Jabroni

tairun

I sometimes wonder how life would be different if I had found a decent job in Taiwan. I’ve done a lot of poking around the expat interwebs since that short time I lived there (Over seven years ago now. Sheesh.) about life and work in Taiwan and as far as I can tell it can be best summed up as “Korean hagwons in the tropics”.

“Hagwon”, for those of you who don’t know, is the Korean word for a business that sells education. Obviously education is something that should have free market philosophy attached to it and thus remain poorly regulated/ built because Supply-Side Jesus would cry otherwise. It’s called “buxiban” in China, “eikaiwa” in Japan, and “university” in North America. This system would be considered an insane waste of money in a sane world but you know how it is. We live under the Divine Right of Capitalism and it needs to stick it’s nose where it doesn’t belong so it can do the most damage for the benefit of the fewest amount of people.

My current participation in ruining the right of education is working in an after school program. It can be hagwon-like in many ways, but overall it’s a step up if only for the shorter hours and longer vacations. I got this job because no one in their right minds wants to come to Gunsan on purpose when Seoul is always hiring. See, I’m too old, fat, and ugly now to be able to compete with the young and pretty kids in the bigger cities. I think what this means is that, if I did make a life for myself in Taiwan, I’d be working longer hours with less time off and I would be constantly sweating from the tropical heat and covered in giant cockroaches as I slept because Taiwan is covered in giant cockroaches.

Ehn. I’ve had worse.

This is one of my rare color photos. It was shot with a Mamiya C220f in the city of Taichung. The topic of color photography came up with a friend recently. He doesn’t like B&W photos because he thinks it makes it easy to cheat your way out of a bad image. He’s right, which is why I use it all the time. Score one for me!

It did remind me: One thing I’ve learned from practicing photography, making comics, and dealing with other creators, is that artists create things that please them first. It’s our sense of aesthetics that we’re working towards and we’re usually hoping it pleases others as well. I have found that any and all explanations/ art theories put forward by artists about why they do what they do are, at best, post-hoc justifications for our choices. Which I think is actually good because it helps define for you what you were thinking. Also, I find that doing it ad-hoc usually results in really sterile, boring stuff. But you have to go to a fancy art school in order to learn the right terminology to do it convincingly otherwise you’ll look like a fool when someone brings up The Decisive Moment.

Old joke: How do you greet an art school graduate?

“I’ll have a tall latte to go.”

Bwa! Ha! Ha!

… says the guy with a B.A. who has spent a good chunk of his adult life as an EFL Edutainer, ruining education.
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P.S.- I’m on vacation now. I won’t be spending it writing blogs for you. You’ll have to look at this picture for the next week. Look at it!

Andy Rooney Imitation

july182011r

I don’t understand people who want kids. I know biology is hard to deny and, like pooing, kids are a largely inevitable side effect of pleasurable activities. But actually wanting a child and working towards making one? And then having them in your house? All of the time? And it’s considered cruel to leave them in the shed alongside your expensive bicycle and weight set when you’re tired of them? Madness!

I enjoy working with kids and find them fine proto-people in their own right. I just can’t imagine having one or two of them being an inescapable presence. The ability go home and not have to be a responsible authority figure to anyone (Except for you, dear readers) is amazing and people who desire to give that up… Sorry. Don’t get it. I have a hard enough time faking being a responsible adult for the five hours a day I work. 24/7? Madness!

I have seen breeders (Only on the internet, obviously.) give non-breeders (I know these terms are used in gay identity politics but they apply, Mr. Ceaseless Tongue-Clucker. Yeah, you know who you are.) a lot of stick for being “selfish” or whatever for going out and enjoying their heaps of disposable income instead of perpetuating the species. It’s not the non-breeder who thinks that their genes, social values, and beliefs are important enough to force upon someone who doesn’t have a choice in the matter. That would be the happy breeder who’s doing that. Who’s selfish now?

Hint: It’s the breeding person.

Madness! Madness everywhere! At least I can be reassured that the dropping birth rates are a sign that humanity is getting more sane. Keep this up and we might be living in Star Trek sooner rather than later. Final frontier. Aww yeah.

This kid seems to be lucky enough to have an insane father who is willing to let his kid compress his spine while the kid naps his way through a summer festival in Miyakonojo, Japan. They’re the best sort of insane people, parents are.

Peter Davison

spinningfalling

I wrote this in the super secret Korea Bloggers Group on FaceBook. It’s a private group because it’s embarrassing to admit that the only people who read expat-in-Korea blogs are other expats in Korea who write blogs. It sort of outlines my current philosophy towards dealing with others online. There are some edits from the original just for the sake of clarity. And footnotes! Love a good footnote.

“I struggle with [not being an asshole] every time I post up a blog because I want to write with [a tone of] confidence. I’m always worried that my wording will come across like I hold the opinion that I am a “expert” in everything. This is far from the truth. Yet I find the line between “knowledgeable” and “puffed up blowhard” can be razor thin.

What’s even harder is [to] try to think that maybe, when my fellow expats come across like pugnacious types who fit in better with ESL Cafe circa 2003*, that maybe they too are simply trying to write with confidence and also worry that they might be crossing the line into unintended douchiness. Or they might be oblivious to it, not understanding when someone reacts negatively towards them [and escalating due to what they see as an unwarranted attack.]

It’s easy to think of ourselves as the main character in a [Korean TV] drama about us [starring us] and everyone else is [either] a supporting character, or an obstacle to overcome. Our natural [human] selfishness, really. Not that antagonists don’t exist in the real world. But they too might simply be seeing the world through the lens of being the star of their show.

It’s a difficult thing to be mindful of, especially on the internet since text is a pretty shitty communication medium even at the best of times. It lacks context. Context is super important.** I could take what you wrote above as confrontational because there’s no context to it. I can’t see any winks, or hear any tone of voice that suggest that it isn’t.

Anyway, I suppose there’s no room for this sort of philosophy here in the expat internet. We all seem to fall into the habit of being needlessly quarrelsome and cutting. I don’t know if that’s just due to being from an older generation of internet user, the frustrations of being a long-term expat in a land that will never accept you, or something from deep within [our fundamentally broken selves]. I personally do try to be mindful of all of this these days because life is too short to be acting like it’s ESL Cafe circa 2003***, but I obviously must fail often.”

This is also why I’m very dismissive when someone comes across as confrontational. Any attempt to engage puts us both in the role of antagonist in each others drama. It always just circles around, like turds in the bowl. You might have time and an interest in that but I don’t. I cut it off before it starts. You got to understand: I’m trying to get my TV drama cancelled. I don’t want to guest star in yours.

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* Back in the early internet Dave’s ESL Cafe was the most important spot for expats to go find jobs, get tips, and do message board type stuff. This was before Reddit gave assholes a place to be assholes so ESL Cafe was a pretty toxic online community. Probably still is.

** Context is important in art because artistic intent is important as well. While an artist can’t control how a work is perceived by an audience since they bring their own baggage to the table, an artist can at least use their words to help facilitate understanding. I don’t feel the idea of “the purity of the image” is valid… unless that was the artist’s intent. But even then, demanding the audience create their own meaning is a statement of intent.

My intent with the image above: I think my friends appearant flailing about illustrates what I wrote above. And I like it.

*** Just checked. Expat message boards here are still toxic.

A Cigar

abstfo1200

The conversation came around to dreams the over the weekend. There seemed to be three commonalities in our dreams. No doubt you have them as well.

1. Discovering how to fly. For some it’s like channeling your chi like a Dragonball character and wooshing off. No one mentioned that they went off to go fight Majinbuu though I’m sure they would if they could. For me flight is simply lifting your feet up and flapping your hands really hard. Alternatively, I stick my arms out like an airplane and take off. I never go high though. Flight is always just a way to get eye-level with something larger than me.

I’ve had the flapping work in real life for the half second I was falling off the stair.

2. Recurring locations. Usually cobbled together from places we’ve lived, places that left an impression, and places we’ve probably seen on TV. Mine consists of the block I grew up on, the street my grandparents lived on, and that is surrounded by a decaying former mega city that is nothing but bare concrete that people nonetheless make a life for themselves in. The family zones are safe where as the rest has a number of anxieties in them. For some reason, the sun is the most dangerous of them since everyone hides from it. Perhaps I’m turning into Gollum?

All I know is that in this dream city the most rebellious and shocking act you can do is to step out into the sunshine.

3. Recurring themes. Sure, I have the same chased-by-shadowy-terror nightmares as everyone. My most common dream is a Moses Narrative: I help others achieve something. From escaping zombies to having their first orgasms. Then I am left behind by them as they cross over into some happy land that I am never allowed to enter. I never remember if they regret leaving me behind or spare no thought of me once they get there. I doubt they notice that I’m not with them. The ingrates.

Then I wake up and go back to my dead end job as an EFL Edutainer.

The above re-posted image is Nova Scotia in the spring. I used a Pentax KX film camera that I broke like a dope.

And then…

aug1310a

That first year in Kyushu. Laying on my futon on top of the tatami, curled around my tiny little netbook. Money was just starting to come in after I had paid back all of my loans to get set up there. Later I’d buy a bigger computer and a desk to sit it on but the huntsmen spiders and cockroaches would have to wage their war away from my lap until then.

August in East Asia can be best described as “swampy”. Not sure if they mean the air or your undies by that though it applies to both. Japanese apartments normally don’t come with anything but four walls and some outlets. Not even lights are provided. Heating and air conditioning sure ain’t included. Even with the patio doors wide open and the fan going on full my apartment was angrily holding on to all of the heat it had accumulated during the day. What a jerk my apartment was.

I grabbed my Mamiya, told the spiders and roaches to not break anything, and started walking. Small city Japan is the same as small city anywhere: Walking will lead you to a muddy field and no sidewalks pretty quickly. I aimed for the downtown area. Didn’t know why. Maybe I wanted to try my hand at this obnoxiously-named street photography. I always told myself that I’m a simple documentarian. Why not try some people instead of some shrine gates or alleys? I guess that was the plan if I had one. That I was carrying the worst possible camera for night-shooting never occurred to me. I brought it because I always found that people like old-looking cameras far more than they like schlubby dudes with facial hair.

Schlubbing along in my schlubby, hairy way, I pushed through the parked cars to a backstreet lined by izakaya, hostess clubs, and the sort of small bars populated solely by one middle aged man seeking something other than drinks from the middle-aged lady behind the bar. The spot meter told me that I was a dummy. Frustration, boredom, and a sense of not belonging whispered in my ear. They told me to go home because maybe my favorite websites might have updated in the last hour.

Then I heard the music. It was played with traditional instruments. No amplification. Like something out of a historical drama. Almost cliche. I followed the notes past the hostesses trying to get customers and their yakuza minders hovering in the background. They didn’t ask me. They don’t want my type. The obviously poor. I rounded the corner and I’d tell you more but over the last week I’ve had two different people effectively tell me that photos should exist in a form of divine simplicity and adding words to them is incorrect so now you get nothing else.

Take it up with them.

Miss Illainey Yah

alotgoingonhere

A) I like WordPress’ “follow” button because it’s a great way to pretend you care about what someone is writing while never, ever visiting their site. And most likely while never taking the barest look at the reader cuz who’s got the time to navigate through the menu to get to it? Just drop me a data-mineable link on FaceBook that I can “like” and leave me to pretending I’m engaged with other human beings instead being my own PR firm.

B) I promised myself that I’d keep to posting schedule for as long as I could for this version of the blog. I did this solely as a way to keep from going back to sleep after I wake up in the late morning so I can get enough coffee and/or tea into me for my strenuous five hour work day. Yes, I work part time and get paid a full time salary. That’s my job in an after school program in Korea’s public schools. And there’s no seat-warming that actual public school EFL teachers need to suffer through. It’s wonderful and the hours are 90% of the reason why I stayed a second year. The only way my deal here could get better is if I were married to a Korean so I wouldn’t have to put up with all of the E2 requirements that don’t do a thing to stop any of the reasons they were implemented in the first place. Not to mention being able to ignore the easily and frequently abused Letter of Release requirement for leaving your job.

Add that to having someone to do all of the pesky Korean-speaking for them I can see why so many married expats stay despite hating the place with all of their souls.

The downsides: You’re tossed in there with a book and no plan most of the time. The usefulness of your partner teacher is a crapshoot. (My current ones are pretty good. Previous ones weren’t.) Your vacation schedule is at the whims of the school. I hear a lot of employers try to break the law and claim that we’re not employees, but freelancers, just for cheating on their taxes. No sign of that so far for me.

C) I tore my toenail off of my big toe two weeks ago. It’s healing fine now thanks to my continual efforts to not have it get infected. However it seems to be off of the toe for good, leaving a chasm at least half a centimeter deep at the top. I’m hoping this is just a stage in the healing process because the next time I need to cut my toenails I’m gonna have a weird little stub there.

D) This picture was taken through the window of the CU convenience store near Gunsan’s party town. There’s a lot going on in there. Everyone uses it as a meeting and preparation point before heading out for their night on their two street adventure. An expat here would know that it also doubles as a bar of its own since booze is easily available, they provide seats, and you can actually hear each other talk unlike a bar of a club. I rarely go out since I don’t drink and getting laid is an impossibility for someone as unfortunately faced as me so there’s little point. But if I do Club 7/11 is where you’ll likely find me, not drinking and not trying to get laid.

But I am taking pictures.

Peter Capaldi

lefreak

I think the concept of “sharpness” is horribly overrated in photography and people need to chill out on it because it’s leading them down ugly roads like HDR. Our eyes and brains don’t capture and remember light to that degree so any claims of realism is a pretense. And people who don’t use medium and large format film cameras don’t know what “sharp” means anyway. Obviously right now you’re making a wanking gesture and saying, “Who does this guy think he is? My photoblog gets way more readers and my Nikon D4 is so sharp I got scars all over my fingers. I even have studio lights and a reflector!” To which I respond, “Shut up. I don’t care.”

I think this picture is great. Sure, your mileage may vary but shut up I don’t care. It wasn’t just taken at night. It was taken on the weekend. People are out, about, and completely shit-faced. The entire world is a (hopefully) cherry blur where everything is half-remembered, soft, and more of an impression than a recording of events. So to me this image is a perfect capture of the place and the event: A whirlwind encounter with a young lady who wanted to use my camera.

I didn’t let her. It’s my camera.

See, context is important. And while pictures may be worth one thousand words, it’s just a collection of consonants with no vowels.

The particulars. Pentax K-50. Gunsan Friday night. The only street in town with human beings on it after eleven.

UPDATE 20/07/15- Since I’ve had no less than six (Fear the mass of my readership!) different people tell me that I’m wrong to like this picture (At least they didn’t start with, “Um, actually…”) I feel that I need to say something in it’s defense: Shut up.