn, I got him and he fell forward, allowing Marc to crawl into the bunker.  A moment later, our position was overrun by the Germans, and we were all shot.  The whole moment, which probably lasted no more than a minute, was incredible, and I found myself having almost to “snap out of it”.  It gave me a good perspective on what it must have been like, at times.  You just pick the gun up and shoot first, think later.  It was a creepy realization to come to, but an important one, I think, in understanding what a soldier must have gone through.

So, that’s just one story, to provide some insight into what it can be like to be a reenactor.  It’s one of those things that really, you just have to experience yourself to truly understand, but I hope that that little interlude gave you some idea of the better moments.


A Glimpse at my Week

My life has definitely calmed down now that I am only teaching at 3 schools instead of 7 and have been able to thus develop a routine.  I was told by many, many people that after the first 3-4 months, which seem interminably slow, that time really speeds up.  I was skeptical about this, due to the snail’s pace at which my life seemed to crawl for awhile there, but it is definitely proving to be true.  It feels like I go from Monday to Friday in about 3 days, which is good, because right now I’m just counting the days until I go back to the states for my month+ long winter vacation.  For those curious, here’s how I generally look at my work-week:

Monday:  My first two classes of the day are also my worst-behaved of the week.  So, if I can make it through those two without getting too angry, things are good.  Plus, at that school (which I will call GS), the teacher has decided that she doesn’t like my lessons, and so I’m basically a pronunciation monkey for her.  Makes my life easy, so I don’t complain.  Mondays I teach 4-5 classes, and I am usually done teaching by 2 or 3, and my remaining hours (until 5) are spent anxiously awaiting someone to upload the week’s new episode of True Blood, and then downloading it.  That evening, I go home and treat myself to one of my Belgian or German beers that I hoard when I find them.

Tuesday:  On Tuesday I am at my favourite school (which I will call US), and the students there love me and come to my desk to try and practice their English with me, which 90% of the time is cute, and not too annoying the other 10% of the time.  The students there are generally actually interested in learning English, and their pronunciation is the best on the island, in my opinion, so my job there is relatively easy.  Plus, the teachers there are generally happy, so the environment is nice.  The best part about Tuesdays, though, is that by 1:00 or so (and I only teach 2-3 classes), I get to head home, because that school is sane and releases me after I’m finished teaching, rather than making me sit uselessly at my desk until 5.  Tuesday evenings I spend either in front of my computer or out walking, or both.

Wednesday:  Wednesday I am back at GS, which is rarely pleasant as the teachers always seem very angry and stressed.  The students are my worst-behaved and their English is the worst, so my job there can be relatively stressful sometimes.  But, my afternoons I have no classes, so I spend that time working on my various websites, or on editing photos, etc.  Plus, after that day is done, I only have two days left in the week.  I theoretically have a workshop for the middle school teachers that day in the afternoon, but it only happens about half the time.  I teach 3-4 classes on Wednesday, plus the occasional workshop.  Wednesdays are cooking days, so my evening is usually a mix of cooking and cleaning.

Thursday:  Thursdays I am at GN, which is a decent school.  I love my co-teacher there, and like US, the teachers and students are generally in a pretty positive mood, so it’s a comfortable environment.  Some of my students there are good, some are bad, though the ones that are good are really good, so that’s nice.  I usually teach 3-4 classes on Thursday, and they’re almost aways all in a row, which can be hard, but I’m usually done by 2:30 at the latest, and then I go home.  I teach a workshop for elementary school teachers at 4pm at another school, and so I go home and surf un-censored internet for an hour or two before I have to head out again.  The teachers in that workshop are pretty low-level, which is a challenge, but all my previous experience has been with teaching adults, and the teachers are nice, so it’s usually fun.  Thursdays I almost invariably eat at the street-stand sandwich place in town, where they know me so well they start making my sandwich as I walk up to the counter.

Friday:  Friday is, well, Friday, so it’s almost always a good day.  Fridays I am back at US, and I usually only teach 2 classes, so I’m done by 11:30.  I usually stick around until lunch at 12:30, as a free meal is welcomed, and US has the best food of the three schools, but if I need to head out earlier to catch a bus or something, I can.  Because I am finished so early, and my days at US are so easy, Fridays almost don’t feel like a work day, which results in my weekends feeling almost like a three day weekend.

So, in short, Monday sucks, but then Tuesday goes by like a bullet train, Wednesdays suck but then Thursdays are okay and I spend them looking forward to Friday, then Friday is almost a non-workday.  So, really, it makes things go by rather quickly.  I have mostly been sticking around on the weekends, though I was going to head up to the province north of here to check out the foliage this weekend, until the weather called for rain and clouds there.  Maybe next weekend.  Sometime in November I need to make a trip up to Seoul to hit the expat store and an expat bar or two (I now have a ring I wear to fiddle with in class, and if I go to a bar by myself, I just switch which finger it’s on and the men mostly leave me alone – haha), but in general, I’m trying to stick around town more, since with the economy the way it is, I need to save my money.  I am still going to do the Trans-Siberian on the way home, but I may cut my time in Europe a little shorter than I originally planned, unless the economy rebounds.

Anyway, this entry is long enough, so I’ll stop now, especially since I’m cross-posting it to Waygook Next Door.


Some thoughts…

I do a lot of web surfing in my copious amounts of free time at work, and with web surfing inevitably comes daydreaming.

I was meandering around wikipedia and various expat blogs today and I started thinking; if Marc and I were not together, or if he were somehow able to fit into my pocket, what would I do?  Where would I go?

Before I came to Korea, I told a few people that if Marc and I were to break up before I got back to the US, that as a coping mechanism (because really, it would hit me pretty hard) I would look around for a tall ship to sign onto for a few months or so.  I haven’t sailed in years, but it’s a good way to get away from the world.  Your life is pretty much work/sleep/work/sleep/work/shoreleave/drink/sleep, and while it does get tedious, it is also refreshing in its simplicity.  Plus, on a ship, you’re pretty much cut off from the world except for your crewmates, and if you’re not socially inclined, they tend to leave you alone, I have found.

I think that path is still something I would consider, though these days I think I would be more likely to go and try to find work in other countries that I have more of an interest in.  Russia would be interesting, especially places other than Moscow or St. Petersburg, such as Krasnoyarsk or Perm, on the edges of Siberia.  Mongolia would also be neat, as would Slovakia, Croatia, or even Turkey.  I would love to work in Germany, or Switzerland, or France – countries where I know people and speak the language to varying degrees – but it is almost impossible to get jobs in them.

I get irritated with the culture here in Korea, but that is not because it is foreign – on the contrary, I love integrating myself into new cultures – it is because the culture and I do not personally mesh.  I’m sure it’s different up in Seoul (though, from reading the forum posts, only somewhat different), but down here in Jindo, I find that people are generally rude, inconsiderate, dirty, selfish, and closed.  Not everything, but if I had to characterize, that’s what I would say.  But, the cultures I have listed above are all ones I feel I would be at least moderately compatible with, for different reasons, and they are places I think it would be interesting to live for a temporary period of time.

Hopefully I will get to visit all of those places for more than a cursory glance, but I hope it will be with Marc, not without him.


Listen and See

I like to go for walks in the evenings here, after work.  At that time of day, the light is usually beginning to gain that slightly golden tinge that signals the beginning of the winding-down of the day.  Jindo Eup, the town, is in a valley and the sun sets behind one of the mountain ridges a few miles from town, and so the sky stays light for quite awhile after the sun is no longer visible.  Most of the farmers are finished with their work for the day, so I can wander around un-harassed among the little dirt roads that crisscross the fields like a fishing net, with my camera on my back and my ipod piping music into my ears.

I am rarely without my ipod when I am out shooting.  I consider it as much a part of my requisite gear as my extra memory cards, or my lens-cleaner.  It is not that I find it difficult to shoot without also listening to music, but instead I find that music helps me to “see” the moments I shoot, before they happen.  It’s not that I can necessarily tell what is going to happen – it’s that I see the photo I want to take, in my mind’s eye, and then it is merely a matter of finding the right position and waiting for the scene to occur.  Sometimes it never does.  Regardless, people who know me well can sometimes figure out what kind of music I was listening to at the time simply by looking at my photographs.  Similarly, if I don’t have music, my work is often somewhat uninspired, and I generally even have to remind myself to shoot.  To me, my eyes and ears are not just organs for sensing different aspects of the world around me, the two are in fact very inter-connected.

I estimate that I spend, on average, 8-12 hours a day listening to music.  Music has always played a rather large part in my life.  I have spent most of my life surrounded by it.  When I was young, I had a toy which, if you were to rock back and forth on it while sitting on it, it would spin you around.  I would sit on that toy, with an old Sony Walkman in my lap and headphones on my head for hours on end, listening to The Yellow Submarine or Joshua Tree over and over and over again, in an almost trance-like state.  There exist countless photos of me on the damn thing, my blonde hair flailing out in every which way.  In middle school, I got a portable CD player.  I listened to it endlessly in the car, as I had previously with my Walkman.  Not only that, but I began taking it to bed.  I would lay awake at night, listening to soundtrack CDs (my favourites were Last of the Mohicans and Benny and Joon, both of which still top that list to this very day) over and over again, imagining whole stories to go along with the music.  Near the end of middle school, I actually began to sneak out of the house at night to go sit up in my tree house in the middle of the night to listen to music and watch the stars.  I was a weird kid.  Most parents would have been concerned about a 14 year old sneaking out at night to go be with boys; mine were concerned about me falling off the ridge of our roof while climbing around pretending to be a spy at 4am (at least, they would have been, had they known).

I become more observant when I’m listening to music.  My eyes tend to slightly un-focus, and so while nothing is in sharp focus, I get a better general picture of the world, and I notice small things, especially motion, far faster.  My reaction time also goes up incredibly, as does my ability to focus without exhausting myself.  Without music, I get tired after an hour and a half of driving.  With music, I have been known to drive for 18 hours at a stretch (with gas stops, of course).  Without music, the world seems dimmer, duller, less real.  The best way I can describe it is that when I have headphones on, the world feels like I’m in a movie.  When I don’t have music on…it feels like the monochrome world of 1950s sitcoms, only minus the funny neighbors with witty one-liners and the happy-go-lucky postman.  I honestly cannot imagine going through my life without music.  The world I experience when I don’t have music on is interminably dull.  I don’t know how others deal with it, frankly.  Sometimes I feel like the protagonist in Pleasantville; I experience the world in colors, and when you take away my music, I am stuck the real world – in grayscale.  But to me, the grayscale is unnatural, rather than the colors.  Frankly, it’s a miracle I have never gotten into drugs, all things considered.  Maybe music is my drug – it certainly alters my perception of the world.

I recently got a pair of wireless headphones.  Now, I never have to be without my music, as I cook, as I clean, hell, even as I sit on the toilet with my book.  Sometimes I listen to short stories on audiobook as I cook – last night I listened to Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro while cooking zucchini for my spaghetti.  I have taken to wearing them even to bed.  They are cushioned, so they don’t hurt my ears when I lay on them, and this way, I can give the direction of my dreams a musical “nudge” as I drift off to sleep.  The playlist on the computer only lasts about 10 minutes, and it rarely takes me more than half that to fall asleep.  In the morning, I pick them up off the floor where they invariably fall during the night’s tossings and turnings, and stick them back on my head as I prepare for my day.  And so it begins again.

Over the years I have figured out that I can change my behavior in subtle but significant ways through music.  By listening to particular music before I have to complete a given task, I can shift my actions, even my deportment, to be more appropriate to the undertaking.  This has backfired a few times in recent years – after listening to aggressive, confident music, I have occasionally come off a bit too far on the side of self-assured and have been dismissed as cocky.  In general though, it has been a great help to me, and has aided me in getting through some difficult situations.  Usually it comes through in my personality, though sometimes it even has physical influence – in middle school I used to listen to fast music before running in a race.  When I was able to, I almost invariably came in first or second.  When I was unable to, I was somewhere near the back.  The power of mind over matter is truly amazing sometimes.

So, you see, I would have to argue that music has been and still is, quite possibly, the most influential force in my life.  My parents and various friends certainly have all played a major hand, but on the olympic platform of my life, music stands at the top, a gold medal around its neck.




Portrait of the Author

I realized that 1. I have not posted photos to this blog yet (though, considering the number that get posted to my other blogs, and the fact that I have two photoblogs, I think this one should be left mostly for writing) and 2. that most of you have no idea what I look like.  So, I figured that I should post a recent shot of myself.  This isn’t *recent*, but it was taken back in February, so it’s recent enough to serve, and I have always liked the shot:

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