We’ll Have Fun Fun Fun Til Our Daddy Takes the Xanax Away

Yahoo! Saturday! Parrrrrr-Tay!

Except I don’t drink. Nor do I smoke and I find the smell of it repulsive when it’s in my clothes. I have an amazing skill at saying the most room-chilling things at the worst possible time. I’m miserably socially awkward. And on top of that I’m a fat, balding, middle-aged man. Basically, just what everyone doesn’t want at the bar chatting up the twenty-something girls there in the vain hope that someone, somewhere will help you fend off, for at least one night, the crushing knowledge of what the true despair of emptiness feels like. So no fun for me.

Great Andrew W.K. song, though.

Here’s a photo I took in Japan once;

aug1310g

I never see stuff like this here in Korea. I don’t mean the girl in the kimono doing a traditional Japanese dance in the middle of a bar district. That would be pretty weird to see in Korea. Maybe back during the occupation. Too soon? Anyway, what I mean is that Japan always seemed to have all of its historical stuff revisited frequently whereas here in Korea that sort of thing is limited to reenactments at museums or historical parks. Even then it tends to be kept in the background. Japanese culture sees to embrace it’s (not the fascist empire but the sexier samurai and ninja-based) history while Korea tends to want to run away from any era that wasn’t the 1980s.

These are just broadly brushed cultural things that I’ve anecdotally noticed and I fully appreciate that your Korean/ Japanese spouse’s family are totally old school/ modern and are in no way stereotypical of their culture the same way you’re not an overbearing westerner so please don’t bother to “Um, actually…” at me because I totally get you.

Here’s a photo I took in Taiwan once;

taichung night

I was only in Taiwan for a very short time. Know why? Because it’s really fucking hot there and I sweated so much that it left salt stains on all of my clothing. I think that if you grew up in a place where the air is a non stop sauna it’d be a wonderful location. But I’m just a wee, fragile Canadian who thinks twenty four degrees is a heatwave that will murder anyone who dares leave the safety of the air conditioner.

In all honesty, I did become acclimatized to the semi-tropical weather of Miyazaki. Ten degrees and no snow in January? Yes, please. When I went back home after half a decade of that I was massively nippley all summer because everyone had the air conditioner running full blast during Nova Scotia’s rare not-raining and cold days. I was probably unbearable to be around. Which sort of brings it back to the previous two points about being an unbearable westerner and not having a social life.

Here’s a picture I took in Canada once;

lodgeinthefog

This is the sort of place I grew up in. Grey and dour. Which explains a lot about me. It’s also why I take a lot of pictures in black and white and certainly not because I always badly expose a lot of my photos and monochrome is a great way to cover it up. No sir. The problem with all of this grey is that it really instills a sense of inevitable failure in a person. Well, maybe not the grey so much as the culture of failure there that comes from being traditionally an economic backwater that even the most hard-working and optimistic people have difficulty escaping the gravity of. Our main export being laborers for other parts of the world because not everyone can afford meth.

Here’s a picture I took in Korea once;

uuuup

Korea is also grey and dour but this place tasted the sort of success forever denied the east coast of Canada. It’s always looking up and onward towards a possible great future. Might explain why the bars here are full of middle-aged men chatting up twenty something girls in the vain hope that someone, somewhere will help you fend off, for at least one night, the crushing knowledge of what the true despair of emptiness feels like.

Instant

“Biru~! Biru~!” She waves me to the door as I pass the daycare. They keep the doors open a crack on mild days to get some fresh air in to blow away the diaper odor. She is carrying her nephew on her hip. He’s an interesting kid. Someone with a natural talent for mischief and lacking any of the fear of his peers. He was the kid you had to chase as he ran nude because diapers are a tool of oppression.

“Where are you going?” she asks. I hold up my needlessly expensive Instax camera. “Sashin desu!” I reply in my stupid yet seemingly endearing Japanese. She turns to the kid, who in turn looks at her in the confused manner of all babies, “Hai, cheeeeese!”

I take a picture.

beibee

The crowd tries their best to ignore the fascists yelling about patriotism and strength from their loudspeaker-equipped black vans. They aren’t breaking any noise laws… and if they were, their friends in the city government will support them. The local business owners can’t do anything about them because they will simply park in front of the store and chase customers away. Like all men who believe in strength as the greatest virtue, they’re bullies and thugs.

I turn to Greg, “I want to throw a rock at them.” He gives me a look that suggests it might be a good idea if we could get away from them before they kick the crap out of me, but it’s probably a really bad idea. At least, that’s what I assumed his face said though it could be my brain talking some sense into me. I look at the annoyed couples as they pass. I look at the two young men watching them in rapt attention, swaying to the speaker’s every Hitlereque gesture.

I take a picture.

fucktheseguys

Wandering around the small city of Miyakonojo. It’s a fairly spread out city, having eaten most of the agricultural land on the plateau just because it could. Its days of growth are long gone by the time I make my presence known there. So many abandoned homes and businesses now being eaten by the nature they replaced. In Canada the plants and algae would have been removed from the artificial streams for reasons. They¬†have fish in them here. The one next to the school has a pleasant smell.

I take a picture

greenstream

I walked into the hotel with my backpack off, rummaging through it for my booking confirmation sheet. I attempt to speak their language but since I’m as good at second languages as a stuffed bear, I quickly relent when they speak to me in English.

I check in and the valet gestures to me to follow her. She can speak pretty decent English so we have a conversation on the way to my room. If I had something like self confidence I’d have assumed that she was into me. As it is, I just assumed she was being polite and friendly. In my room she shows me all the buttons and switches. She leaves, I’m alone again. This is how it always was and always will be. But for a few minutes I remember that sometimes travelers need a companion because they make the insignificant things more interesting.

I take a picture.

hotelinstax

There are a lot of pretty people in Tokyo. Big cities always have a lot of pretty people. Probably because they have a lot of people, period. Pretty people are a common subject because everyone likes to look at pretty people. This Instax Mini camera isn’t too great for that sort of thing because the lens is so wide that you need to get close enough to blind them with the flash. Or else they look like tiny figures in the distance.

I take a picture anyway.

prettythings

Spring is beautiful. The sakura is magical. I take a picture.

sakuragate

Shortly after this, the camera breaks. This is okay because the film is absurdly expensive.

I hope you like spiders~!

It’s getting really springy here in Day Hammy Goo and I’m starting to regret my plan of sitting on my money this year like some sort of Scrooge (Ebeneezer) just so I can go swimming in a room full of it at a later date like some sort of Scrooge (McDuck) because travel is the spice of life. Well, variety is, but traveling brings variety so kiss my metaphor. It also brings irritation and air-sickness which is why I rarely travel outside of whatever nation I’m living in at the time.

Flying is how they introduce damned souls to Hell. The demons don’t do anything different from a normal flight. They know they can’t compete with an airline in the evil-towards-humanity department.

Here’s a picture of a Japanese Huntsman spider slowly murdering a snail. It’s still more pleasant than flying.

How to know it's spring in Kyushu? You regularly pee your pants.

How you knew it was spring in Kyushu? You regularly peed your pants.

Today I’m feeling a bit better about the job since we had an actual breakthrough yesterday. The more experienced kids, despite some whining about moving from their preferred seats, actually sat next to and helped the boys who should be in the baby class. If I were in a hagwon this probably wouldn’t have happened because, due to the lifetime of betrayal and insults from the adults meant to be taking care of them, they cling pretty hard to whatever artificial social divisions they have. They also hate you and won’t do shit to make your job easier.

Try not to feel bad about not having full control in a hagwon despite the most evil efforts of your boss, supervisor, and partner teachers to undermine your confidence and authority. They keep the kids in line by yelling at them in a language the kids understand. They’re hardly the Confucian model of the perfect authority figure themselves so don’t let them fool you into thinking they are. They’re still treating the kids like shit which is why they’re rebellious with you and your funny foreigner talk and your funny foreigner face when you get angry.

If you’re having teacher problems (I feel bad for you son) but try to look at it like this: If they’re not helping make your job better, they’re making it worse. Even a neutral approach is not helping. Treat them as the obstacle they are and try to work around them. I wish there was an easy bit of advice to give but every situation is different. The only “Works every time” options are quitting or giving zero fucks. That’s why I’m glad I’m not in a hagwon. My boss is fairly hands-off and my current partner teachers are pretty good. They actually work with me to make things better in the classroom.

Here’s another Japanese spider. This one is kind of pretty.

I still wouldn’t want it on my face though.

While I do have many regrets about being in Korea instead of Japan to scrape and scrounge up enough money so I’m not dumpster diving for my meals when I’m old, the relative lack of critters in my bedroom isn’t one of them. The joys of looking up from your keyboard because some sense of wrongness cuts through your Reddit flamewar to see a spider the size of your fist popping up from behind the table your bare legs are tucked under. Becoming aware of a cockroach so big that you can actually hear the sound of it’s footsteps as it crosses your tatami. The terrifying takkity-takkit-takkity-takkity of the mukade (I dare you to Google it) as it tries, and fails, to crawl out of your kitchen sink that it just fell into.

You desperately looking for a way to pick it up or kill it. Your only options being an laughably ineffective boot or the long cooking chopsticks that you’re not sure you can control well enough to hold a vicious, poisonous, squirming, armoured insectoid murder machine. Not wanting to leave your apartment to go buy some spray or a hammer because what if it’s gone by the time you got back and you can’t find it?

You. Can’t. Find. It.

But it can find you.

Here’s a tiny jumping spider. It’s kind of cute in a hairy fanged way;

"Hi there! My name is Sam and I'm gonna sleep in your ear canal tonight!"

“Hi there! My name is Sam and I’m gonna sleep in your ear canal tonight!”

Odds Ends Ennui

mxalien

Despite the spring warmth and growth of what one might call a social life if you squint enough, I’ve been feeling a galloping case of “Wake me when I’m dead, but only if you think it’s important I get to the grave on time” this past week.

I haven’t been able to pin down the causes of this ennui so I can suppress it, squeeze it into a little ball, and compartmentalize it so it can seep out at inopportune times like every other neurosis I’ve managed to bury over the decades so I can function among humanity. My best guess is utterly failing to realize last week that the rude kids weren’t being rude because they’re kids and being rude to foreigners is a globally acceptable pastime. They simply had no idea what was going on because their parents insisted they be put in a class way above their level. See, they’re in the “Can conjugate a verb” class instead of the “I vaguely know the ABC Song” class where they should be and I utterly failed to recognize that despite over a decade of job experience at this point.

Suuuuuuck.

On the other hand I just updated Adobe Flash so I can keep watching YouTube!

_IMG0180

While I have managed to save up a decent amount of coin this past year, it’s not decent enough. I could head off to Japan if I wanted. I do have enough to get set up there. I’d just need a job. I also have enough to do the same back home. Minus the getting set up because rents, utilities, and transportation costs in Nova Scotia are obscene. One would almost say things were designed that way so you’d be in debt to banks and thus willing to accept just about anything The Man(tm) does as long as it’s some other schmuck getting the bone because you’re too busy/tired/frightened/fond of hot water to want to fight back.

It’s all relative, eh? The amount of cash I have could allow me to fart around Taiwan for the better part of a year. Probably a year and a half in poor nations. But I still have in the back of my head the idea that I will go back home, drop some money on educating myself into a job that will allow me a better standard of living… Just like everyone else back home with a lot of education who are still on the dole… So I’ll (pesumably) stay for another year, saving up for my vague plan of learning something, to return home for good and give up the job of teaching ESL.

The real problem? I don’t know if I can also learn to give up the astoundingly lazy, moneyed lifestyle that comes with being an expat. Not having to decide that I’m going to skip paying my utilities that month so I can afford to buy an egg to go with my ramen is an amazing feeling.

In which in chew off my fingernails in worry

naturaltwenty

I’ve been playing D&D with some other expats here. It’s been fun. It’s also been creatively motivating. Nothing too important. Just character sketches and the like. I do enjoy the act of drawing but I definitely don’t have it in me to make comics anymore. Sketches and doodles are fine for me. I was also hired by another player to draw for him but that’s been going slow because this is the first week of a new school year and that means I’ve been up to my elbows in chaos.

ayes

I’m not particularly sure how things run in hagwons these days since I’m doing something slightly different, sitting somewhere between hagwon and public school teaching. Assuming not much has changed the turn over for new and departing students was constant throughout the year. The general unpreparedness of everything gets softened by population changes being spread out throughout the year instead of all at once.

smile3

I signed up for a second year because the work conditions are better than in a hagwon. I’m not working ten hours a day while having my time in the office not count towards my paycheck for one thing. Thing is, I’ve been feeling a great deal of unease over my decision the last few weeks.

My research into the current legal truths about living in South Korea as a guest worker has made me fret and worry. Aside from the obvious restriction on our economic mobility here that the Letter of Release requirement creates, most of the other labour laws here put guest workers at an even greater disadvantage than before. Our option for a bad work situation is simply “I hope you can afford a lawyer.” Considering that most people here on an E2 obviously can’t do that, nor can they afford to hang out in Korea unemployed while the case slugs its way through the system, the only other option is to walk out the door and take the next flight home. The famous Midnight Run. That’s a shitty option as well, but it’s less shitty than economic bondage or trying to negotiate from a position where you have nothing to negotiate with. If you wanted that there’s a tonne of Walmarts back home for you.

000009

A note to expats on an E2 visa here who seek advice online: You will see some expats suggest you stick around and try to work things out with your boss. The people who say these things are related to Koreans either by marriage or birth and have someone to take care of them while they deal with that crap. You likely don’t. They also have freedom an E2 visa holder doesn’t and are far removed from the situation we experience. They don’t have to leave Korea until their visa period runs out. They’re also greatly invested in Korea and tend to be a bit blinkered about the place. I’m not saying you should ignore the advice of a long-timer who isn’t in the EFL mines on an E2 work visa. Just keep in mind that they’re living in a very different Korea from you and treat their words accordingly.

See, the dice photo is related to the rest of the post. I’m as clever as a hammer sometimes.

Life is Like a Pair of Baggy Trousers or Something Like That

I’m all settled in my new, smaller, badly laid out apartment. Now, you may think of me as being overly resentful, but since I scrubbed my old place clean enough to do surgery in I don’t think that it’s too much expect this new place to have similar levels of cleanliness. Yet the kitchen is sticky and there are tobacco stains all over the bathroom walls. After I get off my ass today and wash up I’m going to put in the effort to clean up another person’s filth because they are inconsiderate shit bags.

Let’s talk about arty stuff instead of my seething disgust at a stranger! I’m thinking that I might suck at from the hip shooting.

D'oh!

D’oh!

I have a number of people I’m following on Flickr who are pretty darned good at it. I assume that, like everything, it’s a skill you need to develop rather than a collection of lucky shots.

D'oh!

D’oh!

These aren’t too great, yeah. I have two rolls of half-frame shots that need developing where I was practicing the same thing. Maybe an always-in-focus camera like the Olympus Pen EE3 granted me some images to work with… assuming I shot anything other than my nose. I wonder if a camera class will teach you the optimum angle and height to place your camera for this? “Tuck it under your arm at a 62 degree angle from the sun. Make sure the shutter is depressed by your ring finger and you cough loudly when the mirror slaps. Now, students: Walk-by conga line. Go!”

Look at this picture I drew last night;

Grr!

Grr!

Not too bad… r-right? To paraphrase Picasso, this picture actually took me thirty years to make. I will in no way say that my cartooning is great. Better than many. Worse than many. But I’m entirely self-taught. I had to try, fail, look at the failures, and then try to figure out how to not fail again all by myself. Sure, there are a lot of people online who will give you advice, but the advice almost always comes down to “Draw like me.” This isn’t always malice or ego. They just know how to draw the way they draw. All their advice stems from that and while you can use some of it, it’s largely non-applicable. Photography is the same way. Lots of suggestions online. Not much actual help.

Granted, an actual teacher might also fall into the same “Shoot like me” problem. If they’re worth their salt as an educator they will be able to show you how not to repeat your failures without trying to impose their own approach upon you. It’s like that old joke;

“Hey, doctor! My arm hurts when I move it like this!”

“Don’t move your arm like that!” *Badump-tiss*

I might be biased in this approach over the standing lecture about how things are done “right” since this is how I teach the kids to correct their mistakes in class. (Speaking of self-taught skills. Thanks for nothing, Korean EFL system.) It seems to be working. I admit that I might be allowing the kids to let me think they’re figuring it out. I’m far too trusting of children and they’re sneaky.

Back to the point: I do think that if I had a teacher way back when I started both of my geeky hobbies I’d be a lot better than I am because a lot of the slow trial and error I’ve been processing through over the years would have been avoided. I’m two decades behind the curve in everything I apply my creative urges to and it’s an endless source of frustration for me. Turning me into Don Music. (Google him)

Yet, I keep trying. I must be mad.

And that was my clever segue into this related song. Get it? Get it?… Okay, I’ll keep trying on humour too.

So, I’m sitting here in the nuddy…

Too much information? Deal.

The reason I’m blogging “oh nachur ell” is because I am just too damned effective when I start doing things. I’ll be moving to a new, cheaper/ smaller, apartment in a couple of days and yesterday was spent cleaning and packing. More cleaning than packing since I tend to live slightly Spartan… Did the Spartans play MMOs in their spare time? I bet they would have. Now I’m just as inactive as I was active yesterday. I understand Leonidas was the same way on his days off from killing Helots for shits and giggles.

History lesson: Like the Romans, the Spartans were vicious, murderous little shits who only lasted through history because they killed everyone else and stole their technology. This tells you all you need to know about humanity. I’m glad to say that it’s only the washboard abs that we have in common. (You can’t see my six-pack because it’s still in the bag. Bwa! Ha! Ha! Haaaa~!)

Here’s a picture from my recent trip to Seoul. Click to see it bigger over on Flickr.

Gwanghwamun Square

Gwanghwamun Square used to be a very busy expressway through Seoul when I first touched upon these shores much in the same way Cheonggyecheon Park used to be one. Both were dug up and made unfriendly to traffic as part of the city’s ongoing effort to make it look less slummy. It’s true that I hold some resentment towards Seoul’s slums, but it’s just because a former employer housed me in one. Which, I would like to point out, had lovely neighbors who all came to help me when my apartment flooded. I’d also like to point out that this was not on top of my list of reasons I smile at the idea of them going out of business some years later. Heh heh heh heh. Revenge through natural the processes that come with demographic changes! The best kind!

The Jongo/ City Hall/ Insa-dong area of Seoul was one I had yet to visit since my return to Korea so I put it on my itinerary, grabbed my Olympus Pen for some street/ from-the-hip photography, and went on a walkabout. The square doesn’t hold a lot of interest aside from the two statues that required you run out into traffic to go look at back in the day. There are events and the like. In the picture above there was a memorial/ political thing about the teens that died in the Sewol sinking.

The biggest change was the food stalls being shuffled off of the main drag of Jong-Ro to some side street. The ability to walk along that sidewalk without having a bunch of people smacking into you was nice, but some of the grubby flavour of the neighbouhood was missing. For long-term expats, Seoul’s grubbiness tends to be part of the charm. Which I think must be the only reason they usually want to live in dumps like Itaewon and Haebangchon because I can’t see the ability to eat Mexican food and compare back tattoos being that vital to a good life in Korea.

But what do I know? I’m blogging in the nuddy.