research makes me alive


So I’m back after a week of intense webmastering for TRACK…

It was a nice return to discipline, teaching by day, being focused by night, having many short-term goals one-right-after-another, to see immediate results, and to value that more than sleep.  I’m hoping to not lose this, as I need it to make all the puppets I’ve been planning in my brain for the past two years, and because it gives me more purpose than just making a buck.

Well, I must be honest – I do like challenges, and I have that in spades here.  AND it has its rewards:  class 1-2 applauded after my last lecture on Why you should learn English.  I’m still pretty floored by that.  I wish I had given that lecture at the beginning of the year…maybe next year…

Or maybe not.  Every day I vascillate whether to re-sign here.  Even though I’m only just now getting a handle on the discipline problem, (2/3rds of the way through the school year!  doh!) I also feel like I know what I’m doing better now.

Basically my approach is to research videos on one topic – it has to be really interesting, it has to have some social message or sample of western culture, and it has to have some value in their lives regarding their future and most pressing interest, which is their test scores.  So lately I’ve been choosing videos which have writing or subtitles and no narration, and I read in real-time so they can get listening practice while reading and hearing English spoken naturally.  Then I just speak about the topic and its relevance to the students, then I create some simple exercise which requires the student to form their own thoughts and express them.  I demonstrate with the co-teacher, and then it takes the rest of the hour to get through all the students.

The snag in this is the students don’t respect each other.  So it’s very late in the year, but perhaps my biggest focus is on mutual respect and consideration, which is sorely lacking here.

If I re-sign, then I get a trip home and back during winter vacation.  If I re-sign, I get to enjoy the English Zone which I helped design specific to my needs, and it is very different than the other English Zones I went to visit.  If I re-sign, I will have the same kind of student that I have been working with, and for which I now have a clue about…

If I re-sign, I will have to stay in this sterile stupid officetel, shut off from Korean culture and the natural environment.  If I re-sign, I will continue to be more than an hour away from the centers of interest in Seoul and my working with TRACK.

If I don’t re-sign, then I must give notice by December and then I MUST find new work.   And I don’t get to come home…  : (

Last weekend I was all prepared to re-sign, but then I met up with Jane and a Dutch adoptee for an Indian buffet lunch in Itaewon, which is the Sodom and Gamorrah of Korea and a magnet for most of the American soldiers on tour and also for many of the hedonistic young foreign English teachers.  Long story short, I was really attracted to the area – not the main streets of Itaewon or Hooker Hill or any of the garbage, vomit, and sad visions of Korean girls who’ve gone down a road they can never come back on – but the depressed area surrounding Itaewon.   An area not comfortable enough to attract westerners.  The area where Jane was born, which probably hasn’t changed much since then…it, and many other hidden places around Seoul, are the neighborhoods playing in the movie in my mind.  I think I would like Korea more if I lived in a place where there was a rhythm to life and you have to greet your neighbors and you buy the day’s food on your walk home, and the walk home is meandering.

So the last two nights I have been researching ’til the wee hours of the morning places I’d like to check out.  It’s very hard, because it’s getting dark very early and it’s almost dark by the time I can get there.   I look at Google maps for the densest urban fabric.  I look for streets that aren’t straight.  I look for areas with topographical interest.  I avoid areas where apartment blocks show up on the satellite imaging.  I’ve researched English translated articles in Korean newspapers about villages and neighborhoods, about urban renewal/village destruction, and about areas that defy re-development because the steep rocks only allow small footprints.  In this upwardly mobile, class-climbing, status-conscious society people here want to live where it’s flat.  Because this society was an agrarian society, the hills have always been where the poor were exiled, because the hills lacked fertility.  these places:  they are left to the old and the under employed. But I think they are beautiful in their unique character.  Much more beautiful than the post-war 4-5 story brick box apartment developments and much, much, more beautiful than the concrete apartments of the new cities and the proven false Utopian urbanist ideals of Corbusier and others.  (how easily I forgot my Architecture history)  Even with doormen and high tech gadgets, the best materials, the most efficient lay-outs, and the great restraint and sophistication of Korean design sensibilities, these officetels and apartment are still nothing more than socialist housing blocks to me: a poverty-filled experience for anyone, even if you pay $1,000 a month for it.

So that’s a dangerous sign.  As soon as I start doing research like this, it usually means I’ve pretty much made a decision to move on.

The question is:  will I forever be moving on?

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One thought on “research makes me alive

  1. Thanks for the link – I’m glad I visited your “maeul”, and I get a better idea of what you meant.

    I like your sentence : “I look for streets that aren’t straight”.

    And not only because I share the same way of explaining how I like to browse Seoul maps : this sentence almost sounds like part of Borges’ Garden of Forking Paths. Somehow, what we’re all looking for is an ancient, mythical Seoul that keeps eluding us.

    Maybe we are forever moving on because Seoul itself keeps moving on.

    That’s part of the magic of this city.

    PS: sorry for my link (I checked it only after sending the message – the map company probably went broke).
    PS2: the food truck system I mentioned doesn’t mean mountain slums inhabitants can’t enjoy broadband internet : I often see FTTH boxes in such remote places… and you’d be surprised to learn that quite a few millionaires live up there – I even met an old lady rich enough to own a whole building but living in a derelict vinyl house !… of course those are exceptions.

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