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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dr. Fish

Here is where you learn a little more about me.  I hate my feet.  I hate when the skin gets dry and cracked.  I hate toenails.  So, as any self respecting man who hates his feet does, I occasionally get a pedicure.  No polish.

Well, this past Sunday a couple of my new Busan EPIK friends and I decided that we wanted to get our feet taken care of.  What better way than to visit Dr. Fish.

Some of you will like this and others will be completely over come with the urge to vomit into your mouth.  Dr. Fish is a coffee shop where you can order a cappiccino, eats some waffles, read a magazine, and stick your dogs into a tank with these little fish that eat necrotic flesh.  That's right, I said it.  They eat your feet.  Actually, the fish don't have teeth.  So they nibble away at the dry dead skin with their sucker shaped mouths.  When they are done, you are left with a fresh new layer of healthy skin.  Theoretically.

As you can see on your right, my feet are surrounded by this little fish.  Was I scared?  Not really.  Freaked out maybe.  The sensation feels a little like a low level electrical current moving over your skin.  The freaking out happens when you actually think about what they are doing.  Oh, and if you just look down.


Initially, my first response was to pull my feet out because it kind of tickles, um, tickles a lot.  But I am in Korea now and plan to have as many new experiences as I can handle.  Note to readers:  next week I am going to get a Fire Massage.

So anyway, Hannah, Sarah, Jen, Michael and I all stuck out the hour and got our feel cleaned.  Jen took a video but I don't know how to post a video to my blog yet.  You can find it on my facebook page under links.  Actually, let me see if this works.  Dr. Fish video

Culture Shock, White Privilege, Coping

If you have done any reading about life in South Korea for expats, then you have seen numerous bits and pieces about Culture Shock. For some people, the Korean culture is so foreign that they decide to pack it up and skip town. For others, the culture is just mildly irritating. Personally I don't really mind it too much and I have started to get an idea of the reasons.
Most expats who are teaching English in South Korea are of some sort of Caucasian decent. Whether they are from the US, Canada, South Africa, or the UK, they come from a life of being part of the majority culture. I don't give a lot of thought to race relations and interactions normally, but at a recent Pecha Kucha event in Charlotte, NC, a friend of mine gave a talk about the costs and obligations of what she calls White Privilege.
Most White people never have to give a moment's thought to white privilege because being in the majority means that you have the luxury of being accustomed to certain things. For example: not being stared at, not being ignored, not being given less rights, not being treated with disrespect, not being marginalized, etc. And since this lack of specific awkward behaviors cannot be accurately measured while you are in the majority, it is only when one moves to a very homogeneous country of Others when the transcendent layer of white privilege evaporates.
The resulting state of being in the minority can present itself as a form of culture shock. Don't get me wrong - the Korean culture is very different from what I knew back in the states. But it does not make it better or worse. It is just different. I mentioned before that I am having a great time here. Part of that is because I never had any illusions of privilege back home. Sure, I went to a good university and have worked for prestigious companies, but I have always been Black. And the coping skills I have learned as a Black man in the States is exactly the skill set one needs to survive in South Korea as an American.
Speaking of surviving, I want to give this piece of advice to my wonder expat friends who happen to be White. Get over it. You are not being lynched, burned, beaten, raped, or called derogatory names (well the last one might not be true, but since we don't generally speak Korean, how would we know what you are being called?) Things have a way of working out. Just realize that you are different and often times people equate different with bad. Once you understand that perspective, allow life to develop around you. Be true to who you are and let that speak for you. Given enough time you will find a comfort zone. Or at least a way to survive.
So, I have rambled on a bit. Note to readers: I am not a big fan of editing blog posts, so if you subscribe to my blog, you are mostly going to get stream of consciousness pieces. Occasionally I might have something really important to say and I will outline my thoughts, write cohesively, and pay attention to grammar and spelling. That is not today.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Real progressive trash policy

South Korea has a pretty progressive trash collection policy.  I can get my trash picked up on most days of the week.  But it is not quite that simple.  You have to methodically separate your trash.  See the schedule below:

Sunday:         Food waste and regular trash
Monday:       Recycling - paper, plastic, and vinyl
Tuesday:       Food waste and regular trash

Wednesday:  Recycling - can, glass
Thursday:      Food waste and regular trash

Friday:          No trash pick up
Saturday:      No trash pick up

If that was not interesting enough, check this.  Food waste is put into a special container that allows the liquid to drain out and leave only the solids. Some people even separate stuff that is edible and leave it out for the stray dogs and cats.   When you take down your food waste, you put a special sticker on your container that you can buy from the local market.  My market is about 40 meters from my apartment.  So I go there daily to get the supplies I need. 

Recycling can be put into any bag and left on the curb on the appropriate day.  In order to dispose of your regular trash, you have to buy special bags at the local market.  They are not expensive, but they are 3 or 4 times the cost of trash bags in the States.  Instead of paying property or sales taxes to cover garbage collection, you pay for it when you buy these special bags.  The bags are marked for you specific neighborhood.  And since you are paying for the waste you produce, it is a very fair system.  Also, there is no cost for the recycling. 

The end result is you recycle everything that you can in order to minimize the volume used in your pay bags and food waste bin.  How cool is that?

King Kong

Today was a good day in class.  I taught about 50% of the class and my Korean co teacher handled the rest.  I only had third graders today and the topic was How Many Cows.  We taught them how to count and distinguish animals.  I know you are already bored and want to know why this post is called King Kong.

I only teach classes in the morning.  Twice a week I have an afterschool session for students who need more intensive learning.  There were only 5 students in the session today.  At one point our computer broke down.  I was chatting with the students and getting to know them.  One of them said I look strong and grabbed my bicep.  Before I knew it, I had decided to play King Kong and had one kid dangling from each arm.  How I must appear like a giant to them. 

I am already twice as big as the adult men in terms of mass.  But surprisingly, there are a ton of tall Korean men in Busan.  Some are taller than me.  I expected them all to be short and 130 pounds.  Don't get me wrong; there is a lot of that too.

Ok, no pictures of the kids dangling.  I was using both hands.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Orientation


As I sit at the desk in my new flat, I am realizing that writing a blog post about events that happened 3 or 4 days ago is kind of hard.  That is to say that I have had so many experience in Korea already that it is hard to focus on one event or set of events and type in a way that is succint.  So, I am just going to provide a short note and some pictures for this post.


On Sunday, me and the rest of the EPIK Additional Orientation folks had a packed day.  We started the morning with a group field trip to the Kyungbokgung Palace and took a tour of the grounds.  To say that this Palace compound was impressive would be such an understatement.



I really enjoyed the feeling I got while looking at the temple built in the middle of the pond.  It was very peaceful.

Kimchi grilled with garlic and onions and Samgupsol (I probably spelled it incorrectly) was on the menu for lunch in Insadong.  This is a very cool shopping and eating district in Seoul.  We wandered into a little BBQ place on a side street.  As we walked through the door we found ourselves strolling down an alley of sorts that had a winding stone courtyard lined with bamboo trees.  The alley opened up to an interior courtyard where the rooms for eating where.  We took off our shoes and sat down for quite a feast.  No pictures.  Sorry.

Watching my life
changing before my eyes
like a summer morning's fog
faded by the rising sun
Land of Calm
has me bursting with joy

Arriving in Seoul for Orientation

This was originally a facebook note. 


I landed in Korea on Thursday night after leaving the US on Wednesday morning. It seemed kind of weird because I never had a Wednesday night. The plane flew west and followed the daylight. I spent my first night in a nice hotel in Incheon. The cost was 90,000 won which is around $70. Really enjoyed the whirlpool tub!
Yesterday I was driven from Incheon to Seoul by a Call Van. The ride took about an hour. It is not that Seoul is far away from Incheon. It is just that Seoul is so big. Imagine NY city times about 2.5 - that is Seoul.
Speaking of NY, Seoul is a lot like NYC except 99% of the people are Korean. And there is a lot of neon.
There first day was just registration and free time. So I spent a good part of the day smoking cigs and meeting other teachers. Went to a traditional Korean restaurant for dinner and had an awesome kimchi soup with beef and tofu. Followed by some octopus paejun. What a treat!
A group of about 14 of us took the subway to Itaewon neighborhood and went to a TexMex place and had margaritas, 1500 ounce pitchers of beer - yes, I said 1500 ounce, soju, and Patron. At the end of two hours of drinking and dancing and laughing the bill was 7000 won a piece. Hmm, I think that is just under $6 or so. I still need to work on my conversions. In the meantime, I am following the Point and Pay method of acquiring stuff.
Note to self, learn Korean.
Orientation is being held at the National Institue for International Development. We had a 1am curfew last night which seemed to come too quickly. Before long, someone figured out the door to the roof was unlocked so we took the party there till around 3 am. Don't get me wrong, I am in Korea to work and learn and experience cultural exchange. But in the meantime, what's wrong with some serious fun?

Yesterday I forgot my camera. So there are no new pictures. I will take it with me today and add more photos soon.
Keeping it real since 1975, Marcus W.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Can I get a witness?

Over the course of my life I have often felt slightly removed.
Slightly removed from people.
Slightly removed from places.
Slightly removed from things.
Slightly removed from the hear and now.

It has been a life long struggle to remain present and find connection. This may come as a surprise in that I have many wonderful friends and family who mean the world to me. But none-the-less, I am often a specator in my own life. That is until recently.

For what may be the first time in MY ADULT LIFE, I have felt connected to something larger and more meaningful than my next sensory experience. And I own it all to the various volunteers who came together to make Barack Obama our president. Of course his words and demenor are the unifying force, but it is the people. The People. The people who have made me feel alive.

My friend Shannon took a series of photos that have captured the essence of what I have been feeling yet not able to put into words.

A collective moment.

And while I still struggle to put into words what the last one and a half years have meant to me, I know that I am no longer a spectator.
I am a participant.

So I ask: Can I get a witness? I can no longer watch from the sidelines. The game is in play and I am on the field.