Catching up writing while Momo sleeps as Saturday Night Live Korea is about to begin. Am wondering how closely it will follow the format of the iconic show that’s been so instrumental in getting everyday Americans to think about larger issues through humor. I’m wondering if Korea will allow satires of Korean politics and taking on thorny issues that aren’t seen through a conservative filter, what with all the lawsuits on defamation of character & reputation…and can they portray themselves without resorting to tired characters that in reality are already like cartoons? Can Korea really, truly laugh AT themselves? I hope so. I don’t think I can handle any more slapstick. Like many instances of Konglish, the word for comedian is frozen in time and sometimes the times are also frozen. Korean comediens, gagmen, really ARE like 40’s slapstick. And while Koreans have a really great humor about them, in general Koreans take being Korean very very seriously…Maybe it’s a good sign. I hope Saturday Night Live Korea really sets a new standard of irreverence and social commentary!
Monday as I sat waiting to meet up with my future employer and friend in front of the I-Park mall, in the shadow of the military base at Yongsan, a svelte ajumma about my age quipped something friendly in Korean as she sat down next to me, removing her over-sized sun visor long unnecessary as the sky turned to dusk. She started chatting me up and I had to go through the usual litany of questions about where I was from and was I Japanese and if I was an ibyeong, could I speak Korean and really? Not at all?
And then she started waxing rhapsodic about how she loves all things American and how it was her dream to visit America one day and how lucky I was to grow up there and not here…and I tried to tell her it was really not better, just different. And then she went on about my great education and how Americans can go to ivy league universities…and I tried to tell her that they were too expensive for most Americans, but she was having nothing to do with anything that didn’t reflect her fantasy. I was getting weary of this same tired conversation yet again, when thankfully my friend showed up.
Later during our conversation over dinner he told me how he really couldn’t take living here anymore. “Why?” I asked. Because he was tired. Tired of Koreans thinking the whole world has it better than Koreans. (And I thought of the ajumma and how, really m’am, a Korean has a much better shot per-capita at going to Harvard than an American does) “Why do you think that’s so?” he asked me. I told him it was like my time in Guam, where most people had never been off of the island and the only picture they had of America was what they got off cable t.v. What the rest of the world thinks of America is a parody of America. It isn’t real. It’s the absolute best and worst because that’s what entertains us Americans. But that portrayal – of rich, mean, competitive, beautiful, successful, violent, etc. people is what the world comes away with as their impression of us. And then we come to Korea and we don’t match that image. And we bust their bubble if you are me. And we become a prospect for social climbing if you are him, a successful businessman.
Quite fortuitous to seal my arrangement with him on Monday, because on Friday my co-teacher informs me that school-district funding for my position will cease next year and that my school won’t be able to afford to carry my contract on their own. This is happening at most of the school districts in Korea at the high school level. Both she and the other co-teacher will be applying at other schools as well. They’re sick of the school and sick of the low level students always sleeping in class. Oh, and btw, the passive co-teacher’s classes have become my favorite lately. She’s started supporting me more and her students are a lot less grim than the other teacher’s so it’s easier to get them to engage in conversations. Go figure. I guess we just had to learn to respect each other’s methods a little more. It just needed time, which it turns out is something we don’t have any more of.
Turns out I might not be going to Vegas after-all. Job location is to be determined. Ha! And I was even started to look forward to it. But it really doesn’t matter where I end up. What matters is I’m working for someone who’s got faith in me, trusts me, and has my best interests in mind. I mean, that’s solid gold. In fact, I’m so grateful for this regard that I’m feeling this new feeling of loyalty that I’ve not really felt for an employer before. All these years I’ve been leaping from job to job, apartment to apartment, always looking for greener pastures – and yet maybe all I’ve really needed was for someone to believe in me and trust in me. And even my desires to obtain self-actualization, I’m thinking these are also shades of the same story. That maybe these interests are my past-time and having a job where I’m respected as a person and earn enough to be comfortable is really more valuable than I’d imagined.
What tickles me is that in my new life working in America I will still be in the company of Korean faces. I’ve come a long way from the woman paralyzed with fear when I saw an Asian face. I’ve come a long way from the arrogant American thinking I owned the stock on proper living. I’ve come a long way from the angry adoptee thinking I could force Koreans to fix their wrong ways. I love the messy interaction that causes peoples of differing cultures to reconsider their own values and inspire individuals to take chances to improve what they know and inspire a shift in thinking.
And so my chapter in Korea soon comes to a close. I hope I’ve made some difference. I know I’m a different person because of my stay here. And despite all my trials, these days I feel very fortunate to have experienced – and have a claim to – two cultures on different sides of an ocean. As for identity, I am an American citizen, a Korean by blood, belonging nowhere, yet free to choose my own life. I was an adoptee, but now I’m just a person looking to enjoy my remaining days on the planet, who has her priorities and values in order. The future looks bright.