Monday, February 06, 2006

"I mean to tell you all the things I've found..."

I've been really busy! I haven't posted much, but it's not out of depression; rather, my days and nights are filled. Not to mention that ever since getting on-line at home I am prone to sit web surfing as if I have all the time in the world, as opposed to keeping on track and on schedule in the "PC bang" (PC rooms). (Don't hold it against me, Mac users. That's just what they are.)

What, besides the glorious Internet and instant messaging, has been filling my days and nights?

Well, I have started a writing group with one English teacher I met who is also a writer. It is now officially happening once a week, even if there are only the two of us as we wait for it to build. There are a few people around who have casually expressed interest.

I have also found a literary society, a bunch of expats who like to read and discuss and analyze and think literary thoughts and talk books. I met up with them at their monthly book swap and will be joining them for a reading group as well, starting this month.

Work has been good -- yes, you read that right. I have been doing my share of going out and socializing, still -- maybe a little more lately than during December. I have met some interesting folks at the commune's (foreigners' watering hole), and had great conversation with the owner of the bar as well. I'm reading War and Peace. I've been watching movies when I can and taking a few weekend excursions.

I joined the "foreigners chapter" of Amnesty International. I found the group a few weeks ago; they meet monthly in Seoul. Careful blog readers will have noted that going to Seoul once a month is absolutely part of my plan, so this just means killing Mexican food and human rights activism with the same stone. I have been in contact with the group leader, and this past weekend I attended the annual AI Korea group meeting/planning workshop. It was a truly fantastic weekend.

Simply put, I found an amazing group of people. It was refreshing and inspiring to hang out with thoughtful, activist, bright young things, as well as some bright middle-aged things. It made Korea seem so -- normal. I don't know, it was such a we-are-the-world moment. Eun Mi, who is the totally bilingual leader of the foreigners' chapter, is absolutely the coolest person I have met in Korea, hands down. She is my favorite new friend. We bonded a lot over the two-day workshop. We definitely spent the entire time together, as she was my interpreter. We discovered much in common and are so excited to hang out again. She has done all kinds of cool stuff, worked with Medecins sans Frontieres (that's Doctors Without Borders in English, for those unaware), and is strong and kind and vibrant and wonderful. She is my new favorite friend.

I traveled to Daejeon for the workshop, which is about 2 hours from here by bus. It's south of Seoul. It is a big city (approx. 1.5 million) and the place we ate/slept/workshopped was in the lovely foothills in the Yuseong area on the edge of the city, in the Yuseong Youth Hostel. That might sound bizarre, but it was a big hostel, with a dining room, several floors and a meeting room. Sparse, but fine. I kind of like the notion that this organization didn't waste administrative costs money on a fancy hotel for the conference!

What else? I'm just trying to get all of my financial ducks in a row, and enjoy teaching, and see new things, and hike when I can, and find out which will win out: war or peace. Plus I contemplate the Oscars. I watched Memoirs of a Geisha this weekend. Now, I would like to point out here that while Walk the Line has apparently been pushed back to March, it looks like in February my Daegu cinemas will provide the following English-language movies: Saw 2, Firewall, Nanny McPhee, and Big Momma's House 2. I see. It's good we have our priorities straight. Yikes! At least the other movie slated to open in February is Munich, but there doesn't seem to be any Brokeback Mountain around my bend.

About Geisha, though: it was eye-opening to watch it while living here. Now, I have avoided reading that celebrated book despite it being a perennial favorite among the qulaity paperback crowd these last few years. I have never been able to develop the whole Japan fetish that so many I know have, and I wasn't particularly interested in romanticizing geishas, although since the PHENOMENAL film Lost in Translation I am much more interested in Japan than I used to be (except still not the food). And now, living in Korea, my life is pretty much Lost in Translation meets Dilbert. The point is, I don't recoil at the mere mention of Japan anymore although the food decidedly still gives me hives.

But the other point is that Memoirs of a Geisha was on one level exactly what I've known for years it would be: the latest beautiful, aspiring-to-grandiose lauding of exotic Asia in titillation disguised as homage. Just not my bag. And on another level I was even more put off by that than I usually am because I think, "Why don't we just look at others as fellow human beings instead of that Other?"

Maybe I know deep down inside that I'm just as guilty, that I foreigner-associate as much as the next expat. Reading The Ugly American the same week helps me ruminate this way I think. But (spoiler alert! I'm talking about the end of the movie now! run away if you care! scroll down, scroll down, for the love of all that is holy!) when the American soldiers showed up and totally disrespected all that she was and all that was virtuous and industrious and in fact beautiful about her -- which you realize was way beyond skin deep -- and her friend sells her out, I cringed but I also think I saw it more clearly than I possibly could have before I came here. I mean, the beware-the-clueless-American message is basically spoon-fed to you, but I think I was more receptive to seeing that there was something more, there.

Sunday I talked with a Korean friendly acquaintance who'd also seen it, and all the connections I'd made with the U.S.-Asia dichotomy were revealed to be as naive as can be. She had in in fact noticed that how the U.S. used Japanese geisha paralleled what Japan did to Korea! That is a really big issue here right now, trying to get Japanese apology for using Korean "comfort women," but I hadn't really looked at it as so A-is-to-B-as-B-is-to-C, you know?

Eye-opening. That's all I'm saying. Not some earth-shattering revelation in the content of the film, but a peeling back of my personal layers to reveal once again that my perspective has changed in the last few months. And that, my friends, is why we love living abroad. But the movie itself was kind of crap: inconsistencies, some ridiculous acting, a script that was melodramatic at best. I haven't decided how I feel about its score, though I think Yo-Yo Ma could carry it to an Oscar unless it's All About Brokeback night. I could deal with Geisha getting the costume design Oscar, but I think so far I'm pulling for King Kong for sound mixing and sound editing. (NO Narnia!)

Speaking of American invasions, it was weird that the Super Bowl was on today but it was already Monday morning here. I left for work during the early 3rd quarter, but I know the Steelers won. Magical Pittsburgh!

As of this moment I have been here for 17 and 1/3 weeks. You know what that is? One-third of 52 weeks, that's what! I have been here for one-third of a year! How about that.

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