Friday, November 25, 2011

"Black Friday" Whoring

OK, so there are three things wrong with this so-called "Black Friday" madness. I mean, even besides the fact that "Black Friday" is a stupid phrase that people/the media/shoppers use, in order to feel like they are a part of something cool that is bigger than them, when in reality retail workers meant it as an insult to call a day "Black" - as in, hello, this day is so awful and terrible and full of needy, chaotic, and nowadays violent shoppers that we are going to equate it with depression and economic freefall. But even getting past the nonsense of the name and the cult and the wicked behavior (violence is not acceptable, ever! violence in shopping is unacceptable plus crazy!) and the pushing of the start time earlier and earlier until it is now "Black Fri-Thurs-Ruin-My-Holi-Day," even getting past all that, I think you Friday crazy-shoppers need to take a good, hard look at yourselves.

1. Selfishness: I actually like Christmas shopping, a lot. I hate shopping the rest of the year, but I like picking out Christmas presents for people. And when I worked at Borders for many holiday seasons, I liked the holiday shoppers, too. Humanity just generally acts better when people are thinking about others instead of themselves, and customers buying holiday presents acted better than stupid customers the rest of the year who were in constant sense-of-entitlement mode. The problem with what the day after Thanksgiving (or day OF Thanksgiving, awful!) has become is that these people are no longer thinking about others, for whom they are buying gifts, but thinking only about themselves and the dollars they can "save" on this or that deal.

2. Amateur Hour: Much like Valentine's Day in restaurants or New Year's Eve in bars, the Friday has become the amateur hour -- the day when everybody goes out to do something they clearly are not very good at. Their lack of sophistication (or even intelligence) shows.

3.Prostitution: But I think I've realized that what bugs me about this "Black Friday" nonsense is how the  selfish, amateur behavior admits desperation on the part of the shoppers. I'm baffled that people are willing to so freely admit their desperation, and it reminds me of why I don't understand men who go to prostitutes. I mean, my whole take on that situation is: don't you feel bad about yourself, guys? Here you are, wanting to, shall we say, "hook up," and you have to PAY someone to do it? Your looks/charm/wit/intelligence/kindness/graciousness/compassion/any other wonderful qualities are lacking, so you'll just go buy affection/intimacy/pleasure? I find that so pathetic that it is amusing (if it weren't also tragic for the ones who are unfortunately forced into prostitution in many cases). Wow, you're such a manly stud, "banging a hooker." And you had to PAY her to like you for the evening/hour. How do you not feel like a total loser after that? Anyway, that is what the Black Fridayers have come to remind me of. They are so terrible at what they are trying to do (shop), and so clearly incapable of selecting gifts from the heart for their friends and family, and apparently so awful at finding a good deal with their own intelligence and other personal attributes, that they bring about the dismissal of soul/quality/finesse and instead are sold a commodity masquerading as something true.

Let me be clear: I am not talking about people who happen to want to start their holiday shopping on the day after Thanksgiving. That shouldn't have to be a problem. (And hey, it's good exercise for U.S. people to actually have to walk from a farther away parking space for once.)  I am talking only about the crazed Black Fridayers. The distinction is abundantly clear to all of us sane people, but I am afraid that some of the crazies might be in denial about themselves, like someone who believes that a prostitute really loves him.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Post-Thanksgiving Post

First of all, I am pleased to report that my Andong, Korea Thanksgiving went well, and the Sam Adams-drinking plan was a success! Although we spent the equivalent of $30 each to have a night out instead of the approximately $10 we would ordinarily spend if we drank cheap Korean beer, I felt justified celebrating in Sam Adams style because it was a U.S. holiday, and the Adams family lived just down the road a piece from ol' Plymouth Rock, you know. There happened to be a big concert event at Andong University last night, which a few of our foreigner teacher friends attended; afterward they also stopped by the "world beers" bar and together we watched some of the replay of the concert. We tried to spot our friends in the crowd and gazed admiringly at the soju ad lady (famous/popular/beautiful) who hosted the event, and so on. It reminded me of something that would happen at a Thanksgiving at home in the States, with the end-of-the-evening group of people who haven't yet dozed off finding something random on television to watch, with whoever is left at the gathering offering (not-so)witty commentary.

As for today, I couldn't be happier to not be shopping, but I wouldn't be shopping if I were back home in the States, anyway. I would, however, be making fun of shoppers from either place, and losing respect for anyone who actually went shopping on Thanksgiving Day. I truly hope that was a bust. Shame on any of you who participated in Thursday shopping! Meanwhile, I really hate the phrase "Black Friday." It's stupid. It's not as offensive as, say, "family values" or one of those other phrases tossed around in political rhetoric that not only doesn't mean anything but is actually used to obfuscate what the talking head is really saying while manipulating voters and/or public discourse. But it's still stupid. I think people use the phrase "Black Friday" to try to sound and feel like they are a part of something, in this case, the day-after-Thanksgiving media-promulgated shopping day. Gaaargh.

I did manage to talk about Thanksgiving in each of my four Thursday classes. In a couple of them, we did a Thanksgiving crossword or USA puzzle. I had my more advanced speakers go around the room to say one thing they are thankful for, turkey-day-dinner style. All in all, it was another decent day at my decent job, apart from the fact that our new building is freezing cold and my classroom is the most  freezingest coldest.

And so November winds down.  I have been doing NaNoWriMo, churning out a spectacularly crappy quantity-not-quality of words, and although I fell behind mid-month, I just might finish/"win." I am starting to get into the pack-up-my-life state of mind. I can feel Cambodia getting closer and closer! We will be there so soon! Thank you so much to everyone who donated to our Habitat for Humanity trip. What a wonderful cause.

I love the holiday season!  I'm so excited to start thinking all sorts of Christmasy thoughts now!

Thanksgiving 2011

Apparently there's some U.S. holiday today or something?  That's funny. I don't have the first clue what any of my U.S. peeps are up to. I have not heard from a single family member about their plans for today. The only news I have? Photos that friends have posted on Facebook of their pies and other concoctions.

Then again, there's been so much going on here in Korea, I had hardly noticed that the holidays are here. A shame, because I love me some holiday season. Most of that "so much" going on in Andong involves us getting ready to leave: arranging the flight to Cambodia, preparing for our Habitat for Humanity volunteer build there, attempting to make some semblance of arrangements for next year, and trying not to freeze in the poorly insulated building we now live and work in, notably in my frigid classroom on the two-exposed-walls end of the hallway with windows that don't shut, let alone seal.  Brrrr.

It's such a contrast from 2005, the last time I was in Korea for Thanksgiving. I was more aware of and interested in Thanksgiving that year, as evidenced by A Distant Nation my Community, that year's T-day entry. Then, I was "new" to Korea - still adjusting and noticing and observing with wide eyes. Now I am on the way out. Then, I was very much in touch with what was happening back home, and dozens of people wrote to me about their Thanksgiving happenings, sharing wonderful stories. I guess I just live a more isolated life now.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Is it some combination of Facebook, people's reluctance to communicate via personal e-mail, and all of us just getting older and more spread out? Is it the intermittently anti-social me, who lives with Brian and therefore never actually craves human interaction anymore? I really have been thinking about that, seriously. Now that I live with someone, it is soooooooooo easy for me to not make the effort to go out and do things and talk to people. How do other people avoid this trap?

Well, anyway, tonight I will drink a delicious Sam Adams beer, because last week I finally discovered a bar here in Andong that carries those delectable bottles. Only ten and  half months here that I didn't know about it, no big deal, right?  As for next year's Thanksgiving?  A mystery!

Enjoy the football, eating, and most of all, the gathering!

Monday, November 21, 2011

And nothing lasts forever...

...even cold November showers! Or, I should say, our November showers most certainly do not last forever because there is not enough hot water in our apartment. So frustrating. For those of you who don't know, Avalon moved on Halloween, both the school and the teachers' apartments. We are now closer to bustling downtown Andong, not that we were that far to begin with (Andong is not that big). Avalon entered into a partnership with MBC, one of the Korean news networks, and we don't really know the details of it except that it means we moved into a new building, expanded our academy's size, increased the number of classrooms and  teachers and subjects, and did all this in a former (small) hotel that has now "been renovated." I say "been renovated" in quotes because I would not exactly say the work was done when we moved in, or even now, three weeks later.

I wasn't particularly excited about living upstairs from work, as I like some personal space, but here we are in the "penthouse" as I very jokingly call it, on the 6th floor, with a two second commute to work on the 4th floor to teach our English classes. The first day here we had no electricity until 8pm, and no hot water, and no stove, and no washing machine and no refrigerator. All of these things slowly but surely trickled in during the first two weeks. Internet has been problematic. There is a wireless network for the whole building, and our computers in our classrooms are fine but up in the apartments there are still continual problems with the internet experience. The other big things are the stove and hot water. The "stove" is a tiny two-burner plug-in hot plate that is about half as big and sturdy as the one in our old apartment (and most other English teacher apartments I've seen in Korea); I really think is the plastic Barbie doll play kitchen version. It takes about 20 minutes to boil some water. Brian the chef is not happy, and I feel sad about this. As for me, I am most miserably because I absolutely cannot take cold showers, so I take 3-minute showers these days. Different tasks get allocated to different days, such as washing hair, conditioning hair, etc. I hate this. I mostly hate it because the bathroom is so cold (no heat in there) that a 3-minute shower isn't enough to get you all warm and toasty anyway, so it is almost as bad as taking a cooler shower. (Almost)

Let the record reflect that I am well aware these are "first-world problems" as they say. But here's my thing about that: you can't expect people to live in a situation that has certain requirements and then not provide them. Maybe everyone doesn't deserve to live in shameless modern luxury. OK, granted. But then, people who lived in previous time periods without hot running water either lived in the desert (the cradles of civilization!) or boiled water, or both. We have a burner that is tiny and doesn't heat up, and no way to make a fire to boil water without burning the building down, and no bathtub anyway. (The shower is a corner of the tile in the Korean bathroom.)  It's one thing to say an airplane or a car is a modern luxury, but you don't send someone up in the air and then say, "Oh, too bad! We're out of fuel! You are so picky and dependent on modern conveniences!" as the plane falls out of the sky.

At least we can work our heat (thankfully it was warm the first day, when we couldn't). I love Korean ondol heating, and I actually come upstairs often when I have break periods between classes because my classoom is FREEZING. While many of the classrooms in the hallway have classrooms on either side and one exposed outside wall, my classroom is on the end of the hallway and I have two exposed outside walls...and more windows than some other classrooms (windows thin as paper)...and a window that doesn't shut...the board I write on in class is ice cold to touch first class of the day. My kids keep their jackets on. We have heat in the classrooms now, which is better than the week before last, now the weather has turned even colder so it's still freeze-ola in there.

The thing about all this is that Brian and I are only five weeks away from leaving!! So part of us has been trying to get settled, and get everything fixed, and all that, and the rest of me is totally in the mindset of "Screw it, only 32 more days!" kind of thing. It's a frustrating way to be thinking. So not living in the moment. Booo!

And it's also so weird that we are leaving so soon!!!!!!!!!!  Can you believe we have finished 46 weeks in Andong? Wow! And we still aren't sure about our plan for next year. But, first things first, we are flying from Seoul to Phnom Penh. We will kick off 2012 volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Siem Reap, Cambodia, a kingdom of wonder (that's their slogan, I didn't make it up) that has seen a lot of troubles and danger and floods and problems (although being cold is generally not one of them) but has also got fascinating history, temples, rivers, coast, cities, food, people, and so on to visit.

Meanwhile, in our last five weeks back here at the ranch, we are no longer in the hip, up-and-coming nightlife area called Ok-Dong, so we now live in Dangbuk-dong, near different restaurants and bus routes, farther from the city bus terminal but closer to the city train station, closer to the rows of Andong jjimdak restaurants (the spicy chicken stew specialty) in the downtown market jjimdak stalls, but father from all the fabulous Ok-Dong places we had come to love, farther from E-Mart, closer to the hospital and doctors, farther from two of the three bars where the Westerners mostly hang out, closer to some other bars, closer to downtown shopping and coffee shops, farther from the Tous Les Jours where they love me and Coffee Beach, farther from my kickboxing gym, but still a nice walk home from kickboxing class.

"And so it goes, and so it goes, and so will [we] soon, I suppose..." as Billy Joel sort of sang.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

November Holiday Roundup
in reverse chronological order

November 24, U.S.: If you go shopping on Thanksgiving night at WalMart or anywhere, you are part of the problem. Forget slippery slopes, this was a total free fall. 7 a.m., 6 a.m., 4 a.m., who needs sleep when we can just go SHOPPING!, Black Black Black Friday, trampling to death, and now this. You know what, retailers of the U.S.? Forget you! (I put it that way because this is, of course, a family blog. Heh.) And you know what, holiday shoppers of the U.S.? Forget you, too! DON'T GO SHOPPING ON THANKSGIVING. And, p.s., don't go shopping at WalMart. We have been over this.

November 11, U.S.: Veterans Day. I posted on Twitter and Facebook the following great idea: in honor of all the veterans, let's not have any more veterans. The first comment I received was a request to explain what that meant. I didn't answer right away; I thought I would give everyone a little time to think about the simplest way to not make any more veterans.

November 11, Korea: Peppero Day (although I feel like Beppero more precisely conveys the pronunciation?) is here again, and what a doozy! 11/11/11! So many sticks! Unfortunately, they have "cancelled" Peppero Day in some of the elementary schools here. (Isn't that just an old joke? "That's it! We're cancelling Christmas!") My students initially told me a few days ago that one of the elementary schools here in Andong was cancelling it, and we talked about bad behavior and troublemakers running riot with the chocolate sticks. Then I heard from some Daegu teachers about Peppero cancellations, allegedly due to unsafe Peppero being imported from China. Where, apparently, Lotte factories are up to no good. Then someone else said the schools just don't wawnt to deal with all the trash a day of the 11-like Peppero sticks produces. Damn it, someone get to the bottom of this!!! (I am allowed to say "damn" on my family blog. I just made that rule.)

November 1, Mexico etc.: All Souls' Day/Day of the Dead. Oops, I forgot to celebrate. I was too busy on the first of the month enjoying my first full day in our new apartment, waiting to see at any given moment whether we would have any of the following: electricity, hot water, a refrigerator, a stove, know, luxuries like that. I might add that we also don't have a television, which while clearly not essential to life is in fact in our English teacher contract (!) and also at this point hilariously NOT a "first-world problem," as they say.

How will you celebrate this month? Anyone who is thinking of going shopping on Thanksgiving night, tell you what - why don't you donate ten of those dollars to Habitat for Humanity, by clicking here, instead. That's a better thing to do, I promise.