My first night out in Seoul was spent in Hongdae. If you go back to the beginning of this blog, you will find that it was spent with my new co-workers. I don’t remember the specific clubs that we went to, but I do remember that I got extremely hammered, threw up, and got lost on my way back home. It was kinda scary, but considering that everything worked out it was also fun, as well as a memory that I already cherish.
Last Friday was my last night out in Seoul. Matt came out from Suwon, as we started the evening by going out to the Korean barbeque place across the street that Lawra and I have become regulars at. We had been going there almost every Friday night for the last few months. From there, we bussed it to Hongdae, where our first stop was the mini-stop to grab some Red Bulls. Can’t run low on fuel on your last night out in Seoul. After that, we went to Brickx. Brickx is a club that I’ve only been to once or twice, but I enjoy the atmosphere. It’s dark, decorated in black and white psychadelic designs and I like the drum ‘n bassy electronic music they play. I also learned that they have a whole range of drinks with silly sexual names like “I wanna fuck Santa” and the “wet pussy”. We had a couple of them and decided to head to a noreybang.
The noreybang we chose was the same one that we went to on Christmas day. We stayed there for an hour, drinking soju & Cass, dancing with tamborines, and singing like tone-deaf fools (myself, at least). After that, or before that I remember getting a kebab from a nice street vendor. From there, we went back to a place that we hadn’t been in a few months: Free Bird. Free Bird is the first place that we saw The Studs Lonigan Experience, a funk and soul cover/party band that we’ve seen at least 4 times; Mainly because Matt is buddies a few of the guys. There was some Korean rock band playing, but we opted for going outside and chilling on the patio. We had a few brews and chatted outside. Matt & I chatted had some convo about plans post Korea and aspirations to work in film. At some point I realized that Lawra had been in the bathroom for a while so I should probably go check on her. After finding her, we came back to Matt talking to some Korean lesbian punk rockers who were trying to solicit him with their shitty recordings on their iphone. And so we made our way outta that place.
Some waters were drank and I believe another kebab was had. From there, we made our way to a fancy noreybang that we had never been to before. It was very pink and glamorous on the outside. It looked like a hotel. On the inside, the floors had glass which you could see through and notice that there were miniature villages inside. As you walked along the floor, you felt like it could break at any moment. We made our way to our noreybang room and sang some more sloppy, silly, drunken hits. As we left this place, the mutual consensus was that our energy was running low. Ironically, the sun was also coming up. Where did all the time go, we wondered. Someone acknowledged that it was actually 6:30 in the morning. In the euphoric haze, we made our way to the main street, and then to a bus stop that would take us home.
My last night out in Seoul was spent in Hongdae. It was the latest that I’ve ever stayed out in Korea, and I didn’t throw up. It was easily one of the best nights spent during my time there. It was spent with only two others, but these two were the two whose company I have appreciated the most during my time in Korea.
I’m gonna miss the Korean barbeque. I’m gonna miss the noreybang action. And I’m sure I’m gonna miss the kebabs on the streets. But none of that shit would’ve meant anything had I not have been lucky enough to share it with those two.
I’m sure that most people would claim that the best part of going out in Hongae is the nightlife; the clubs and bars that make it one of the most well known party spots in all of Seoul. Personally, my favorite reason for going out there was always the street food. More often than not, the highlights in my nights out in Hongdae would come from me leaving whichever crowded nightclub (FF, GoGos, etc.), and taking a breather by myself to go out to the street where the vendors waited. Mostly always, I would go for a schwarma, also known as a kebab. Last Saturday was no exception.
"What do you think is the secret to making the perfect schwarma?" I inquired to the middle eastern man as he crafted my tasty wrap. His answer, as simple as it was, surprised me, but also left me perfectly satisfied.
“Every time that I make one, I try to make one that I would want to eat.”
Apparently, a kindergarten concept can carry one throughout their career.
Friday night after we finished work, we went out to the samgyup sal place across the street. It’s become kind of a regular spot for us, especially on Friday nights. They’ve even come to know what we usually get. If we spoke Korean, we could even say “The usual”.
Saturday, we lounged around a while, before heading to Suwon. We read on the subway, and proceeded to meet Matt outside the station. From there, we went to a delicious Indian restaurant that we had gone to once before. They played Indian electronic music and had Indian movies playing with the sound off, while we ate. After that, we searched nearby for a love motel where we could stay the night, because Matt’s place is a little small. We all hung out there for a bit, drinking some beer, watching Korean television. We took a nap, and when we woke up it was 11:30 at night. Matt had snuck out to meet up with some friends. Lawra and I met up with him and his posse and continued our night.
First we went to a nightclub with crazy seizure lights and techno. We got a drink and stayed there for about a half hour before moving on to Sam Ryan’s. Sam Ryan’s is an American sports bar that we had gone to the last time we went to Suwon. We each had a beer and some nachos, while we watched some MMA fighting on the TV screens. Lastly, we met up with some more of their friends at a nearby norybang. We stayed for a few songs, until the time was up, and by then it was 2:30am and we were ready to call it.
We checked out of the love motel around noon. It was humid, but raining pretty good around then. We decided to just head back to the city and have an easy Sunday. And that’s just what we did.
As surreal as it feels, a week from now, I’ll be on an airplane; On my way back home, with this all being a memory of a past life.
“Let’s say you’re the next Kurt Cobain. You will be appropriated on your first album by the Pitchfork community. Your record company will rally round that idea because that’s your marketing platform. But the minute you’re in that world you’re frozen. Those Pitchfork people are very much about social codes, about whether you’re wearing the right t-shirt. That orthodoxy is no different than the rigidity of the football team at school.”—Billy Corgan
So I had been hearing about this mud festival for quite some time now; Maybe even before I came to Korea. From what I had heard it sounded awesome and I knew it was one of the few things that I had to check out while I was here. Lawra and I decided to go with a few of her friends through an expat travel group called WINK (When In Korea). They arranged the transportation and housing for the weekend. We left on Saturday morning to get on a bus that drove us to Boryeong.
Boryeong is a small beach town that is most likely pretty quiet for the rest of the year. However, I am pretty sure that this annual mud festival is now its claim to fame, especially considering there were ads for the festival on all of the city buses. The streets were packed with foreigners, coming from all different parts of South Korea. There were Koreans that had come for the festival, but they were definitely a smaller percentage.
It was like going to a small beach-side fair. There were vendors set up all around selling food and drinks. Inside the festival were some mud activities, like a slide, a pool, and a pit for wrestling. Most people, us included were covered in mud. People walked around and splashed mud on each other. The overall mood and environment was playful, happy, and festive. They also had bands and DJs playing music near the ocean. The weather was mostly overcast, as I came back slightly sunburned. It rained a bit, but not too bad.
The pension that we stayed at kinda sucked. There were like 9 of us in a room, all sleeping on the floor with nothing but a blanket and pillow. We ended up seeing pretty much everybody that we know in Korea, including Matt and his crew, as well as Tessa and Christy from work.
It wasn’t the best festival that I’ve ever been to, but I’m glad that we went. It was also interesting seeing how the only people taking pictures at this event were the Koreans, who were avoiding the mud. At times it felt like we were some National Geographic animals that they were studying. They probably think of us as pretty sloppy or savage. It also struck me how foreigners go all the way around the world to gather with other foreigners to do the same things that they did back home; Not that it’s wrong, or even surprising. I guess it reminds me that ultimately we are just creatures of comfort, seeking something familiar.
It’s been exactly a week since I got laid off, let go of, fired, or terminated; whatever you wanna call it. I guess I’ve had a little bit of time to let it register and sink into my skull. It still doesn’t feel very good. It’s been 10 months of swimming upstream at this job, with two failed escape attempts. All the while, I did my best to stick it out, but in the end it didn’t even matter. A bigger part of this was out of my control.
Earlier this week I did some research, only to find how common my situation is. A foreign teacher working at a hagwon and being let go of somewhere around the 10th or 11th month so that the employer doesn’t have to pay the severance and airfare is nothing even remotely foreign around these parts. I read several antidotes from others who were fed the same vague reason I was; "We’ve had an increasing amount of complaints from the parents and students". For whatever reason, reading these stories made me feel comforted. To know that I wasn’t the first one, and I’m sure I won’t be the last. That this industry can be really unethical and sometimes exploits foreigners to its benefit. That I was just one of the many unlucky ones.
As much as I have wanted to leave this place, because I was told to go rather than the other way around, I was the one who got dumped. However, in this last week I’ve found a couple benefits to things working out this way.
I don’t have to fly back to Korea after Tom’s wedding. This is saving me the hassle of a round trip flight.
I don’t have to wait for my last pay check, severance, or housing deposit. I’ll be paid everything they owe me before I leave.
If I fly back in November to travel with Lawra, I don’t have to buy a brand new plane ticket to come back; Which I would have had to if I stayed til September.
Today in reading class, I was illustrating what pals are to my kindergarteners. I had them draw 4 pictures of their friends. As I patrolled around looking at their pictures, I noticed that a few of the kids drew a picture of themselves, in addition to the pictures of their friends. I couldn’t help but wonder what that means, in a psychological sense; To think of yourself as your own friend, versus not. Are these children more healthy or do they have a healthier sense of self for thinking like that?
Friday Night: Lawra and I had some drinks with Tessa and Christy, proceeded by a sam gyup sal dinner and more drinks. The night was pretty fun, overall. Although, it did end in a loud drunken argument between Tessa and I regarding ones incentives and motives in traveling and living in another country. Some people always gotta’ be right.
Saturday: We met up with Matt and his Suwon crew for a nice 4th of July barbeque in Samjik (I think). The weather was great and people were all out having a good time. The Suwon people brought out some tasty meat, veggies, burgers, and beer. It was a nice afternoon. Following that, a few of us went out to Hongdae to usher in the nighttime.
Saturday Night: We went to Club FF (Funky Funky) to check out some bands. The music was fun, however I wasn’t really feelin’ the club scene afterward. Most of my highlights of the evening were all with strangers. While waiting for a kabab outside a club, I happened to meet the chef of my favorite Indian restaurant in Seoul. He was a super friendly dude. I had a cool conversation with Kelly, Matt’s Suwon friend. We chatted about the bummers of working at our schools and I picked her brain about her experience working at a local TV station. In Hongdae, all of the good action usually happens outside of the club. We had a cool celebrity spotting of the bassist from the headlining band. He looks like a cross between Bob Saget and Ed Helms. He was really drunk and stumbling around a cocktail in hand and his bass strapped onto his bag. Apparently, he and the lead singer had just had a big fight. While leaving, Lawra and I spotted him sitting down on a stoop at the same kabob stand that I was eating at earlier.
Sunday: We went to Gimpo Airport for some lunch and a movie. I had my first (only) taste of Korean sushi. It wasn’t bad, but it is much more simplified over here. It’s just the rice and a slab of fish. We watched the new Spider Man movie. Twas pretty good.
It’s finally over. Since April I have been regularly debating staying or leaving this place. Today, the choice was made for me. I have been set free.
Earlier in the day I was asking Jacob (my boss) about how to redeem sick days which I would be using for Tom’s wedding. He seemed very irritated and didn’t give me an answer, but told me to talk to him about it later. I was called into his office shortly after, where he told me that I have til the end of the month to finish my job and continue living at the school.
I tried my best. It is what it is and was what it was. And soon enough it will all be over. At least it has been decided.
Today, during music class I was trying to teach my kindergarteners the “this Little Piggy went to the Market” rhyme. While saying and practicing it, it brought me a sense of deja vu or nostalgia. I couldn’t help but be reminded of when my mom used to say it to me, and how I would giggle every time when she would get to the end part where it goes “And this little piggy went wee wee wee all the way home”. I guess it, like a lot of things, felt kinda bittersweet.
Thursday night, Lawra and I went out for dinner and beers with our two sane co-workers, Christy and Tessa. While out, we ran into Allison, our other coworker and her group of expat friends. While conversing, one of the friends was telling us about her public school job and how she only taught for about four hours a day, while the rest of the time was used for prepping other classes. We were all envious. Rather than have been run ragged, worked like slaves and have our self esteem shit on; Why couldn’t that have been me?
For the following 24 hours, I couldn’t help but think about it. And then it dawned on me. Among other things, this job was a test of passion. Had I had an easy job or even a job any easier, I might have been fooled. Fooled about the realities of how difficult teaching can be, how much it requires, what the environment can be like, and even fooled about what I want for myself.
If this job was a test, I don’t feel that I necessarily failed. But I do think that it forced me to sit down and ask myself ‘what do I really want' and 'how badly do I want it’. It put me in a really uncomfortable and trying position, but had it not have been this way, I might not have had the opportunity to be as honest with myself about who I am, as opposed to who I think I should be.
Needless to say, this experience has taught me a lot. I feel that living and teaching in Seoul has taken away a piece of my soul (yes, pun intended) and left me a little more broken than I was when I came here last September. But in a different sense, I feel like I owe this city for forcing me to do some serious soul searching as I have learned more about myself and have begun to redirect where I’d like to take my life after I leave here.
To think that had I not have come here, I might have enrolled in grad school to get my Masters in education, or even enlisted in the Peace Corps or Americorps. Or to think, what would have happened had I come here and been given the easy public school gig. As for my job, as much as it can feel like a curse on a day-to-day basis, I feel blessed for things to have happened as they did. As much as an easier and more pleasant job would have been nice, I am beginning to feel confident that this was all part of the masterplan.