Wednesday, October 07, 2009

In the past four days I have had a couple of experiences that reminded me why I am so fond of Korea, and one of the things that moving to Korea has meant to me personally.

Last weekend, as my fiancee and I sat in Yongsan Family Park (By the Korean National Museum, Ichon Station, lines 1 and 4) I was amused to watch a young Korean girl in the middle of the playground. She ignored her surroundings and concentrated on waggling her left arm in the air. She found this intensely interesting, and so did I although I don’t think I would have been interested in doing it myself! In fact, as I watched her work her way around the playground, I noted that she found everything extremely interesting.

This started me watching all the kids in the park, and I noticed they all had remarkable ability to find things new and interesting. The boy who watched a bug intently for 10 minutes, then sprang up to chase a dog, could go back to the very same bug with the very same intensity as he had the first time he observed it (ok, the first time he poked it with a stick, he was a young boy after all).

I forgot about this until yesterday, when two things happened. First, as I was running through my daily blog list, I came across a blog that quoted the movie, Knocked Up (which I have never seen) in which two characters watch children playing in a park.

What's so great about bubbles?
They float. You can pop them. I mean, I get it. I get it.
I wish I liked anything as much as my kids like bubbles.
That's sad.
It's totally sad. Their smiling faces just point out your inability to enjoy anything.

Second, as I walked home and enjoyed the coolish autumn air and the spectacular foliage in and around Namsan Park, I settled in behind an older man, probably in his 60s. He walked along, but it was clear he wasn’t going anywhere, at least not in a hurry. He kicked at pebbles, he “high-fived” low hanging leaves, every once in a while he stopped to examine some small thing on the ground. When the sidewalk leveled off, before ascending to the Hyatt Hotel, he pulled a very thin, dead branch out of the bushes, yanked off the smaller end so that the switch was approximately cane-lengthened, and then swept up the hill like D’artagnan, poking and prodding at things in the bushes, waving the switch in front of himself, and pushing things (very small things) around on the sidewalk. I thought to myself, “what a great day, and what a great model for enjoying it.”

These three happenings, and the excellent mood I was in, crystallized something I like about children, about Korean society, and about what moving to Korea has done for me. Almost all children and much of Korea, is able to find pleasure in the smallest things, and they are able to find that pleasure again and again. I’m not sure I’ve met a jaded Korean.

Coming to Korea has restored this semi-childlike wonder in me. I had spent the last few years in the US weaving together banded bits of thread into something that throttled my ability to have spontaneous fun; there was always some important thing to do, or some way I had to act, and, at least where I was, there was no culture of spontaneous fun. In Korea, I was able to turn much of this around.

Part of it, of course, is that all of Korea was new to me when I arrived. So it was easy to be enthralled by the differences. This is one reason that people travel, you are a passport and a ticket away from a quick and easy return to a state of wonder. But another part of it is the spontaneous (a word expats often don’t associate with Korea) public culture that breeds the opportunities to have fun and new experiences. I think back to my hike up Bukhansan and the family that shared food with us (and others) and the climber who insisted I toast my summitting with Makkeoli. This kind of experience may happen disproportionately to foreigners, because we are so obvious, but I see it everywhere I go. Finally, there is also what I interpret to be (although it might be something else entirely) the Korea solipsism (I mean that in the good sense of the word) that allows Koreans in public, to ignore others and do their own things.

All of this has combined, for me, into an opportunity to reconnect with the little kid inside of me. Who knew he had emigrated to Korea?


Anonymous said...

Nice! ....and Wonder Full......

yer sis

secret word: scrumpts

Anonymous said...

I remember that little kid whom you have found again. He was fascinated by the world around him.
Yes, our world beats that out of you!! I am trying for that same "return" now that I am Plus 75. The older you are, the harder it gets. But it is worth it.

John from Daejeon said...

I hope things work out for those kids once they make it to middle and high school. Yesterday, was a living hell as 80% of my best class didn't show. They had gone to a hospital to visit a deceased classmate who took a spontaneous leap from her 8th floor apartment window after just getting up and walking out of her first period class without so much as a word. It seems that earlier her father had really torn into her about studying more and focusing on science and math instead of what the language ability that she definitely possessed (Japanese and Chinese were what she loved). She was being forced out of those hagwons in favor of even more math and science ones including going all day on even Sundays.

I felt like a total ass later in the day when I only had two students show up, and they totally out of it. I jokingly asked what was the hold up with their classmates. Let's just say that the class was pretty much over at that point. They told me the story, but they really didn't open up about their own feelings about their own individual situations, so I am left worrying that one of my kids might do the same thing as the testing season really revs up. Now, I'll have to deal with the insensitive jerks who will undoubtedly make jokes about this next week.

Later, the evening get together with my co-workers was pretty somber as well. It seems that my three young, single co-workers are trying their best to escape to somewhere abroad in the hope of raising their future kids (one will not have children as she sees the situation as hopeless) in a less pressure-cooked society. It was really strange hearing them talk about it after we left the older, married co-workers after the meal. Two of them have been lived abroad before, so they've seen the wide open spaces and enjoyed a bit of freedom without the watchful eyes of disapproving relatives. I was so dumbstruck by their candor that I really didn't know how to respond when they asked me point blank questions about what I thought about the educational system here in South Korea. The only saving grace I had was that our hagwon is more of an after school daycare provider than one of those hard core “study-'til-you-drop” institutes. They truly hate the system, but there doesn't seem to be any better alternative jobs for them available at this time. The newest hire even seemed to be testing the waters with me, knowing that I will eventually go home to my foreign country and would like to tag along. Her being about 17 years my junior and drop dead gorgeous only made it that much more of a surreal evening as the meal was to celebrate my "re-contracting" with the school for another year.

My head is still reeling from all this a day later. Wow. I really don't know what to think now.

Anonymous said...

as is often the case, looking from the outside in presents a totally different picture to the person who is not the "slave" of the system. I watched a young African man who has had the chance to come to the US to learn, and from his village to here -- well, let's say he finds the US wonderful because of his opportunity. That is not a surprise. However, CM's epiphany is none the less valuable to him. So we just have to remember that our views of any situation are both relatively shallow and definitely skewed by our particular perspective.
Charley's SM

Anonymous said...

The colors of a pretty the sky
Are there on the faces.....of people ..going by
I see friends shaking hands.....sayin.. how do you do
They're really sayin....I

I hear babies cry...... I watch them grow
You know their gonna learn
A whole lot more than Ill never know
And I think to myself .....what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself .......what a wonderful world.


Anonymous said...

CCM writing posting pictures of puppies and writing about bubbles. That's just... Sparkling! ;-)