On Expat Whining, A Change of Heart, and Retooling

So, I’ve come to this place where I am now reading Michael Breen’s The Koreans and Scott Burgeson’s Korea Bug, and nodding my head at their assertions that, after all, Korea’s okay. I don’t know why, but sometime after coming back from Canada, something changed in my mind, and I stopped seeing everything annoying that happens to me as some kind of bad portent or revealing hint to the puzzle that is this society.

The unraveling of this puzzle is something that infects many an expat’s mind while living here. After all, as Bug puts it, Korea is weird. That a foreigner should say this is not astonishing, of course. I had a conversation with professors I work with about food, and discovered that some of them were, early on, as mystified about the notion of cheesecake (imagine a cake made with cheddar cheese) or why pumpkin pie might be delicious as I am as mystified about why one might put corn, or slices of potato onto pizza. The fact of the matter is, foreign societies are always weird, and even more so when they adapt things familiar to a traveler to local tastes. (Corn in some random Japanese dish isn’t weird to me, but kernel corn on pizza is.)

But the risk for an expatriate is to then conceive of the nation as something that can be understood by what are, largely anecdotes. For all the stories I’ve heard of people getting roughed up by violent strangers in Korea, I’ve never had such an experience. For all the stories of people who’ve been ripped off by employers — stories I’ve heard even from friends or co-workers, some of them hair-raising — I have never experienced it first hand. Even at the least accomodating job I’ve had here, things weren’t so most of the time bad. And more importantly, I was ambitious enough to try get a better job and I was able to succeed.

It’s not like my frustrations have melted away. There are things that annoy and perplex me. One very piddling example, but one that comes to mind constantly when I go out, is how people always seem to bang into my shoulder bag when they pass me from behind, even when there are huge amounts of space all around me and there is no apparent reason for them to want to bang into me. No matter how much room there is, someone is going to knock that bag, as if life is a video game with extra points for banging into my shoulder bag. (It really is inexplicable.) That’s still happening, all the time. But something good has happened inside my head, and I’ve stopped “reading” those little annoying incidents for some kind of meaning. Those incidents might tell me something about the place I live, but who knows what? (Besides the obvious differences in personal space, which doesn’t explain why people actually get close enough to bang a stranger’s bag when there’s space to avoid them.)
Anyway, all of this is to say that, I think I’ll be turning over a new leaf in terms of blogging. Less about Korea, first of all. Second of all, with less of a conviction I know what I’m talking about, because the more I learn, the less I find I really know about this place. Also, and I hate to say this, but in the wake of what happened to a certain foreign professor recently over his (admittedly harsher) blogging, I think it might be wise for me to, well, tidy my archives a little, at least until I’m working more autonomously or, in any case, less beholden to whoever owns my work visa.

I won’t be whining, anyway. Even though the Housing Office still hasn’t decided to tell me when I can move, and even though my schedule is totally uncertain. There’s a bright side, one of them being that my night classes may end up canceled. (Which would be a relief, as I got loaded down with classes when I wasn’t looking.)

Expect more blogging about places I’ve been, some more photoblogging, reviews of books, movies, and other stuff, and a lot more blather about my research. Which is going to be branching out, by the way. I’m going to be learning a lot about Russia and Europe in the 50s, in the next few months, to prepare for the novel I’ll be drafting sometime this year. And expect more about my writing. In fact, I’m thinking of retooling this site a little, to focus more on my writing and less on my navel gazing. Less blogging means more fiction writing, which is a good thing.

Anyway, I think it’s time to try to get the rest of my night’s sleep.

UDPATE: Wouldn’t you know it, the day I made a commitment to be positive, a pretty big commitment made to me by a certain administrative arm of my employer was backed out of, to the shock of those who were pulling for me. Even the possible workaround turns my stomach a little.  Just in time for the holiday, so I can’t even do anything about it. <i>Sigh.</i> I don’t think I can spend much more time with the specifics of my life being dictated by people in suits sitting in offices far from my own, who’ve never met me and have no sense of the consequences of their decisions and the promises they back out of.

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