Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Failure in Winning a New Friend but Influencing an Old Man With Psychic Warfare

The book for last week was The Men Who Stare at Goats. This was quite a departure from my previous post about winning friends and influencing people. This was a journalistic account of what could be described as Omfg I can't believe that the U.S. government paid for this and has a hard time passing a health care bill.

The Men Who Stare at Goats, is the story of the First Earth Battalion, that was an army unit that sought to develop psychic skills to help make U.S. soldiers a kind of Jedi force. I believe that in Korea I have developed a kind of Jedi asshole power for ignoring people. It comes as second nature to me now after honing my skills by not acknowledging any stranger that says "hi, where are you from?"

I have seen how hurtful this power can be and I am trying to get over using it so casually. That is part of the reason why I read How to Win Friends and Influence People. My over use of the power hasn't made me any money, nor has it made me any friends or won me any sympathy, but more on that later.

Today I was in Jinju's E-mart. E-mart is a place that plants the seed of anger in my stomach. I usually can't stand to stay in E-mart for much more than a half hour, or else I want to start hurting people . I find E-mart to be such a problematic place because on busy days it is usually full of people who bring their children and don't pay attention to them.

And on the subject of not paying attention to other people in public I find E-mart to be the type of place that can be grating on the average non-Korean, because Koreans can seem like they don't see you if you are not someone that they know. When in E-mart or in a busy place, I still get culture shock by the way people get in the way, cut in front, or walk straight at while looking in your direction and not altering their course at all, and seemingly not even seeing a person or object in front of them.

An example of this happened to me last week in home plus. I was walking by one of those food sample kiosks. A lady and her kids were pushing a cart my direction so I got out of the way. I thought that my getting out of her way was obvious, but she decided to stop and block me in with her cart and eat one of the samples. What had happened was that she did not see me and ended up trapping me in a small cart prison for a few seconds.

These small occurrences make me want to scream when I am in a place like Home plus or E-mart, but I have to say that E-mart is the worst. I rarely go there because I hate it so much for this type of behaviour.

But today I left E-mart regretting that I had used my Jedi asshole powers on an old guy who seemed like he wanted to strike up a conversation.

I was standing in line being vigilant not to get cut in line by an old lady when an old guy approached an looked in my shopping basket. He wasn't talking very loudly but was obviously trying to engage me in a conversation. In this instance I should have been civil and talked to him, but instead I rolled my eyes and looked a different direction.

I think the First Earth Battalion would have called that projection of heightened annoyance, because the guy apologized and left, but I realized that I had hurt him and I felt bad about that. I think this type of attitude has it's place, but not always. Religious missionaries can be dealt with in this manor, kids can be dealt with in this manor. (It depends on the kids though, I don't recommend doing this often. Korean parents seem to want their kids to not be afraid of talking with people from other countries, but it seems that many don't instruct their kids in the dangers of talking to strangers. I used to ignore kids because I believed that they shouldn't talk to strangers or try to bother people on the street, but I realized after a while that I was doing it just to be mean, so I am trying to quit.)

At any rate, I think the non-Korean person in Korea can expect to be ignored in the sense that people won't see or care about them in the way that Korean people do to other Korean people. In the way that kids don't look both ways before crossing the street, or in the way that people cut in front of others without saying excuse me, (Usually I here excuse me in a piercing tone of voice that is to inform me that I'm doing something wrong, or that my back pack is unzipped, or it is a prelude to a conversation that is punctuated with the phrase "Is my speak correct," punctuated so many times with "Is my speak correct," that communication isn't achieved at all.) so when a Korean person does acknowledge a non-Korean, it may feel like they are trying to get a free English lesson, but then again, they might just be lonely old people looking for a sympathetic ear.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Book Review

About this time last week I was having an existential crisis. I think it started sometime last Tuesday, when I encountered a few students of mine at a Family mart. One male student was purchasing something and I was next in line. I wanted to get my bus card charged. Usually when it comes to lines I like to give the person in front of me a lot of space. That space was filled by a third year female student of mine.

I uttered a "hey." The girl's friend was with her who reminded the girl of her manners, to which the girl simpered something in Korean about being a student. The other girl read the hurt and rage in my face and told her friend to get behind me, which she did, after doing some whimpering and eye rolling. All the way home my thoughts turned slightly racist, remembering all of the times that I had been cut in line in Korea by older people who pretended that they didn't see me. I also thought about how Koreans don't really have any manners that would be acceptable anywhere in America. I like to think of the door to the teachers office, how other teachers at the school open and close the door without looking to see if anyone is behind them, and how they take no offense to getting the door slammed in their faces. Sometimes I also find it uncanny how a coworker can see me following them and still manage to slam the door in my face seemingly without any intent of malice.

That week I was battling jet lag, and bad feelings towards having to teach four days of classes to students who were between vacations and middle-school third graders about to graduate to high-school. On one of my bus rides to school I encountered an acquaintance who also teaches at a middle-school in Jinju and has had remarkable success in his career. Naturally It got me to thinking about how ineffective a teacher I can be and that maybe if had done my job better, I could have been greeted with a little more respect when I was in line in the convenience store. I was also reminded of an old boss that I had back in college.

I may have mentioned this before in an earlier post, but I was the assistant manager of the Michigan News Agency for a time. The Michigan News Agency is the finest news stand in all of the mid-west. The store carries over five thousand titles of magazine, and over fifteen thousand different titles of paperback books. The woman who owns the place took over store from her father many years ago and to this day is a pillar of the Kalamazoo community working seventy to eighty-hour work weeks, making sure that Kalamazoo is a well read city.

In my mind I compared and contrasted my current whines, complaints, and exasperations that go along with teaching or co-teaching English in Korea, with the model that my old boss put before me when I was still in college. This made me want to change somehow. This made me want to find that something inside of myself that will keep me from fading into the background.

I was also inspired by New York. How the performers on Broadway put themselves into a character and let both themselves and the character shine on stage. On the David Letterman show, the stage hand, Biff Henderson made an appearance wearing a silly Minnesota Vikings costume.

Later after the show I saw Biff Henderson on the street leaving the Ed Sullivan theater. I was somewhat starstruck. I looked at him saying to my wife, "Hey that's Biff Henderson." He looked back at me unimpressed, crossed the street and got on the subway. I was reminded instantly that Biff Henderson is just an ordinary guy who gets to be on T.V. every once and a while.

The fact is though, that many English teachers in Korea complain about the fact that they want to be taken seriously. They don't want to be clowns in front of an audience. Many times I feel the same way, but the people who perform on Broadway have to perform in order to entertain, the same way that an English teacher in Korea in many cases has to perform in order to teach. Some people might say that Biff Henderson has to swallow his dignity to dress up in a costume for a small skit performed on a comedy show, but the comedy skit makes people happy.

My existential crisis somewhat stripped me down and fed me some humble pie. I spent a lot of time envying people like my old boss, and like the other Middle School English teacher that I met on the bus who is a kind of superman in the eyes of his students and the Jinju city board of education. I envy these people because of the loyalty and respect that they command from the people that they work with. I envy the people on Broadway who aren't shy about showing their talents.

And that is when I remembered a documentary on Warren Buffet that I watched on the airplane from New York. Warren Buffet spoke very highly of Dale Carnegie and the book, "How to Win Friends, and Influence People." This is a book that I remember seeing in my mom's library, and something that my sister an I probably made fun of her for having. But last Sunday, I figured that if it was good enough for Warren Buffet it is most defiantly good enough for me, because I have no where near the thirty plus something billion dollars that Buffet has. Buffet made a point of saying that he doesn't even have is college degree on his wall, but he does have his diploma from the Carnegie course.

What I found inside that book wasn't some cheesy advice about being nice to people, but rather a blue print for conducting business for getting the best out of people. Let me repeat that, it is a book about getting the best out of other people. I have long held that any book about cross cultural communication in Korea should be thrown out, and I stick to that belief. After reading that book I feel that my past three years of teaching has been a waste of time because I failed to get the students to want to learn. I failed to make them feel important. I failed to make my coworkers feel important. I feared being myself and teaching with sincerity. Shyness has killed a lot of passion towards work that I had when I was younger.

Let me remind readers that I came to Korea with an eye on teaching English to support my Taekwondo training. I declared many times that I am a Taekwondo master, but I rejected suggestions that I teach Taekwondo classes at the school. I rejected these suggestions because I witnessed the sneer of teenager in the early days of my tenure, and I wished to protect my pride from any foolishness that I could foresee. My shyness caused me to put a bushel basket over my light and caused me to take myself too seriously, and the students pick up on that and sometimes they reject me because I too often lack sincerity, and this leads to mutual frustration.

These insights into my own psyche were caused by this book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People." I find it to be an excellent study on leadership, and I see its advice practiced by people I admire professionally like my old boss, or the fellow Middle School teacher on the bus. This book is an excellent study on leadership that should be read by anyone in any kind of business. I feel that it will help tremendously in my attitude as a teacher since it has rephrased my teaching goal from "teaching English," to getting the best out of my students by making them feel important in a sincere way.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

New Name for Korean New Year

I enjoyed celebrating Korean New Year A.K.A. Seollal yesterday. I had an excellent time with the in laws, but I think that it should renamed to better capture the spirit of the holiday.

1. Soup-a-palooza: I think I ate five bowls of soup yesterday. When my wife and I arrived at her parents house we had a bowl of rice cake soup. Later about fifteen of her closest relatives arrived and did the Jesa ceremony. After that we all ate a monster sized meal. I had two bowls of a soup called "Tang Gook." Then around two, the mother in law came around and asked us if we wanted to have lunch. I asked my wife what the huge feast was that we ate around ten o'clock. She said that was breakfast, then I asked her what the bowl of soup we had in the morning was. She said that was a snack. Bowl of soup count by three o'clock: 5

2. Sit on the floor and eat day.

3. Would you like some more? Day.

4. Seriously I can't breath I'm full, Day.

5. Please, please, stop bringing me food.

Luckily everything tasted great and I am very grateful to my wife's family for taking me in and including me in their holiday. I was happy to wear my hanbok for the second time, it isn't everyday that you get to wear a big silk outfit, it's twice a year and maybe on other special occasions. To all the readers of this blog, have a lucky and prosperous new year.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

No Comment

No comment, has just made my list of English cliches that Koreans over use. The American Eagle clothing store in Time's Square has a neon billboard where tourists can have their pictures taken with a caption. A group of girls from Seoul put their pictures up there with the caption, "No comment."

No comment, is one of those cliches that pops up every once in a while in the ESL classroom. It is meant as a joke, but I think that Korea should adopt it as it's tourism slogan. At it's literal definition it means that the person saying "No Comment," has nothing to say, but there is an implied scandal behind it.

It is kind of fun to imagine the adventures that these three Soo-jins from Seoul had while in New York city. Maybe they went apeshit and hooked up with some Brazilian guys in a youth hostel and had some lesbian and bestiality experiences. Thus the no comment implies scandal. Perhaps they arrived in New York, and went straight for the 33rd street Korea town and the no comment really means that they have nothing to say because they didn't do anything.

Either way the Korean national branding and tourism board could learn something from the dichotomous nature of "No comment," because when people take their first bus rides to Seoul and they see only the Soviet bloc style apartment buildings and learn that Korean people spend a higher percentage of their lives in school than what is probably healthy, its kind of refreshing to know that Korea also has late nights of song singing debauchery, and that no comment can equally sum up the experiences of sleeping through an English class, as well as passing out in a half eaten bowl of beansprout soup after having a hostess bar girl follow you to an ATM to get your last 300,000 won.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Most Worthless Week in the Korean School Year

There are many worthless weeks in the Korean school year. This is because Korean administrators insist on having class in times between final exams and school breaks. However right now I am in the midst of a week of school that is simply unexplainable and completely useless.

Now I don't really like to Bitch about my job that much. As a Michigander, I recognize how lucky I am to at least have a job, but no matter how shitty jobs I have had in Michigan, and I can't say that my current job is at all shitty, I could at least explain many of the annoyances that I experienced.

Currently I am teaching classes for one week in February that is between the Winter break and the so called Spring Break. I have no idea why it is necessary for both students and teachers to come to school during this week. At the end of this week the third graders will graduate and go on to high-school. Still this doesn't make any sense. These kids took their final exam back in November, the first and second graders took their final exams during the second week of December. Since then we have had two weeks of school, a six week break, and now we are coming back to school for one finale week.

Luckily, I only have one more class with third graders, who are much more difficult than usual, and then they graduate. But I peered in other classes to see what other teachers were doing, and I found many instances of movie watching.


So why do we have to come back for a full week of school if the only thing that students expect to do is watch movies? Who are the geniuses who came up with this school schedule? Hell just let the students take their final exams and then let them go home. Or use the extra two to five weeks at the end of the second semester as time to prepare the students for their final exams, maybe then the students could get better prepared for their tests so that the school doesn't have to create extra classes during the mornings and nights.

Sweet Idea

See if you can follow my train of thought.

Okay so for the last two weeks I went on my honeymoon with my wife in New York city. One of the highlights of the trip was seeing the Broadway musical, "Rock of Ages."

"Rock of Ages," was pretty super badass and I'm not afraid to admit it. It is a musical set to some great anthems of the eighties.

Since I saw it I have been having anthem rock greats from Whitesnake, Damn Yankees, and Journey, coursing through my head. The musical made me want to point out where Kalamazoo is on my hand. I have also developed an unprecedented interest in Ted Nugent since then.

I think that since hair rock has gone out of fashion the world has missed out on some great shit. That is why I want to revive it in Korea. That's right. We need to get Girls Generation out there makin people's faces melt. Hell there are nine of those little bimbos tramping around all the time, but they never have bitchin guitar solos or just go completely balls to the wall.

Here is my proposal. There are nine girls in Girls Generation. They should totally all do this one song where they each get a two minute solo with a one minute verse in between. They should also get this drummer who takes like five minutes to go completely apeshit. Keeping with the zeitgeist of Kpop they should also make an intricately choreographed dance where the girls line up single file, strut around and make suggestive hand gestures, but they should also head bang.

I think that would be totally sweet.