Friday, March 30, 2007

Work me, Lord

When Twyla left tonight (or this morning) we could hear the rain falling so hard, it sounded like a waterfall. She called me describing how amazing it looked with the rain drops bouncing off the ground as the city lights were reflecting on the water.

And then once again, i recalled acid rain... damn Seoul! I love Korea, but all this pollution is bad. And as for global warming...

Annabella is coming all the way from Madrid in 2 days!!!! How awesome is that?! She'll be staying for 10 days and ever since she's told me she's coming, I've started to realize how much I feel at home here. How much I know about Korean culture. It's amazing!

Tonight we had a girls' night, with my famous shrimp curry and Kyngah's delicious kimchi pancakes. And Sangria. It suddenly hit me that i'm leaving in 2 months. I'm going to miss those people so much.

After Annabella leaves, i'm going to Thailand and i'm really looking forward to this vacation! Then i'll be back in May and i'm leaving four weeks later. Insane.

I HAVE SPENT A YEAR IN SOUTH KOREA!!! France was nothing compared to this!

So here's my big dilemma now: i'm definitely coming back next year, but where should I work? My current school, or at a public school?

My boss came up to me and said they want to keep me so they're willing to let me keep my apartment for free, even though the price will rise. That means keeping that perfect place with flat screen TV, piano, pink couch, AC and all the brand new appliances.

But I don't get a raise because, well they're paying for the apartment. And they let me go home for a month and a half. So i would have to be back mid July. And for next year, I would only get a week vacation. As for the rest, it's the usual deal with the plane ticket paid by the school.

HOWEVER, IF I work at a public school, I could spend 3 months home this summer, come back for a year contract that pays more than my school, get PAID sick days and two weeks vacation.

My schedule would be regular, i.e. 9 until 4 instead of 2pm until 8pm at my school. That's cool.

But i'd lose my apartment and I would need to pay to get all my stuff stored. I don't know if my new apartment would be better or worse. I don't know if people at public school woud be awesome or assholes. At least at my school now I get along with the staff and they're not on my back.

At public school I'd have to spend more time at work, but no grading. Right now i'm going insane with grading. Also, what if i'm in a crappy neighborhood? The reason why I love Korea so much is because I feel comfortable here. And my apartment (i know it sounds incredibly shallow) has a lot to do with this.

So what should I do?

I want to spend 3 months home just chillin' with friends and family. Plus a friend of mine is supposed to come from France in August. But I guess he could visit in Korea, that's more exotic! I mean, a month and a half home would be alright, wouldn't it?

I'm confused. And tired. I have so much grading to do. Tomorrow gym and getting my hair done with Erika. Then going out but not too late cauz Annabella's plane lands at 7am Sunday!

Also thinking about buying a new laptop: should I get a mac (performant, no viruses, no bogs but heavy), or that Sony SZ48 (light, performant, lots of space, but runs with stupid Windows)?

Hey you know what? This post is probably the most ridiculous one on earth. Who cares??????????????????????? People are starving and here I am talking about all this. Maybe I should volunteer in developing countries to set my mind straight... none of this matters in the end.

Ever heard Janis Joplin's "Work me, Lord"? Pretty good.

Seriously, get yourselves some Janis, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Massive Attack, get in a jazzy mood with Holliday, Armstrong, Simone and Fitzgerald, sing your soul with Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, even John Lee Hooker!

And you're never wrong with some good old reggae a la Bobby Marley, Peter Tosh, Tiken Jah Fakoly or Jimmy Cliff. Oh! Do you know Louisa Mark's "keeping it like this", or Janet Kay's "Loving you", both delightful reggae love songs.

Or kick in some Eminem and try to sing along. How about Chingy's "right thur"? That's all we sing at work, along with 50 cents' "in that club"... just because, they're catchy tunes ^^

I also recommend watching Chris Rock's one man shows, they're all good. But it's not for puritains...

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

(acid) rain drops keep falling on my head

The school gave us masks to put on. Yes, those little white masks everyone in America saw Asians wearing at the outburst of SARS in 2003. Apparently those are intended to protect us from air pollution.

A lot of people usually wear them, but now... it's a must because it's:

YELLOW DUST season in Korea!!!

Indeed, China's dirty pollution and dust is blown by the wind and reaches Seoul (which is an hour and a half from the coast). This adds up to the usual pollution making Seoul one of the most polluted cities in the world.

A few days ago the sky was grey, yet the sun looked like a giant ball of fire through clouds of dirt.

About 85% of air polluants are emitted from cars, in a city where traffic jam is never ending.

Ironically enough, the subways system is probably one of the cheapest and most well developed in the world. Moreover, Koreans are very environmentally-friendly, with mandatory recycling and composting everywhere in town including apartment buildings. You get fined if you don't recycle or compost. How cool is that?!

While some people say it's usuless to wear a mask because the particles are so tiny that they get through the fabric, I'm putting mine on. Seriously. I'm sick and tired of speaking like a French whore who smokes 3 packs of cigarettes a day! It burns down my throat!

I don't want to lose my voice again... when I got here, my poor lungs were in shock! After having spent my life in green Quebec and then a year in the moutains of Southern France, all this acid shit was filling my lungs. Man was I sick!

Seoul is a very convenient city and I love it. But when I think of coming back, I keep in mind that people living in such a polluted city are at risk for lung infection, cancer and shortened life expectancy.

Fortunately, most Koreans do exercise a lot and they are generally moutain-lovers so that's gotta be a plus.

But how do you react when you see some of your students with weird red dots and weird heaps of skin all over their body? Whenever I ask about it, they answer "oh teacher, really bad!" but they can't explain.

I was told by my housewives and Korean friends that those are skin diseases caused by air pollution. It's a shame, really. Many Koreans are already obsessed with being skinny and beautiful...

A report published by the Blacksmith Institute says mental retardation can even be an outcome of air pollution!

Today it was raining a lot. I liked it, until someone reminded me about acid rain.

I'm trying to go to the gym every day now, hoping it will help me feel better. It actually does, but i'm still sick.

Tonight I joined spinning class, oh my! I've never been so hot!! In fact, the whole room was foggy (i'm not kidding! my hand left a mark on the glass window!) and we were working it to the beat of a wonderful dance remix of "can't keep my eyes off of you".... i love you baby! and if it's quite alright i need you baby...

So what's the deal? We can't reduce gas emission? Come on, years ago we were doing damn fine without them. Now the earth is sick and so are people.

No matter what, I'm wearing my mask!

Just like little Ryan... ^^

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Afghanistan: drugs, guns and money

"Afghanistan: Drugs, Guns and Money" is an astonishing documentary about the socio-political landscape in Afghanistan - where opium crop is one of the largest ever.

Afghanistan and its near neighbours still supply around 80 percent of the heroin sold in Western Europe.
Like a cancer, the heroin trade has spread its tentacles through almost every level of society. In Afghanistan there is mass local addiction, local HIV epidemics, an unending cycle of violence and crime, and the corruption of state institutions......

When I first got to Korea, the first thing I noticed in my crappy apartment was this sticker on the obsolete computer - it said:

It's a messed up world but I love it anyway.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Gold digger

A lot of you emailed about Hadaka Matsuri… I’m glad you enjoyed the little Japanese tushis ;)

So it’s official: I’m going to Phuket for 8 days at the end of April. I was originally supposed to go to Bali, or Fiji, but the flights don’t go very often and my parochial boss refused to give me Friday off.

Who cares? I’ve been to Thailand during my first year of college and it was blissful!

On a related note, my contract ends on May 30th so I’m coming home for two or three months. I’m really looking forward to it!

I hope I’ll get to see everyone I love! Have a blast at my sister’s with, among others, my brother. If he shows up. Go on a road trip with my best friend. Discover Gaspesie. Kayak and camp with Cedric and Paolo, coming all the way from France.

I’m also thinking about spending a month volunteering in Latin America… building houses or teaching English or something.

As for next year, chances are I’ll be back in South Korea. I love it here. And y’all welcome to visit!

Since I won’t be returning to the hagwon/academy I’m working at now, things will be very different but I like change. Plus I hate a lot of things about my hagwon.

Most of my “white” friends aren’t coming back so I’ll definitely miss our shopping, movie nights, dinners, nights out, etc. I’ll also miss my killer apartment just 5-minute walk from school and the organic food store right on the corner of my building – for the delicious food, but also the guys who give me free stuff ;)

I’ll especially miss my gym, and the “sex and the city”-like habit of Twyla and I chatting all the way through the work out, bitching about work and men ;)

Work is fantastic and I totally LOVE my students! Yesterday in ABC class Paul, a little boy, came up to me and he said “teacher!” I turned around, and he gave me a big wet kiss on the cheek. Then he went on to tell the other kids “my… kiss… teacher!!!” it was so adorable!

Teaching ABC is awesome because you see them progress a lot faster than, say, in higher levels. During break time, my students all write the alphabet on the board, or spell their names, or draw a heart and yell “teacher! I love you!” It’s priceless.

As for teaching TOEFL, it’s really challenging. And those middle school students are sooooooooo self-conscious… every class I have to remind them that they’re at school, not at a funeral!

Anyway, life is great and I am very thankful. Once in a while I’m reminded that I’ve got it real good and I wonder how I could help even things out.

There was this homeless woman near Kyobo, begging for money. What I gave her probably bought her a meal (or boose but I prefer the first option). As I was walking away, I felt awfully guilty. I had just spent 20 bucks on a lonely planet for a trip to Thailand. Is life unfair? Or do we only get what we deserve?

Take a look at those pics from the trip with Youri and Genevieve… I guess we all are, in our very unique way, gold diggers!

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

White Day!

So I thought i'd definitely be eating black noodles on April 14th but apparently I won't!!

Kids gave me candy, and I was chased down the street by one of the guys working at the organic food store next to my place. He had a big smile as he gave me three lollipops ;)

If you recall, February 14th is Red Day in Korea - when women give chocolate to the man they like.

Then March 14th is White Day - when men give chocolate to the women they like/love.

And finally there's Black Day on April 14th - when people who didn't get any chocolate in Feb and March go to the restaurant and order black noodles (noodles in black beans sauce). It's ironic, sometimes sad, sometimes funny. But it's a way to meet single people.

A cheap dating service if you will...

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

10 000 half-naked men in Japan !

Japan was… surprising ! Of course I didn’t get to see Tokyo, but I’m actually glad I was in Nagoya because i think our week-end was far more exciting than the girls’ in the capital city (yikes! didn't you read the title?!)

Seoul – Nagoya is a 2-hour flight and I noticed the flight attendant had a permanent smile on. Erika said that’s the difference between Nippons and Koreans; the Japanese are constantly happy.

We were greeted by Tim, Erika’s brother, and Yukari, his girlfriend. That girl is a party animal, always happy and soooo interested in everything! She speaks fairly good English and taught us "yata!" - which means "awesome"! Similar to Korean, which is "yassa!"

Meet Erika (right), Yukari, and me!

First shock: Tim and Yukari had beer cans in their hands. Indeed, you can drink alcohol anywhere you like; in the subway, the street, at the airport, ANYWHERE.

Next, the porn. Japan is a hotbed for the pornographic industry! So in the train, instead of cell phone ads you see boobs and numbers to dial if you’re horny.

We headed to a bar downtown – pretty usual scene, except that the Japanese bartenders are kinda cute. And the girls are REALLY outgoing!

That's Erika (left) and some random girls we met.

I bumped into a crowd of Quebecois working for Bombardier in Nagoya. Needless to say I spoke Frrrrrench and discussed the health benefits of la poutine!

I was surprised to notice the non-smoking signs ON THE SIDEWALKS! In some parts of Japan, you can smoke in bars, but not on the street. If you do, you get a fine. And you actually do (policemen here have nothing to do with the ones back home!)

As we left the bar to go get some sleep, we saw a group of Japanese men who looked totally gay to me. No offence; they were just so beautiful, mannered and wearing more make up that Britney Spears.

As it turns out, those were escorts – another big thing in Japan. Actually, the next day was my other cultural shock: a full size ad promoting “being an escort”. Where else on earth would you see that?!

We grabbed a cab and I was reminded that Japan uses the British style – that is, they drive on the other side of the road!!!

The cabs in Nagoya are all fancy, black cars. The drivers wear a uniform. And they should because the fare is incredibly EXPENSIVE!!! It starts at 8 dollars and it cost us 45 dollars for a 20 minute ride. Fortunately there were four of us.

Tim’s apartment is typically Japanese: the outdoor looks Occidental but inside there are sliding doors, the bathtub is the size of my butt but higher than my knees, and of course we sleep on the floor – which is covered with some kind of bamboo carpet.

Other than that, don’t ask retarded questions. Japan is one of the leading industrial countries in the world so of course they have refrigerators, microwaves, couch, tv, etc. One thing though – Tim has a kitchen table but, just like in Korea, most Japanese eat at a low table, sitting on the floor.

I was getting really sick, coughing like you wouldn’t believe, so I didn’t sleep well.

The next day we met Jun, this amazing Japanese guy who’s very short but so smart, pretty and kind of an oriental doctor. He’s dating a very annoying British girl whose legs are the size of my wrist. But she’s funny and we had a blast.

That’s when we saw a Japanese castle, on our way to Hadaka Matsuri – the festival of 10 000 half-naked men! There’s a great article explaining this here.

They wait for a little bold half-naked man to come out of the temple. This man is called “shin-ottoko” and he is believed to be the “chosen one”. All the men try to touch him (imagine the claustrophobia!) and if they’re successful, legend has it that they rid themselves of their sins and negative energy.

Every year, 1 or 2 men die in that huge crowd. The celebration takes place all over Japan, not just in Nagoya. The grandpa who escorted us told us he’s tried to touch the shin-ottoko for 50 years but he’s never been able to!

I don’t really know what to say. I was speechless. You NEVER expect to see that in your lifetime.

I forgot to mention that Jun’s friend lives near the temple so his family welcomed us for a meal! I was so sick I couldn’t eat, but I wish I had!

It was a traditional Japanese house – low, sliding doors, bonsai trees in the garden, the backyard connected to another house – where the grand-parents live.

We sat on the floor and the table was FILLED with all kinds of food – seafood, tofu soup, fish soup, vegetables, salad, weird looking traditional stuff. Behind us the stove was heating bottles of sake – thus the incredibly strong smell of alcohol as you walk in the house.

Everyone was joyous and talkative even though we didn’t speak a word except countless “arigato”.

All of a sudden we heard people burst into laughter, as the father walked into the living room, naked except for the loin cloth and sandals (white, look like ape feet!!). He stood proudly for pictures with us, and then ran to the festival. Priceless moment.

At night Tim took us to “Bar 3”, a casual place with couches and a guitar. I was sicker than ever.

The next day was St-Patrick’s! And yes, the Japanese do celebrate it. Why? Just because it’s another occasion to drink from morning til night.

That's Yukari (left), Erika, funny dude, and me.

We passed gigantic street markets where anything you’d ever dream to buy is available at very reasonable prices. Then we headed to the center of the celebration, near a Buddhist temple (don’t ask).
Tim, of course (right), me and Yukari.

A crowd of Caucasians, Blacks and Japanese wearing at least a green piece of clothes was gathered, laughing and drinking.

That was probably the most boring day of my life – I was really sick and everyone around me was drinking and talking shit. Seriously, boring conversations of people bragging about how drunk they’ve been in different situations. Given, I wasn’t in the mood, but our “leader” really really likes alcohol and he and his friends spent the day drinking.

At night the girls went shopping so that was my getaway – even though all I wanted was to sleep or go to the hospital. I was coughing non-stop, dizzy, headache, nausea… la totale!

At the shopping mall, I was once again shocked: the saleswomen were incredibly beautiful and totally sexy, but they looked like real prostitutes! Mini skirts that are no larger than a headband, wearing thick and colourful makeup, the hair must have taken them 2 hours to do… Beautiful, but too much.

I told Erika how I thought Japanese women are sexually liberated, but she made a good point; they are in a way, but they still are just sexual objects to Japanese men. And it’s true.

The shops only carried size 0 clothes, and the underwear stores sold the kind of bras you only find in sex shops back home – gorgeous pink and silver leopard ones, flashy red laced panties, etc. Anything to please your man!

I noticed that every single white guy I saw was with a Japanese girlfriend. It’s much more obvious than in Korea. No comment.

Good point for women though: there is a special boarding point on the subway for women during rush hour. This is because there are so many people; women tend to get crowded and sometimes men sexually harrass them.

The night came and we, of course, headed to a bar. I bore the torture for a while – everyone was drunk by then, smoking in my face as I was trying to spare my poor throat… I just felt like the whole day had been so pointless. Maybe back when I was in high school I enjoyed those, but now I was dead sick and really not in the mood.

The next day I woke up to three wasted guys in the living room, and the three Japanese girlfriends giggling in the bedroom. Everyone had slept with their clothes on.

We took the train to the airport and realized that Japan isn’t AS “foreigner-friendly” as Korea. Most of the signs are in Japanese, and many things are confusing – whereas in Korea everything is so smart and straightforward.

We were like two zombies at the airport. Fortunately our plane was pretty empty so we each got an entire row to ourselves.

Back in Seoul it was raining and I was glad. It was one of those days; when you’re sick and you nap in the afternoon, listening to the peaceful sound of raindrops on the window.

Japan is a great country and I can’t really say much about it because I spent so little time there. And I only saw Nagoya.

Nonetheless, when I think of Japan I will always have that memory of 10 000 half-naked men running around with bamboo sticks. That’s something.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Suicidal lifestyles

Enjoying your warm, meaningful, comfortable life? So am I.

But after watching Al Gore's (Oscar winning) documentary on global warming, my conscience hit a wall and guilt started tormenting me. And for cause.

Try to see how yours feel after an hour and a half of "Inconveninent Truth"...

It's one of those amareness-raising movies in the lines of "l'Erreur Boreale". Powerful. Makes you wanna grab a sign and become an activist right away. Wanna change your whole lifestyle and share the scary facts with the whole world.

The fact that we're ruining the perfect and beautiful natural elements on earth is indeed an inconvenient truth because if we chose to see it, we can't just remain inactive. But our minds are so dulled, we just close our eyes and chose not to see it.

See? I just did it. Hopefully we'll wake up on time but, and correct me if i'm wrong, we've obviously reached a point of no return.